Sunday 17 December 2017

Donkeys, not known to breed like rabbits

YOUNG PERSEPHONE will shortly have us bankrupt out of house and home. The dear child has just bought a hamster, a bright-eyed little creature, completely adorable in its own piebald-pelted way. The new pet, bought for €12, was immediately christened Hammy – as in Hamish.

However, less than a fortnight after the creature moved in, we discovered that it was actually a case of Hammy – as in Hamantha or even possibly Hamuela.

She dropped a litter of little hammies in the cotton wool nest in the corner of her cage. Three of these unexpected offspring have survived, so they will soon be ready to eat, ready to work-out in the hamster wheel and ready to breed.

Only now do we discover that we have acquired a species which turns over the generations in less than eight weeks. In the world of these merry little critters, the phrase to ' breed like rabbits' is to suggest a regime of chaste forebearance. The solo specimen purchased by Persephone had the little hammies (should we call them rashers?) in her tummy for no more than fourteen days. The €12 starting price has bought us into a fast ticking demographic time bomb. If one becomes four so swiftly then we could have a thousand rashers on our hands within a year.

We should have realised that when it comes to picking pets that, to borrow a phrase from the world of boxing, there is no pound for pound contender to match the donkey for value. Let's hear it for the adorable ass, the beautiful burro, yes, the delectable donkey. And there has never been a better time to get started as an owner.

The price of horses may have dropped drastically in recession but the value of donkeys has fared even worse and practically disappeared. Recent adverts have put a cost of €90 or even as little as €50 on donkeys for sale. Such vendors are putting out a cry for help, seeking someone to come and take the animals off their hands.

Now, of course, there are specialist areas of the market where a decent amount of money is still demanded. Your correspondent spoke to a breeder of miniature donkeys from the north Wexford area who insisted on remaining anonymous. He said there were still purchasers ready to shell out considerable cash for his diminutive stock, mature examples of which are little bigger than a Saint Bernard dog. However, he accepted that many breeders of the standard sized donkey have stopped producing foals because they see no immediate commercial future in the business.

'I would not let them go cheap,' one defiant donkey owner from the New Ross area, told me. ' They are real old pets.' Another of the anonymous brigade, she tried to explain the appeal of an animal that does not live up to the downbeat Eeyore character of the Winnie The Pooh stories and movies.

A better, more cheerful donkey role model from the world of film than the lugubrious Eeyore was offered by TG4 the other night when they broadcast ' Two Mules For Sister Sara'. Clint Eastwood as an outlaw and Shirley MacLaine as a nun were the nominal stars but once Sister Sara discovered a sturdy little donkey to carry her around the Mexican countryside, the four-legged performer with the white-tipped ears stole every scene.

One owner who does not mind speaking out openly about the appeal of donkeys is Helen Cousins. She is in the tourism business at Kilmore. Her three animals may not have flippers but they are every bit as popular with visitors in their own way as Fungi is with swimmers off Dingle. Guests are even prepared to forgive them

their habit of occasionally braying at full volume at odd hours of the night.

' What's the appeal? They are comical. It's their quirky nature and they are very friendly,' muses Helen. ' We don't have traps or use them for any load-bearing activity but people just love the animals.'

She reports that, like the hamsters, they give birth with remarkable ease but, unlike Hammy and her fellow rodents, it takes a long time for donkeys to make babies. A mare spends more than a year pregnant and the chances are that she is carrying just one foal, while the hamster is capable of delivering a litter of 14.

Granted, Jennifer's stock needs a patch of grass, occasional food supplements, some shelter against winter storms and regular paring of hooves. But, pound for pound, a €12 hamster is knocked into a cocked hat by a €90 donkey when it comes to giving value for money.

Incidentally, the Kilmore donkeys may be seen on

THE OUL EYESIGHT is going. People Newspapers' sports supremo Alan Aherne has been in touch to contradict an assertion made in last week's ' Diary'. It was stated in this column that the shirt numbers of Wexford's starting 15 in the recent All-Ireland camogie final were not carried in the match programme. As editor of the programme, Alan made contact pronto to state that this was emphatically not the case. And he is totally, one hundred per cent correct. It's just that I failed to discern the digits printed in black against a purple background. Sorry, Alan. I'm off to consult my optician.

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