29 May 1998

MINI-DONKEY HAS BIG DAY

AT AUCTION…

The fascination with

miniature animals has

spread to the world of

donkeys. Tomorrow (May

30) sees the first UK

auction sale of miniature

donkeys imported from

Canada. Jeremy Hunt hits

the donkey trail in Cumbria

FOR A man who can claim to own Canadas largest herd of domesticated Tibetan yak, flying a plane load of miniature donkeys half way around the world for a sale is not unusual.

But even Ken Jones, Canadas leading supplier of exotic livestock, is clearly smitten with these diminutive characters. And among those he has selected for tomorrows sale at Borderway Mart, Carlisle is a bevy of pint-sized pintos – believed to be the first coloured miniature donkeys imported into the UK.

Dr Jones runs a zoo farm in Alberta, the base for his exotic animal company, Odd and Unusual Management Ltd. Hes kept miniature donkeys for almost 15 years and the current breeding herd of 50 continues to meet the growing demand for stock in Canada and the USA.

All colours are popular in Canada, but although black miniature donkeys are among the most sought after, it was a red-roan jenny that recently sold for a record auction price of $21,000.

&#42 Confidence

Leading pedigree livestock auctioneer John Thornborrow of Harrison and Hetherington at Carlisle may not reach such dizzy heights tomorrow but he is confident of a good trade.

"This a great opportunity to buy foundation stock with new bloodlines, especially among the pintos which are so scarce in the UK," said Mr Thornborrow.

Dr Joness 22 donkeys settled immediately into their temporary home on a farm near Penrith despite their eight-hour flight and long motorway journey north from Heathrow.

"The fact that they are so relaxed and so pleased to greet even strangers is testament to their quiet temperament and sociable nature," says Dr Jones as the strikingly marked pintos, which include two in-foal jennies, nuzzle him for attention.

"We expect the pintos to attract a lot of interest. Their markings make them among the most popular in Canada, but I understand there are still only a handful of coloured miniatures in the UK."

The pinto jack and three pinto jennies, like all the adult donkeys brought over for the sale, have had their thick winter coats clipped. It has revealed true donkeys in miniature, complete with the black stripe along the back and across the shoulders.

&#42 Sicilian types

Miniature donkeys are believed to have evolved from the Sicilian type. Because of their size they were used in low mining tunnels to pull wagons of ore to the surface.

To be classed as a miniature a donkey must not exceed a mature height of 36in, but despite their stature they are strong and vigorous and in no way stunted or impeded by their size.

The sales heart-stealers are likely to be the group of grey yearlings, still wearing their fluffy, thick, winter coats. Their tiny hooves pattered up and down the cobbled yard of the Penrith farmstead, huge ears waving back and forth as they picked up on every sound. At 29in high they are barely bigger than a pony foal.

The smallest mare brought over by Dr Jones measures 33in, but the black jack donkey named Danny Boy goes under the measure at 32.5in. As Danny Boy is led out on a halter he calls to his mares in the field alongside. The familiar "ee-aw, ee-aw" is delivered with all the power of a stud male 10 times his size.

Miniature donkey breeding in the UK is still in its infancy – there are believed to be only about 60 animals – but in Canada and the USA miniature donkeys are big business. All the donkeys imported by Dr Jones are registered with the Donkey and Mule Association in Canada.

As Dr Jones moves among his donkeys its clear they adore human contact. "To be scratched, patted and stroked is bliss to them. Thats why so many parents are buying them for their kids. They are just so gentle."

Big ears are pricked forward in unison as a group of grey and rare black-brown mares prepares to be inspected. But this gathering, including mares with names such as Dolores, Twiggy and Pamela, has the real star attraction. Standing in a corner away from the main group, a mare protects her new foal, born within 24-hours of landing at Heathrow.

The tiny foal, whose "goo-goo" eyes and huge woolly ears are an even match for Walt Disneys Dumbo, stays close to mums side.

&#42 Show-stopper

His appearance at tomorrows first UK auction sale of miniature donkeys is guaranteed to be a show-stopper. While even miniature donkeys have been known to show a stubborn streak, it is unlikely anything similar will prevail among the buyers at Carlisle tomorrow. British donkey enthusiasts hold on to your hats.

Grey yearlings – giving their version of The Donkey Serenade? These huge

– eared heart stealers are still wearing their fluffy, thick winter coats.

All colours are popular but pinto minature jennys are particularly scarce in the UK and these could be the foundation stock of new bloodlines here.

Danny Boy (above and below) is a rare black/brown miniature donkey brought here from Canada by Dr Ken Jones (pictured). The tiny foal (left) was born within 24 hours of its mother landing at Heathrow.

Proving that all mules arent accidents, three week old Toby has been bred from an appaloosa mare and a jack donkey to compete in endurance rides. He should make at least 15hh, large enough for this owner Rachel Thurlow, Llwynmawr, Clwyd, to compete on

him in a few years time.