Steve and Linda Wilmoth say size has nothing to do with potential

The great thing about livestock production is it is not limited to size, species or purpose. For Linda and Steve Wilmoth of rural Fairland, Okla., raising mini donkeys is less about size and more about the profound effect their little charges have on their human admirers.
Growing up in the Fairland area – as did their three children, Michelle, Brian and Misty – the couple are no strangers to farming. Linda’s father, Odell Gelvin, managed Ogeechee Farms for 20 years, raising polled Herefords. When Linda and Steve married, they partnered with Odell in a dairy operation for 20 years, later purchasing roughly 1,400 acres, where they ran 750 head of beef cows.
Steve spent 24 years in education, 21 years as a superintendent and Linda worked as a secretary. In 2000, they moved to Georgia. Missing farm life, Linda researched mini donkeys. She found them to be durable easy keepers, having few health issues and requiring less space than larger livestock.
That was 10 years ago and now their herd has grown to five jacks, 30 jennies and 15 babies on the 35 acres that they bought back from her father when they returned home in 2010.
Like other equines, they are herd animals, but one-on-one with a human, they can develop a bond that can last for years.
“You can’t help but get attached,” Steve adds. “They grow on you and everyone falls in love with them.”
“It’s kind of, like a box of chocolates,” Linda quips. “We really get into the study of their genetics but even then, it is a surprise.”
The Wilmoth’s carefully rotate breeding to give the mothers a break and allow the foals to get a good start. When they are born, they are about 21 inches tall and weigh about 15 pounds. Their ears seem to dwarf everything but their legs, which are long and gangly until they grow into them. They shave all the animals, except the foals, once a year in the spring to help keep them cool. They all have a top knot of hair or bangs. The coat of the foals is very soft and wooly in appearance but once they are grown it straightens out. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to clip, worm, vaccinate and trim the tiny hooves of each animal. Because their hooves are stove pipe shaped, they can suffer ankle problems if the hooves get too long.
“I’m working harder now than before I retired,” Steve chuckles.
After they are weaned at four months, Linda works with them to get them halter broke and ready for new owners. They are considered old enough to breed at 3 years and can live to 30 or 40 years old.
“As soon as they are born and the momma cleans them up, we go out and start imprinting with them,” Linda notes.
The mini donkeys can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $17,000, depending on pedigree, colors and the market. However, they sell their animals at pet prices; $300 for jacks and $400 to $500 for jennies, unless they have unusual colors or markings. The farthest away they have sold a baby was to a woman in the Cayman Islands.
The tiny donkeys are said to have originated near Sicily and legend states the cross on their back is from carrying either the Virgin Mary or Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The breed has been registered since 1958 and the National Miniature Donkey Association began in 1990.
The breed is popular because of their laid-back temperament, making them great therapy animals or even companion animals for high strung horses, such as barrel racers. However, they are never used as protection animals because of their size.
There are competitions throughout the United States, such as halter, buggy races and jumping. The Wilmoth’s take their animals to local fairs and FFA events to showcase their unique qualities.
“But of course, they are always going to be an ass,” Linda said with a grin. “You never know if they are going to lead or not.”
Eight-year-old granddaughter, Calli, grew up with donkeys and has a gelding of her own. She can be found in the pens with the babies or playing with her little gelding.
“We hope that she will become involved in competitions when she gets older,” Steve said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here