Our First Bottle Baby
2016 proved to be a challenging year in many respects. We rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed 20 donkeys plus one goat. We had also purchased some new additions to our breeding herd, since many of our girls are aging and we needed to bring in some fresh bloodlines. Some of our new additions were pregnant with their first foals. One of these girls was Harmony, a beautiful red girl, that was pretty sweet (most of the time – unless it came to being restrained, hoof trims included). She turned into a different donkey when haltered. It made us wonder if she had some negative experiences in the past. Since we were not sure when she was bred for we kept her in the drylot with some other pregnant jennies to avoid fescue toxicity problems. Everything progressed normally. Harmony witnessed some other foals being born.
I took my visiting parents from Germany to Florida for a two week vacation while my husband watched over the donkeys – in addition to his regular job. We returned from Florida on Sunday afternoon (June 05) – quite exhausted from a two day drive back to Kentucky and all of us having been sick for almost the entire “vacation”. (I was the only driver). Then Monday June 06th.... we checked on Harmony regularly and found her giving birth at around 9 PM. Coyotes were howling really close by and it sounded like they were literally next to her (which they weren't). It had to be terrifying for a defenseless donkey on the ground. She wouldn't realize that she was in a dogsafe enclosure. We watched her for a little bit and realized that she was having a hard time pushing. She seemed exhausted so Freddie went and helped pull the baby. As soon as the baby was delivered we left mom and baby alone outside since it was a warm night. The coyotes must have sensed us and we didn't hear them anymore. A little over an hour later we went back outside figuring that mom and baby would be up with the baby at least looking for milk. What we found was Harmony still in the same place laying down and the baby walking around about 30 feet away looking for its moma. We brought the baby over to his mom, but mom got up and tried to kick him. We immediately knew we had a problem. We figured that if we put them together into a stall that she may still bond with him. We tried everything, and the more we tried the worse it got. She was going to kill her baby. We had to halter her in the process, which made things worse. I managed to milk some colostrum from her – she had plenty – and fed it to the baby. By then she even tried to kick me. We also gave the baby some colostrum paste. I felt sooo very bad for the baby. He wanted his moma, he cried for her... Luckily I was prepared with milk replacer, just for the worst case scenario and syringe fed him for his first couple of feedings. I found a fitting nipple for a cola bottle which I also had been keeping for years. Getting him to take the nipple was yet, another challenge. The only way he would finally take it was by holding the bottle between my legs which would make it a somewhat natural position for him to search for it. (For a week this would be the only way he would nurse from the bottle).
It was after midnight and still exhausted from the trip I had to get up every hour to feed the poor little guy. Karena our 15 year old daughter got up with me every single time for support. We moved him into a secure stall and I was trying to figure out which other jenny would possibly take care of him. I didn't come up with any good solutions since it involved having to seperate best friends which I knew would not work out well for the baby. For the next couple of weeks I was homebound stretching feedings to about every two hours around the clock. I was exhausted, but had no other choice. Freddie has a full-time job and cannot be up at all hours of the night. We started bringing him into the front yard for exercise and let one of the rescue jennies accompany him. As long as he wouldn't try to nurse – she was sweet to him. She had come to us in terrible shape and even at that time we didn't know if she was pregnant or not – so we didn't want to try to make her his full-time moma. As time passed and he tried to run up and down the driveway we let him out into a small fenced in area along with Pearl the jenny, for a few hours each day. That way he would learn to graze which he did. However, he was more attached to us than to Pearl or any other of the donkeys. As he got older he shared time between being with the other moms and babies, and with jennies in the drylot – including Pearl – who we then knew was indeed very pregnant. Nights he would spend in his stall alone to give him time to eat his grain. Everytime he saw us he cried for us, but he had to know that he is a donkey.
One of the biggest challenges we had was with him respecting us. He nipped and tried to rear up on us every chance he got. We had to be very consistent with not allowing any of it and correcting him for his bad behavior. It took several weeks for him to improve and understand that we would pay attention and love on him without him asking for attention. While we had named him “Tumaini” which means “hope” as a newborn, we started calling him “NoNo” because we always had to tell him “No!!! No!!!”. In the end it worked out just fine and he started to understand. He would be fine with other people and with Freddie and his misbehaviors would decline with each day toward myself and Karena. The two hour feeding intervals were slowly stretched to longer times in between – especially during nights. Eventually I would have to get a full night's sleep. I finally got that – 7 whole hours after 7 weeks! It would take a few weeks for me to be able to sleep well through a night because I was now used to getting up several times a night.
Another major challenge we had was trying to change him over to feeding him from a pail. We tried and tried with no avail. He wasn't going to have any of it and we eventually gave up on trying. So until he was weaned he drank from a bottle. Weaning worked fairly well, we added more water to his milk replacer for a few feedings and then fed him straight water from a bottle. For him, the bottle was his emotional balance and just stopping it would not have been good for him. He decided on his own after a few water bottles that drinking from a bucket was the better option since it was the same stuff. After the bottle was gone after about 3 ˝ months - his behavior improved even more, not being much different from any of the other babies. By then he was eating his grain and hay well.
I hope for the future that we won't have any more bottle babies. Tumaini (NoNo) was the first bottle baby we had in 24 years of having donkeys. We feel that his mom rejected him because of the surrounding circumstances of her whole birth, her being a first time mom that had just recently come home to us. For her it was a negative experience, and she was not able to bond with her baby because he got up way before she did. We tried to reintroduce her to him, several times throughout the coming weeks and for a little while she seemed at least interested in him – she thought he smelled interesting. By then, he was scared of her and he had no interest of her attention.
Through all of this, Karena never missed a feeding – we were lucky that it was summer break... She learned much about responsibility and commitment this summer and how to set priorities. Her summer naturally was very different but she wouldn't have had it any other way.
What we learned from this experience: Always be prepared and be willing to put the time in! If we had not been prepared Tumaini would have never made it. There are plenty of challenges in raising a bottle baby, but they can be managed. Like with a child you have to be consistent and not allow bad behavior. He has a new home now along with one of our other foals and is a happy, healthy boy!
First couple of weeks...
Exercise time in the front yard and getting to know the other 4-legged non-donkey family members....
More outside time - trying to figure out that grass is for crazing. Tumaini helping with poop cleaning...
Tumaini at about 3 /12 months shortley before weaning him from the bottle.
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Our First Bottle Baby
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The Little Friends Ranch
1034 Carl Crisp Rd.
Almo, KY 42020
Last modified: 04/05/17 03:22 PM
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