This is a story I wrote for a magazine out in Minnesota called “In Our Neck of the Woods” in the fall of 2015.
I have always liked donkeys, either jennies or jacks. Some people call them Mountain Canaries. Why are they called that? Some people say they sound like canaries when they bray. I have always liked to hear donkeys bray and I’ve had a few jennies and a jack or two over the years.
But back about 30 years ago, you could buy donkeys (jennies-females for $25 and jacks-males for $10). And sometimes you could get a jack given to you. I always liked jennies to work in the garden, drag winter wood in, or to use to shuck corn with. Two donkeys could be called on to pull a good sled load of corn.
Nowadays donkeys are worth their weight in gold, because beef cattle men keep donkeys in the fields when their cows are having their calves. Most donkeys hate dogs and coyotes and hate just about any other critters that come in the fields where the cows and calves are. Donkeys will do a number on, or otherwise kill, anything that messes around with the new calf that has just been born.
Now these long-eared Mountain Canaries have a fondness for their owners when they come to check on the cows and new calves. Most of the time the owners will bring a chaw of tobacco as a treat for their long eared friends. I know donkeys can kill dogs, because years ago I had a jenny who had a new foal. There was a stray dog runnin’ along the road and the critter was pretty good sized. He saw the baby donkey lying in the field and mother was a pickin’ grass, but she was keeping an eye on her baby. The dog slipped in the field thinking to get a free meal. Boy, was he wrong.
When the dog got close enough, the jenny grabbed the dog by the neck and picked it up and before the dog hit the ground, the jenny was using her front legs on the dog. In a matter of minutes, the dog was dead. This same dog was a killin’ my neighbor’s newborn calves.
These days coyotes are here in Pike County and all over Ohio, and to top it off they do a lot of damage to beef cattle herds and sheep flocks.
Jennies and jacks are worth their weight in gold (as the saying goes) to the cattlemen and sheepmen. Donkeys live a long time and tonight I am going to tell you a true story that happened around 30 years ago in my neck of the woods.
In and around 1970, an old friend of mine came to the feed mill where I worked and asked me if I knew where he could buy a jenny donkey. He had gone to see the horse traders that lived around here but none of them had any donkeys.
Just a few weeks later, my friend came to the feed mill and in the back of his pickup stood a jenny donkey. “Come and see what I just bought,” said my old friend. “Ain’t she something else.” I looked at this jenny one time and I said to my friend, “I know where you got this jenny, her name is Old Kate and she used to belong to Raymond Savage who lives on Beavers Ridge.”
Raymond used Old Kate in the garden alongside a gray jack he recently bought. Raymond sold Old Kate as being exposed to a jack. My friend said she could be bred to the new jack I traded for. I said, “Old Kate is in her twenties and I doubt if she ever has a colt.”
“I’ll take a chance,” says my buddy. “It will only be a year. I can wait that long.”
Old Kate got the best of care and if my friend’s wife would have let him, he would have moved Old Kate into the house. Just about spring Old Kate started to get heavy — real heavy.
About the first part of June, Old Kate had a jenny foal. She was a dandy. My friend bred Old Kate to a spotted jack, and she had another jenny foal and she was spotted. But my friend didn’t live too long after the spotted jenny was born.
I was in the hospital about that time, and my wife came to visit me and told me my friend had passed away.
I said to my wife, “I wonder what will happen to Old Kate and her two young jennies?” So my wife called my friend’s wife and asked her about Old Kate and her two foals. “My brother-in-law took all three of the donkeys to his house and he will keep them for me,” she said.
I would see Old Kate and her foals every once in awhile and they were beautiful animals. Her brother-in-law broke the two jennies to work and worked them in his garden, plowed corn with the pair, and even got his winter wood in with this pair of donkeys.
Old Kate died at the age of 29 years old and she would have been proud of her foals. A few years ago a fellow called me and asked me if I remembered Old Kate the donkey. I said, “Yes” and this fellow said, “I have Old Kate’s great granddaughter and she is spotted, and she had a jenny foal just the other day,” he said. I tried my best to buy the pair, but no way would this fellow sell either one of them. As far as I know he still has them.
We have two jennies and a jack, plus a new foal that is about a week old. But the most important fact is that a donkey carried the mother of Jesus to Bethlehem where our saviour Jesus Christ was born.
I get carried away writing my stories and I can’t help it. I hope you readers liked this story as much as I did writing it.