One sunny afternoon, in April two years ago, a white horsebox pulled onto the farm yard; as the driver opened the top half of the van door, four extremely long, grey, furry ears popped up, two sets of eyes, followed by four huge nostrils, and way too many teeth to count. A heart wrenching, ear tingling, life affirming, animal donkey bray filled the yard; finally, our long-awaited donkeys had arrived.
Nora and Dora were two of five donkeys found roaming in Ireland, weak and neglected. They were rescued by the Donkey Sanctuary and shipped to the charity’s headquarters in Sidmouth, Devon. The donkey sanctuary currently houses just over 400 rescued donkeys and offer some of the best animal welfare treatment available to donkeys across the world. After a rehabilitation period at the donkey sanctuary, Nora and Dora soon found comfort in a new foster home in Kent. They were extremely happy there, but sadly, Cindy, their new foster mum, became ill and we were asked if we could provide them with a new, permanent foster home. Of course, we agreed.
Nora and Dora are the best of friends and staff and visitors have observed firsthand the meaning of a donkey bond or “donkey friends for life”. They are inseparable and have to do everything together; donkey rides, walks out in the neighbourhood in the winter months, veterinary treatment (even if only one of them is ill). Donkeys develop very strong bonds with their companions and separating bonded pairs can create enough stress to result in the serious condition of hyperlipaemia, a severe metabolic disorder which can be fatal. Fortunately, Dora and Nora can always be together in their life at the farm.
Humans have to prove their worth and work hard at gaining the trust of a donkey and even then, the trust can be broken over something very small. Once when Dora had tried to bite Nora for the fourth time, I shouted a loud but firm NO, Dora flipped her ears straight back (a sign of anxiety) and from then on as soon as she heard my voice or I entered her enclosure her ears would flip back and she would stand in a corner, with her rear end facing me. She couldn’t have made it any clearer that she was not happy with the way I had spoken to her and it took about TWO months of gentle coaxing and many treats later for her to accept my human friendship again.
Sunday donkey rides are now a popular farm feature
Donkeys are not easily startled (unlike horses) and therefore are much safer to ride. They have the reputation of being stubborn but in fact they are highly intelligent creatures; if they see something unfamiliar or hear something that they don’t much like, they will just stop and stand perfectly still and no matter how much you try to move them they will stand their ground and refuse to budge. One quickly learns that patience and reassurance is the only way to negotiate with these sensitive souls.
“True donkey whisperers know to patiently let them learn by watching and by making their own decision about readiness to proceed. Eventually, the ever-curious, affectionate donkey will willingly take on the task”.
Donkey Sanctuary 2016
Nora and Dora love to eat grass & for breakfast and dinner they get slices of barley straw. They also like eating shrubs and plants. We give them four slices of barley straw everyday which makes them far cheaper to maintain than the horses. Their diet is carefully balanced for their health and they shouldn’t be given extras as it upsets their digestion and they easily put on weight.
Donkeys originated in the African desert. They love the heat of the sun and really dislike the rain. Unlike a horse, donkeys do not have a natural buildup of grease to make their coat waterproof, so they need access to shelter as they can get cold very quickly.
They are members of the Equidae family, which also includes horses and zebras.
The question I am asked the most is which donkey is older? Nora is taller and has a lot of grey colouring especially around her face, she looks like the older of the two, but is the youngest at 9 years old. Dora is smaller, browner, and the oldest at 13 years. A donkey’s age can be approximately measured by the size, growth pattern and number of teeth. As a rough guide it is estimated that one year of a donkey’s life is equivalent to about three years of a human.
Donkeys, though typically small, are disproportionately strong. A healthy, mature donkey can carry 25% of its own weight! This is why donkeys are the “quintessential beast of burden, and contribute to the development of many nations by working in mines, space added hauling freight, pulling carts, and carrying riders”.
Personality wise, Nora reminds me of the depiction of Donkey in the film, Shrek; playful, curious, and funny. If she were human, she would probably like to sing, tell silly jokes, talk for the sake of talking. She tries to look for the positive and cheer up those closest to her, which can at times prove rather annoying to Dora!
Dora, on the other hand, exhibits different behaviours; she is calm, sensitive and retiring in nature, and moves more slowly than young Nora. She reminds me of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.
The following extract makes me smile and reminds me so much of Dora.
“Eeyore”, said Owl, “Christopher Robin is giving a party.”
“Very interesting,” said Eeyore. “I suppose they will be sending me down the odd bits which got trodden on. Kind and Thoughtful. Not at all, don’t mention it.
“There is an Invitation for you” said Owl
“What’s that like?”
“Yes, I heard you. Who dropped it?”
“This isn’t something to eat, it’s asking you to the party. To-morrow.”
Eeyore shook his head slowly.
“You mean Piglet. The little fellow with the excited ears. That’s Piglet. I’ll tell him.”
“No, no!” said Owl, getting quite fussy. “It’s you!”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Christopher Robin said – All of them! Tell all of them”
“All of them, except Eeyore?”
“All of them,” said Owl sulkily.
“Ah!” said Eeyore. “A mistake, no doubt, but still, I shall come. Only don’t blame me when it rains.”
A. A. Milne. Winnie the Pooh
You can visit Nora and Dora at the farm, we are open seven days a week, 9 to 5pm, and on Sundays, weather permitting, they give rides to young children.
Or join Nora & Dora on our sponsored family walk on Friday 17th April.
Kentish Town City Farm,
1 Cressfield Close,
off Grafton Road
Wilma and Betty, Oxford Sandy and Black piglets arrived at KTCF at six weeks old in summer 2018 full of squeaks and energy. Named after the two charismatic matriarchs from The Flintstones they have been growing ever since.
Wilma and Betty proved to be an instant hit with staff, volunteers and visitors alike. They came to us at the beginning of our Summer Play Scheme, which meant we could introduce our excited Young Farmers to them, and at the same time get the girls used to human interaction. The kids took 30 minute shifts in pairs in the wallow with the piglets, playing, cuddling and caring for them, and as a consequence the sisters have grown into two pigs that are completely at ease with people. This is precisely what is needed in a city farm environment, particularly with large, heavy animals that have 44 teeth.
As time has gone on, Wilma and Betty have developed quite different personalities.
Betty learnt her name very quickly and responds with excitable grunts and squeaks which sometimes sound aggressive but actually translate to ‘oh my goodness I’m so pleased to see you!’ She will readily drop to the ground like a sack of spuds, expectant of tummy tickles when she hears familiar voices, and also loves to have her face and nose stroked to the point of virtual hypnosis.
Wilma on the other hand is much more indifferent and can take or leave attention. If she is already down doing a bit of sunbathing, then by all means tummy rubs and fuss are fabulous. But if she’s alert and foraging, she’s more likely to just brush past you to the next more interesting smelling thing, pausing only to see if you have anything in your pockets she can pinch. She also tends to be a bit more vocal at feeding times than Betty.
Pigs are very intelligent, and it only took a couple of days for the girls to learn where their wallow is, what times are mealtimes, and who are their softest targets when it comes to cuddles and treats.
You can tell the girls apart in a few different ways:
Wilma’s snout around the nostrils is entirely pink, where Betty’s is black on the top edge.
Wilma has both of her yellow ear tags still in place, but Betty has managed to lose both of hers.
Wilma’s colouring is a slightly stronger ginger. This may change over time.
OSBs are one of the UK’s oldest and more unusual breeds. You can read more about their history and characteristics here:
We still remember and miss the magnificent Margery, a Gloucester Old Spot pig who was with us for quite a few years with her own very distinct character but now we have Betty and Wilma and all their particularities who have made their own special place amongst the animals at KTCF.
The reason pigs enjoy bathing in mud is because it helps to cool them down in warm weather. Contrary to the popular saying ‘sweating like a pig’, pigs have very few sweat glands and therefore cannot sweat. They need the cool muddy water to lower their temperature as it evaporates from their skin. The dry mud then also acts as a sun block and exfoliant when it rubs off any dry skin they may have.
Visit the farm and see Wilma & Betty and find out more fascinating pig facts. We are open seven days a week, 9 to 5pm.
Kentish Town City Farm,
1 Cressfield Close,
off Grafton Road