I wanted it to be a birthday surprise, so I had a friend put a 'burro wanted' ad on the noontime community billboard on the local radio station. The very next day, I found myself standing in a farmers yard, making a deal for a jenny burro. I paid $50 and half dozen cherry pies for her, and he promised to deliver her on Derrill's birthday. Four-year-old Clay went with me, and on the way home, I swore him to secrecy. We both wished we could afford the little foal that was by her mother's side, but Mr. Farmer wanted another twenty-five dollars for her, and it just wasn't in the budget.
I have to say that was one of the cleverest birthday presents I ever gave. As we were sitting at breakfast on that birthday morn, a farm truck turned into our driveway and Clay, who had done a wonderful job of keeping the secret, jumped in the air and hollered, "It's the burro!"
Well, we were all enchanted with her, and Derrill named her Tess. But, after listening to her bray all night (it sounded like two pieces of rusty metal scraping together) for her baby, Derrill traded an old manure spreader to the farmer, and we had a second burro in the barn.
Next we got Molly. She was adopted from the BLM program of rounding up wild horses and donkeys on overcrowded ranges and finding families for them. Molly had been trained to pull a cart, and she always did better on a trail walking a little in front of you rather than being led.
The last burro we bought was Sam. I don't think he was full grown when we got him, but he was supposed to be a gelding. He was gray and friendly and always wanted to be in the big middle of everything. If we hugged the kids, Sam wanted to be in on the hug. If we were having a conversation, he would come up from the back and put his head over your shoulder.
It turned out that Sam wasn't a gelding. We found that out when our first burro baby was born. When the jennies had finished having babies, we had seven burros. Poor Sam. We called the vet and took away his social standing.
The burros were an endless delight to us. We found them extremely intelligent, but a little bit obsesive-compulsive about routines. When Derrill went out to feed them grain at night, they had to be lined up in the same order at the trough, and they would chouse around and kick one another until everyone was in the proper place. If Derrill wore a different coat out to the barn, that set them all atwitter.
They were gentle creatures. They would kick each other, but never when a person was around. Tess was always a bit stand-offish, but all the rest were like pets, and Clay spent a good time of each day playing with the burros while the older kids were at school.
We found that they would eat almost anything. We raised pigs for years, and the burros would eat things--like cantaloupe rinds--that the pigs wouldn't eat. In fact, in the middle of the pasture was an old greenhouse that had fallen into disuse. It had an insulated north-facing wall, and those burros got in there and ate every bit of that insulation. I watched them carefully for a few days when I discovered what they had done, but the were none the worse for their fibrous fiberglass diet.
Our donkeys were gentle, good-humored and social, but all are not so. When we were shopping for our last burro, we were looking at one in a farmer's corral and I, knowing only our sweet asses, patted the burro's face and murmured baby talk--which the animal immediately took exception to, bit me on the bosom, and took me right to the ground. It was a painful and embarrassing experience, and it continued to be so when the bite became infected and I had to explain to the doctor what had happened to me.
When a strange dog would get into the pasture, the burros would chase him off. Same thing with coyotes. We got the donkeys too late to save our jersey calf that the coyotes got. Should have know about their watch-presence earlier.
We had a Shetland pony come to visit once. We kept it for some people who were traveling through, and Sam, our gentle, good-natured, want-to-be-in-on-the-family-hug burro took that pony down in a body press that quickly established the pasture pecking order. I don't know if ponies can salute, but if they can, I'm sure that little visitor did. They coexisted peacefully for the rest of the time we had the pony.
Our life was blessed by those burros in so many ways. They cleared the pasture of thistles, they made it so we could continue backpacking, and they were gentle and affectionate pets. In the next week or so, I'll write about an experience with burros I had that I put in my latest book, Counting the Cost. First I want to get the excerpt put on my web site. I hope you'll come back to read it.
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