How to Train Your Donkey
BY KEELY ANDREWS
Since 2021, St Catherine’s Catholic College Singleton has been giving feral donkeys a new purpose.
In partnership with Brooke Purvis, the college joined the Last Stop Donkey Program, helping to grow and develop the program to give feral donkeys a new and helpful purpose.
The aim of the program is to train feral donkeys into valuable livestock that can be used as pets, livestock guardians and welfare animals.
The schools first approach with the donkeys was run by the head of Agriculture at Saint Catherine’s Catholic College, Mrs Joanna Towers.
Joanna’s Year 9 Agriculture class of 2021 was split into pairs and divided between 12 donkeys.
This then began the classes aim to train the donkeys to be caught in a paddock, led to yards, be tied up and pick up their feet.
The donkeys that had these traits would then be eligible for sale.
“It was hectic,” Joanna described to the Hunter River Times, expressing how it was great fun and very rewarding, but it was overall hectic and very full on.
As the program developed, Joanna had realised that the process in which they were training the donkeys was very similar to breaking in a steer, though it was soon realised that this wasn’t the best method for the stubborn donkeys, with the steer method putting stress on the creatures and making them difficult to work with.
Joanna came in to contact with Brooke Purvis and Brooke came up with a new way to handle the donkeys.
This method is called ‘gentling’, where the donkeys are handled slowly and in a lowkey, low stress way.
“The gentling method is one that is more considerate to the animal,” Joanna explained.
“It has a few different aspects to it with some as simple as being with the donkeys, walking around with them, talking to them and feeding them.”
Once it is established that the donkey feels safe with you walking around in its paddock, that is when you begin to brush, put on a holster and pick up their feet.
The gentling method also uses a reward system of treats.
During 2022, Saint Catherine’s was given 40 more donkeys to continue their work.
However, Joanna soon realised that she didn’t have the time to break in the donkeys using the gentling method.
Mindful of the donkeys, Brooke stepped up and took in the donkeys at her own property.
When the donkeys are being put up for sale, Brooke matches the donkey with the buyer’s purpose for it, for example if a donkey was feisty, they would be sold to a buyer looking for a guardian.
“Brooke goes above and beyond with her service to help new owners,” Joanna said.
“She doesn’t leave them stranded, she helps them and welcomes new buyers to stay in contact if they ever need any assistance.”