If you have an unspayed jenny and an intact male jack within convenient distance of each other, the odds are in favour of them getting together to mate. Male donkeys will not allow much to stop them reaching a female in heat.
But how exactly do you know when the female donkey is pregnant? Here’s all you need to know about when pregnant donkeys start showing and how long she will be pregnant for.
How to tell if a donkey is pregnant?
It is difficult to tell whether your donkey is pregnant in the first few months. Your best course of action is to closely monitor her heat cycle before allowing her to breed. If this fails to materialise, she may be pregnant.
After a few months, if she seems to have gained weight that does not fluctuate, and appears lower than what you would expect to find on an overweight donkey, this could be another indication – in other words, when your pregnant donkey starts showing.
The physiological and behavioural signs in the late stages of pregnancy are unmistakable. Most notably, she will become more docile and her udders will swell. You have only days left to prepare the nursery.
How long is a donkey pregnant?
Donkeys are typically pregnant for 11 to 14 and a half months.
The gestation period
Donkeys have a longer gestation period than horses. It lasts between 11 and 14 months, depending on the size of the donkey. Foals born at 11 months are not considered to be born premature, regardless of their size. If your jenny is not a first time mother, the chances are high that the gestation period will be same as before.
Whereas horses can foal every year, it is advisable that donkeys be rested for a year or more between pregnancies. In order to give the foal the best start in life, plan the birth to occur in time to enjoy a few months of warm weather.
Also, do not breed your jenny before the age of 30 months. The pregnancy could stunt her growth if she is bred younger than that. It is a fallacy that younger jennies produce smaller foals. The size of the foal is determined by genetics and not the age of the mother.
The heat cycle
It is fairly difficult to tell whether your jenny is pregnant for the first few months of the gestation.
The first indication would be that she does not come into heat. In donkeys, the heat cycle is on average 21 days, with ovulation occurring for 2-7 days. Unlike horses, donkeys do not have longer cycles during the winter months. However, studies have shown that there may be some variance caused by drought and annual dry seasons.
Some jennies do not exhibit any behaviour changes during this time but most do. Careful observation is necessary over a number of months so that you are aware of the cycles and any behaviour associated with them.
A typical behaviour pattern to look for is ‘mouth clapping’, i.e. when the donkey opens and closes her mouth and drools or spits. She will increase her braying, presumably to call a mate. If no mate is forthcoming, she will attempt to mount other jennies, and allow them to mount her. She will also raise her tail and urinate more frequently.
If there is an intact male within earshot of her braying, i.e. 60 miles, depending on the terrain, he will come calling, and will prove difficult to restrain.
If you know your jenny’s heat cycle, you can timeously determine whether or not she has missed one. If you suspect that she is pregnant, it is advisable to have her checked over by a vet within 30 days of her last ovulation.
Larger donkeys may have multiple ovulations, several days apart, which could result in the conception of twins. This situation could be dangerous for the jenny and her foals. Often the vet will remove one of the foetuses in order to give the remaining twin the best chance of survival.
If your donkey is pregnant, start her off on a regular deworming program that will keep her and her foal free from parasites.
Putting on weight
The next sign to look for is your donkey putting on weight. Normally, your donkey’s weight may appear to fluctuate from time to time. If your jenny is pregnant, she will appear a little plumper, for longer. This may be difficult to detect in winter months, if your donkey tends to gain a bit of weight or acquire a thicker coat.
When looking at your animal from the side, the apparent fat will be lower than the normal girdle which appears in an overweight animal. From the front or back, the pregnancy bump will be asymmetrical. It will look as if the donkey is leaning to one side.
During this period, consider reducing her workload if she is a working animal. If not, create a calm environment in which she can relax and be quiet. She will not enjoy being alone but it may be best to keep some distance or barrier between her and the more boisterous donkeys.
Do not feed her extra rations, supplements or treats until the last trimester of the pregnancy. It is surprising how quickly a donkey can gain weight and become obese if its diet is too rich. Obesity could lead to short and long term health problems, and will make the pregnancy and birth more difficult for her.
Keep up the deworming program.
The foal will be growing rapidly and absorbing nutrients from the mother. Slowly introduce grains to her diet to sustain them both but monitor her for signs of excess weight gain, in the wrong places. The change in diet will make her digestive system work a little harder and may produce metabolic changes, specifically with regard to insulin production.
Keep her calm and relaxed, and free from parasites.
Last month of pregnancy
If your jenny’s pregnancy has gone undetected this long, you still have a few weeks to prepare the nursery. Around three weeks before the foal is due, her udders will swell and she will start milk production. In the last few days, the swelling increases and lactation becomes obvious as milk leaks out.
Before the birth is imminent, she may appear more subdued or docile, and will withdraw from the company of other donkeys. In time, she will lose her appetite and become more and more restless.
Prepare clean bedding and remove distractions from the area. Observe her behaviour from a distance and do not interfere with the labour process. She may not feel safe if you are too close, and put a halt to proceedings, jeopardising her own health, and that of the foal.
She will roll in her bedding to try to ease her discomfort and pain, and in an attempt to move the foal into the correct position for the birth.
In the last few hours, her pelvic muscles slacken, the bones around her tail become more flexible and her vulva swells in preparation for the birth. Colostrum, a waxy substance necessary for building the foal’s immunity will be secreted through her teats which open up ready for suckling.
And finally… the birth
When the birth pains start, the jenny will arch her back to assist the foal and to ease the pain of the contractions. The actual birthing process is relatively quick. It can take between 40-60 minutes.
Handy Hint: Here’s how to tell when a donkey is about to give birth.
A transparent balloon-like membrane will appear at her vulva. The fleshy pads on the hooves of the front legs should be visible, one behind the other, just ahead of the head and shoulders. This ‘diving position’ creates the shape of least resistance needed while exiting the birth canal.
Once the front half of the foal is out, the sac will break, allowing it to take its first breath. After the hind legs have been released, the foal will wriggle away from the membranes and the jenny will stand up. These two movements break the umbilical cord at its weakest link, and the foal becomes a separate being. Its first action is to stand up, and then it looks for food. All the while, the mother will be licking it dry and creating the maternal bond.
Unless the birth does not happen in this order, or the jenny or foal are in clear signs of distress, do not help the birthing process along. Even the youngest of mothers knows what’s best.
It’s not that easy to tell when a donkey is pregnant, but once she starts showing it will be a lot easier.
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Image of a pregnant donkey in the header via https://pixabay.com/photos/donkey-pregnant-offside-dormant-4149725/