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THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 2006
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Brandy no longer sleeps with a baby monitor now that she's given birth to her foal, Stormy. Their Elkmont owners use baby monitors in hopes of hearing when one of their miniature donkeys is giving birth.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Brandy no longer sleeps with a baby monitor now that she's given birth to her foal, Stormy. Their Elkmont owners use baby monitors in hopes of hearing when one of their miniature donkeys is giving birth.

They call it
donkey love

Tiny heehaws from miniature
Elkmont burros

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer

hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ELKMONT — Sheila McCarley and one of her mama cows hated each other.

That relationship had a rough ending.

"She chased me and butted me up into the air," McCarley said. "That was it. No more cows."

That's when McCarley welcomed a gentler beginning: a life with miniature donkeys.

After she and her partner Cindy Johnson sold their 10 cows, they researched types of animals they could put on their 10 acres and discovered small creatures that brought broad grins to their faces.

That was seven years ago, and Johnson and McCarley still are smiling.

Could anyone stop from uttering, "Awwwww," and smiling when nudged by a velvety dark nose overshadowed by enormous fuzzy ears?

"They are like big dogs," McCarley said. "They follow you around. They want you to scratch their ears. They love being petted."

First there were four

McCarley and Johnson began with four donkeys they bought on a farm in Hayden and started their Elkmont farm, Calypso JAM. McCarley said calypso is the type music that comes to mind when she thinks of miniature donkeys. JAM is the first initial in the last names for Johnson, a neighboring partner, Sherry Aiken, and McCarley.

They now have nearly 30 donkeys and a pasture of personality on their Elkmont farm.

April hobbles because someone bred a too-tall father with her mother, making her legs somewhat deformed.

Indy backs into people, hoping they will scratch his butt.

Charlie's heehaws pierce the quiet countryside as he complains about his separation from the jennies, female
donkeys.

Brandy watches as her owners kiss her new baby, Stormy, born April 7, the day that storms struck the area.

"They do have their own personalities," Johnson said. "They can be shy, curious, hogs, needy, and there is always one that is bossy."

McCarley, a trainer at Delphi Steering Systems, and Johnson, who works at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, said their co-workers were surprised when they decided to raise miniature donkeys.

"People said, 'You're going to do what?' " Johnson said. "We got a lot of jokes about raising jackasses. We still do."

Their family and friends, however, learned to love the animals, especially their "cross." The cross is a dorsal stripe of darker hair down the length of the back crossed by a shoulder stripe across the top of the body.

Miniature donkeys, which are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, will let children sit on their backs for photos. They will pull two adults in a small cart. They rarely bite or kick people.

"We've never had a bad incident with our donkeys," McCarley said.

So well-behaved are the donkeys, that McCarley took Indy to school for the first time when her nephew's school in Moulton had a share-your-pet day.

Up steps, into school

"He trotted right up the steps into the school and let the kids pet him," she said.

That experience gave McCarley an idea. She wants to get the donkeys involved in community events, such as taking them to nursing homes, letting handicapped children play with them and offering them for live Nativity and Easter scenes.

McCarley and Johnson took Indy on Palm Sunday to Clements Baptist Church, where children hugged his neck and posed for photos on his back.

The duo also sells miniature donkeys, mostly to those who want them as pets.

"If grandparents come out here with their grandkids, they'll be buying one in a heartbeat," McCarley said.

They have sold about 15 from their farm. They won't sell just one donkey unless the buyer has horses, cows or goats.

"A single donkey is a lonely donkey," Johnson said. "They are herd animals and want to be with a herd."

A jenny costs about $1,500, and jacks $500 to $600.

McCarley said they are hardy animals. The donkeys rarely get sick, but when they do, it's hard to tell.

"We were up with Indy for two weeks when he had pneumonia," Johnson said. "He had an IV in. We were so worried about him."

Indy improved and is back to following the women around the yard and going onto the porch so they will pet him. Indy and his fellow donkeys should be around for decades. They have an average life span of 30 years.

One reason for their longevity is their fur. It protects them in the rain and cold by repelling water and keeping them warm, McCarley said.

"The one thing they don't like is the wind," McCarley said. She joked, "I guess it messes up their hair."

A group of donkeys also protects its members. A group will attack and kill a coyote by stomping it to death, she said.

The donkeys also have a fun side. Although McCarley and Johnson have not taken their donkeys to popular competitions in Columbia, Tenn., and Shelbyville, Tenn., they are training Charlie.

Standing a mere 31 inches tall, Charlie is learning to jump over a bar that is 18 inches high. His registered name is Prince Charles, and his father, Cash Royalty, has won awards for best donkey in Texas.

Charlie must jump over the bar from a standstill position. When Charlie balks, McCarley tugs his lead rope and offers encouragement.

"Come, on Charlie. Ready? Up, up."

When Charlie leaps and his back legs knock down the bar, McCarley still pats his head and says, "Good boy, Charlie. Let's try again."

When Charlie clears the bar, McCarley tells him she knew he could do it.

As McCarley pulls him back to his pasture, which is separate from the jennies', Charlie starts heehawing in protest.

"I guess he thinks he deserves a woman after that workout," Johnson says with a grin.

Interested?

Think there's a place in your pasture for a miniature donkey?

Or would you like a miniature donkey to make an appearance for your event?

Contact Cindy Johnson or Sheila McCarley at Calypso JAM Farms in Elkmont, 423-6044.

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