Middle Manager; Eleanor-the-Donkey.
A business of any size needs good middle-managers, and here at Miles Smith Farm, we have a donkey who has promoted herself to "petting-zoo supervisor." She leads a crew of adopted critters who act as farm ambassadors. Because of their small size and gentle natures, they connect with children and adults better than 1,000-pound cows.
Donkeys come in many colors and sizes, but Eleanor is a small, gray Sicilian donkey with a cross on her withers and a black stripe down her back; markings and height typical of Sicilian donkeys. She shares her paddock with Abby-the-Sheep and twin Nigerian Dwarf goats named Pixie and Dixie. Eleanor and Abby came here a few years ago when Jeff Jordan's Chichester estate sold his livestock, and we acquired Pixie and Dixie two years ago from the estate of John Hersey in Loudon.
Eleanor Takes Charge
Eleanor was timid at first, but after a few months, she took charge of the other petting-zoo animals. One job she takes very seriously is managing the feeding schedule. In the morning, as soon as she sees us feeding the horses, she lets out a loud bray to remind us that her folks are hungry, too. To get my attention, horses give a soft whinny as if to say, "Excuse me, it's time for breakfast." On the other hand, the donkey lets out a piercing hee-haw as if to say, "Get over here NOW! I'm HUNGRY!" which she repeats until the hay is served. She's bigger than the sheep and goats and could hog all the food, but she doesn't. She's fair-minded and shares the hay. She is also the peacekeeper in the group.
Pixie and Dixie don't like Abby-the-Sheep and will push her away from the food. But the goats respect Eleanor, so Abby sticks close to her to eat in peace.
When farm-friend Trish cleans the paddock, she lets all four critters loose to roam the gravel-covered barnyard, and Eleanor makes an occasion of it. As soon as she is released, she will turn around a few times, like a dog getting ready to curl up. Then she'll lie down and roll in the gravel, scratching her back the hard way. Next, she'll search for what all donkeys love: food. She knows she's not supposed to eat grain from the open chicken coop and will look around first to see if anyone is watching. If the coast is clear, she eats what she can reach. The extra grain and a few affectionate scratchings of her big ears are fringe benefits that she deserves. When it's time to return to the paddock, Trish only needs to lead Eleanor back in because the other three will follow their leader.
All kinds of instinctive behaviors operate on a farm like ours. Some of them cause excitement and trouble, and some of them promote harmony and peace. Happily, Eleanor makes the farm a better place – despite the early-morning braying.