Normally on a Saturday morning, it's a well-earned lie-in, but not today. With boots on, I'm on my way out of the house at 6.30 am to pick up broom, shovel and wheelbarrow to give a helping hand in the Isolation Unit.
I'm greeted with a cheerful smile from Nicky who's already making up feeds. She gives me a quick run down of where everything is before I set off to Shelter 1. As I approach, inquisitive faces peer at me wondering if I've brought their breakfast. It wasn't easy getting through the gate with five donkeys wanting to say hello and give you a helping hand. Jessica, particularly was the one wanting to offer the most assistance. From checking everything I put into the wheelbarrow to giving the broom an extra nudge from behind. With their stable and yard cleaned and swept, I gave them all a cuddle and moved on to the next shelter.
Syd R> and Ben had already been fed their breakfast and they were off out into their field when I began cleaning out their stable.
Next were Little Bill and Bruno, the youngest of the donkeys in Isolation and I must say the tidiest too! It was a pleasure to watch them playing together in their field as I swept their yard. They galloped around playing 'tag'. Once Little Bill had caught up with Bruno, they darted off into a different direction and the chase was on to catch the other one.
Mr Zebedee and Crumpet were already out in their field by the time I reached their shelter, so it was on with my work with no distractions from the donkeys!
Nicky had now finished handing out the feeds so she joined me and we headed off to muck out Twiggy, Star, Brandy and Gem, four miniature donkeys. For their size, I reckon these donkeys won the award for most mess - the hay box was empty, the contents strewn all over the floor. Their sawdust bedding scattered to all four corners of their stable. Messy they may have been, but their sweet natures made you forgive them instantly.
Both Star and Gem were extremely interested in the wheelbarrow which was almost as tall as them. Having found nothing inside, both looked at me with a quizzical expression. I realised I had been stood watching these little donkeys and quite rightly I snapped-too and started filling the wheelbarrow. Before leaving, I gave each of them a cuddle and tickle behind the ears.
With the wheelbarrow emptied, we then joined a group of donkeys that had only arrived last week. Two of these were from EST Birmingham - Domino and Jacob. After many years of helping give rides to children with additional needs, they had now returned to the Sanctuary to retire.
Rosie was waiting for us at the gate to her field. With only a few months to go before her foal is due, she looks fit and healthy and her 'bump' has grown since the last time I saw her. It's quite a rare occasion for us as we have a no breeding policy and only have foals if a donkey is taken in already pregnant.
We're almost done. One of the donkeys in the next shelter is Rocky, a retired beach donkey from Blackpool, who used to work on the sands with Harvey, who retired to the Sanctuary in 2006 and now lives at Trow Farm.
The last group of donkeys were all grazing in their field until we arrived. On hearing our voices, they all galloped over to us braying at the top of their voices. What a fantastic sound! With the donkeys was Goldie, a pony who used to live at Newton Farm until his donkey friend died. He's now back in Isolation where he has joined this group of donkeys and already he is beginning to settle in with them.
It's now 10.00 am and my work in Isolation is done. I'm not an early morning person, and it's been hard work, but at the same time a real pleasure just to share time with the donkeys.
I wave my goodbye to Nicky as she heads back down to Shelter 1 to begin grooming all 38 donkeys currently in the Isolation Unit!