Life is better… with donkeys

Mike and Susie were looking for a natural solution to keep the grass down around their newly fenced in dam. Then they fell in love.

When Mike and Susie first visited Dungog almost two decades ago, they stayed at the town’s oldest homestead, Rocky Hill.

“It was rustic, it was basic, and we thoroughly enjoyed it,” Mike recalls fondly. “Even back then, we thought owning this place would be a dream come true. But we never dared to do more than dream.”
When they had the opportunity to buy the property, they jumped at the chance and threw themselves into country life with gusto. They repainted the interior walls, got rid of concrete tanks that blocked the views, and took up the battle with the overgrown garden.

“There was a lower section of the paddocks, that was all reedy and full of snakes. It was a real problem. So, we had a dam built there.

From dam to donkeys

“Blow-ins that we are, we upgraded it to lake status thinking it’s too good to just be a dam. Then we built a big expensive fence around it so cattle wouldn’t ruin our new lake.
“Which raised the question of how to keep the grass down.

“We thought about goats, but they can be a real pain, and alpacas keep spitting. Then we went down to Melbourne for Christmas and along the way we stopped at Susie’s great aunt’s.

“It just so happened that there’s a miniature donkey stud next door so we went to have a look. And as soon as we stepped inside the paddock we fell in love.

“The owners told us that demand for miniature donkeys far outstripped supply and that we could even make a little business of it. We went on to buy our first two jennies from them, Jellybean and Buttercup.

I rented a huge horse float to pick them up. It was so embarrassingly oversized for the two tiny creatures, I bought a massive amount of bales of hay to fill it up, so it wouldn’t look quite so ridiculous.”

Back at Rocky Hill, the couple could hardly get the donkeys off the float. “We tried pushing them, but they simply wouldn’t move,” Mike laughs. “We really had no idea what we were doing.”

They set about learning everything they could, so they could add to their herd and start breeding.
As part of their quest, they came across donkey expert Christine Berry and her go-to manual Donkeys: Business as Usual, A Beginner’s Guide.

Mike reached out to the author and learned that Christine is living locally and runs Donkey Welfare with Heart Inc., a donkey sanctuary in the Hunter Valley.

“Christine became our fairy godmother. She taught us not to feed the donkeys anything extra, not even a carrot.

Read more in our Spring Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Frank Schulze