Weather Forecast


Next generation of 'mini hinneys'

Faith the miniature donkey nuzzles her three-week-old offspring, Love. The mini donkeys will be bred with miniature horses. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Sue Swanson is forming a special bond with Love. Here they have a nose-to-nose chat. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
Pinky, the miniature stud, has been chosen to breed with the donkeys. He and Love get acquainted through the fence until she grows and adapts. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 3

You can't call Love a little jackass. She's much too cute.

But she, her mom and "auntie" may be the breeders of a generation of "mini hinneys."

At Sue and Keith Swanson's miniature horse farm outside of Park Rapids, a strange sound has invaded the pasture. It's the sound of a baby crying.

"Oh my stars, I never heard anything like that," Sue said, three weeks after Love's birth. Love hasn't learned how to "bray" yet.

The Swansons bought Love's mom and another female miniature donkey in Platte, S.D., last February, more or less on a whim.

Sue's sister in Iowa planted the seed. Sue traded her sister a miniature mare for a yearling jenny, a female donkey, so each sister could broaden her herd.

Then Sue and Keith hit the "exotics' auction in South Dakota.

They skated home on icy roads, praying that the trailer and truck stayed on the road. Hence, the names: Faith and Hope.

Sue didn't know Faith was pregnant when she brought the donkeys home, but soon she saw a bouncing stomach.

On Nov. 10, Love came into the world, weighing less than 10 pounds. She was so little, she could have fallen prey to a bald eagle, Sue said, so her first few days on the farm were carefully monitored.

"I picked her up and there was nothing to her," Sue said.

Now at 22 inches tall, Her fur is soft and fuzzy. She has large brown eyes like her mom.

But where Faith took some time adjusting to the Swansons. Love has no such trepidation.

She bounces around the corral like she's spring-loaded, kicking up her heels and occasionally emitting the strange sound that mimics a baby crying.

When Sue comes to feed her grains, Love is right there smooching her.

"She smells the peanut butter toast I had for breakfast," Sue laughs.

Pinky, the prospective stud horse, keeps a watchful eye on his girls, occasionally giving them a nuzzle through the wire fence.

Sue says she's breeding miniature mules, but what she's doing is something even more special.

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. A rarer combination is the hinney, born of a male horse and a female donkey.

Mules and hinneys, which are born mostly sterile, are considered much smarter than horses or donkeys and not as obstinate, more sure-footed with longer life spans and more patience.

Faith is the epitome of mellow. She patiently watches her daughter scamper around the corral, kicking up mud in the December heat wave.

Sue said mules are known for bonding with humans and become protective of their humans and the animals they'll share the Rockin' S Ranch with.

They're an acquired taste but they grow on humans quickly, she admitted.

Faith didn't have the best of care in the past, Sue said, but she's warming to the Swansons and seems acclimated to her new home.

"She studies out there," Sue said of Faith. "She looks for deer."

And coyotes can pose a problem to the small animals, so Sue is hoping the donkeys will be on full-alert coyote patrol.

The donkeys have much more personality than the placid little horses. Faith throws herself on the ground and does a couple rolls, kicking her hooves into the air. Sue said sometimes Love takes the opportunity to jump over Mom.

Love is full of beans already. If Sue shuts her in the barn, even for a brief time, the baby cries start immediately.

Nighttime, Love is like most kids. She wants to play and stay up late. When she has to go down for the night, she cries all over again.

It takes a year for a donkey to foal, Sue said, while the gestation period for the mini horses is 11 months.

Come spring, Love will be surrounded by offspring. At least 10 of the miniature horses are expecting.

Sue buys and sells the ponies, but the herd keeps growing. She and Keith are up to 23 miniature horses.

And maybe someday in the future, 23 horses' patoots.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364