Every donkey has their own quirky character, so keeping the peace among the 230-strong herd here in Sidmouth is no mean feat. Thankfully, we have our own 'Donkey Supernanny' on hand to keep the herd happy.

Anyone who’s ever planned a wedding will know that the seating plan is one of the biggest head-scratchers of the whole event. Who gets on with whom? Where do the kids go? What’s Nan going to eat?

So spare a thought for the farm manager at The Donkey Sanctuary’s Slade House Farm, who has 230 donkeys to keep happy and healthy in an environment that has to be just-so.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to matching donkeys, who come in as many different shapes, sizes and temperaments as humans do.

That’s why resident 'Donkey Supernanny' Maxine Carter, along with her team of dedicated farm staff, has an ever-evolving housing plan to suit the needs of the dozens of donkeys under her tutelage – many of whom may have had unimaginably hard lives.

It is essential that grooms at the sanctuary know their donkeys inside and out, so they can read each individual character and report back to the team on their behaviour or additional needs.

Just recently there have been a few stable-swaps. Staff know that introducing new donkeys to a herd is not always going to be plain-sailing. Donkeys are territorial and sometimes there is a pecking order to be either upheld or challenged.

While this may present some - let’s say - ‘boisterous’ behaviour, it is a natural element of animal interaction – though Maxine can often find herself playing the role of ‘Donkey Supernanny’.

“Sometimes it’s like having some new kids in class,” she says. “If they’re playing up I’m often saying, ‘right you need to have five minutes out’ or ‘you two need to be separated for a bit’, but it’s all just a natural part of being a donkey."

“We closely monitor new donkeys who arrive into a group for at least two weeks to see how they are interacting and if they are enjoying their new environment.

“It’s like air traffic control! We have various groups to put the donkeys into, we have the oldies and the young boys and the ones who can’t really move that well, we also have a group for those more 'boisterous' individuals who need a bit of extra behaviour work!"

Teething problems for Timmy and Tommy at Slade House Farm

Two newbies who at first received a frostier-than-usual welcome to the herd are Timmy and Tommy. Originally found in a pitiful state, Timmy and Tommy had been locked in separate enclosures, standing on top of months of their own faeces.

Timmy and Tommy standing in a stable before being rescued
Timmy inside his stable before being rescued
Timmy and Tommy were found in the most dire of conditions.

Settling the pair into life at Sidmouth was understandably going to be a delicate operation, given the trauma the pair had previously been through at the hands of people.

Since their rescue, they had been receiving all of the care they needed at our peaceful Woods Farm while they undertook the training they needed to be ready to move into their permanent home at our headquarters in Sidmouth.

In an unfortunate turn of fate, however, Shelter One stalwart Zippo took umbrage to the pair and began to bite and kick them when they were introduced to their new home at Slade House Farm.

Thankfully, knowing the group as well as they do, Maxine and her team decided to separate Timmy and Tommy from the rest of the group before re-introducing them even more slowly. With time and patience, Zippo has let down his guard around the new herd-members. Thanks to our team's understanding of each of the donkeys' personalities we can ensure harmonious herds all-round, and with their horrific past behind them, Timmy and Tommy are ready to enjoy life again with their new group of friends.

It all takes time, but with a little bit of patience and a lot of donkey expertise, our own ‘Donkey Supernanny’ makes sure that when it comes to having new kids on the block, everyone is playing nicely in the paddock.

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