Hi everyone, my name's Sara and I'm a groom at Slade House Farm This is my first blog, so hope you will enjoy!
Meet Fred, the donkey who defines the word "handsome" (I think even David Beckham would struggle to look this good!)
This special chap joined the Sanctuary in February 2010, when his duties as a stallion were no longer required. Fred was born in his previous home and spent 11 years happily chatting up the lady donkeys and siring offspring who I bet were equally as gorgeous.
Here at the Sanctuary we have a no breeding policy as we have taken in thousands of donkeys that require care, attention and a new home. It was time for Fred to part with his ‘manhood’ and retire to a life of cuddles and attention instead.
Unfortunately Fred had a tough time in his first few weeks at the Sanctuary as he suffered from a painful foot condition called laminitis. Laminitis can be caused by a number of factors and even when all precautions are put in place, such as correct/controlled diet and minimal stress, it can still occur. Luckily he was in the best hands and had a fantastic team of vets and grooms to look after him and nurse him back to full health.
Fred wasn’t the best patient as he was extremely nervous and didn’t understand people were there to help. So medication/examinations had to done whilst dodging kicking legs and a trying to catch a stampeding boy, who is much bigger than your average donkey! Not an easy job, but the experienced team persevered and helped him get better.
After his time in the Isolation Unit where all new arrivals spend six weeks before joining the main herds, he was ready to move to a farm and start his life of luxury. We had to carefully select the right place for Fred to go, with no female donkeys (for the time being) and a small group so he could get used to living with others. Two cheeky little donkeys called Jack and Little Butch kindly volunteered to be Fred’s pals to show him the ropes, so he came to Slade House Farm where his new grooms (Steph and I) couldn’t wait to meet him. Fred was quite excited to meet the boys (although I think he was a little disappointed they weren’t girls!) and happily grazed by their side.
Fred was back to full health, had a nice home with good views, two little friends and grooms that adore him! Although he wasn’t that convinced about the last one. From the very start he was extremely nervous and thought that we were monsters. Being extremely interested in animal behaviour, Fred was the perfect project for me.
From the moment I started working with him, I knew he was a very special boy and needed time and patience to bring out the best in him. The first lesson for Fred to learn was that we had unlimited cuddles for him and human contact was enjoyable. I could try and make out that this was a hard job for us, but I don’t think anyone would believe me! Who wouldn’t want to spend time cuddling this beautiful boy! It took a few weeks before we could walk straight up to him without him backing off, and he was still unsure of unfamiliar people. We spent an hour on his first ‘weigh-in’ quietly waiting for him to walk onto the weigh scales. It was important for him to make the decision to go on himself as this type of learning will be remembered more easily by him for the future. Weighing is done once a month, so the first time is very influential for the future.
The biggest issue with Fred was his feet. He got suspicious if you even looked at them, never mind picked them up! The training started by just stroking the top of his leg until he was relaxed and working our way down a little further each session, remaining within his ‘comfort zones’. He soon worked out that actually it was OK and if he picked up his feet quietly he got the ultimate reward….. A yummy ginger biscuit - donkeys just can’t resist them! Whilst picking up his feet I use the command ‘Fred foot’ and after only a few sessions I could say the command and he would pick his foot up without me even touching it - clever boy. You could see the trust and bond really starting to grow between us.
A few months on and we are inseparable friends. Fred will be groomed and have his feet picked out without even a head collar on, and monthly ‘weigh-ins’ are simple as he struts his handsome stuff onto the weigh scales all by himself. He is getting brave with new people and is accepting cuddles from them too. The last time the farrier visited there was no need for sedation and he quietly stood for his wormer the other day, such fantastic progress.
However Fred has picked up a ‘Diva’ habit and insists that every morning I give him a big teddy bear cuddle and a kiss on the nose before he will eat his breakfast- and he will remind me if I forget!
I think that Fred’s story reminds me how amazing these animals are and how ultimately rewarding my job is.