Last year, 2013, I built this shelter house for our miniature donkeys. And wouldn’t you know it, the very first year we have miniature donkeys on the farm we get hit with the worst winter in years and years. Temperatures as low as 15 degrees below zero!
Finnegan and Fergus did fine with lots and lots of straw in their little house, but I promised them I’d build them a warmer house for next winter. So here it is . . .
I started by digging below grade, into a dirt/bush pile that was already next to the donkey pen. In the nursery business we are well aware of the benefit of ground heat, so I knew that if I could get the donkeys a little below grade they benefit from the natural heat in the ground. You can see the old donkey house off the left.
I made the outside walls with tongue and groove two by six treated wood. You can see how much of this donkey house is going to be protected from the wind. That was one of my goals, to keep the structure out of the wind as much as possible. If the wind can’t hit the structure, it really can’t penetrate it as easily.
And of course being below grade there will be a downhill slope into the donkey house so some drainage will be need just in case water does get in.
Once in place I covered the perforated drainage pipe with washed stone so water can actually find its way into the pipe. Eventually I covered the entire floor of the donkey house with washed stone and over that installed rubber stall mats. That’s serves as kind of a capillary system where any water that reaches the front door of the donkey house has a chance to get under the stall mats and find its way to the drain pipe.
Of course that drain pipe will eventually lay almost flat in a trench running away from the structure with a small amount of fall away from the structure. Right now the pipe is sticking straight up. Obviously that won’t work!
The open of this donkey shelter is to the south-east. The prevailing winter winds are almost always from the northwest. The dirt/brush pile will lift those winds up and over the donkey shelter. This is the finished height of the walls. The back wall is actually lower than the dirt/brush pile.
I dug this trench away from the shelter, put a few inches of washed stone in the bottom of the trench, laid the perforated plastic pipe over the stone and completely covered the pipe with more stone before back filling the trench. The soil here is all sand and gravel, it drains really well, so all I have to do is give any water that gets into the shelter a way to get into this perforated pipe and it will seep into the ground pretty quickly.
I decided to put a window in this shelter so it would still be light in there once the curtain door was installed. And if I ever felt the need to put on a real door and close them in during really bad weather they’d still have some light. But I’m pretty sure that will never happen. Most of the time they are outside during daylight hours. When it’s cold or rainy I feed them in their old house so the hay stays dry. So they spend most of their time in the old house while it’s daylight, even if it’s really cold out. They’re pretty tough cookies!
For the window I just put two by two’s inside of the frame then installed a double layer of plexiglass on each side with a silicone seal. Worked pretty well and they pretty much ignore the window so should stay intact.
The ground slopes toward the door so I installed another french drain right in front of the door so any water that collects there has a way to escape.
I forgot to take pictures but the inside of the house is lined with untreated OSB and there is R19 insulation in the ceiling and the walls. Eventually this west wall will be protected from the wind on the outside with some bagged leaves. By next winter that area will be all grown up with vegetation. You’d be amazed at what a difference just the vegetation makes as an insulator on the outside.
Notice that the actual opening is only about 3′ high and 18″ wide? Just big enough for the donkeys to get through. I made the curtain door out of nylon rope cut into lengths, I had to melt the cut ends with a torch to keep the rope from unraveling. The end of the rope is actually clamped between a piece of steel channel and a second piece of flat steel with five bolts pinching the ropes tightly so the donkeys can’t pull the ropes out. One curtain door still left a few openings so I added a second door over top of the first.
This door actually holds in some of the heat, but it also breaks the wind. Very little if any wind makes it through the door.
With lots of straw and two donkeys making body heat it actually stays a lot warmer in this shelter because it’s designed to not give up any heat that might be in there. There is no heat source, just ground heat and heat from the donkeys. I have thermometer in the house and I’ve never been able to check it with them in the house because they are always up before I get out there. But when it’s close to zero outside, it’s still close to 20 degrees inside the shelter. That’s plenty warm enough for them with no wind and being nice and dry.
Last winter when it was so cold I worried about them a lot. This winter I don’t. I know this house is warmer for them.
I LOVE this idea! I wish we had a hill to do this with. We’re in NC but think we have the flattest lot in the state 🙂 Great job. I’m sure your donkeys are loving it.
We created the hill. First it was a brush pile from when we cleared that area that was all grown up. Then when we had the well installed the excavator put all of the removed sand on top of the brush. Then when I dug out the donkey house, about 24″ below grade that soil also went into the hill. I think they do love it, especially with our cold Ohio winters.
I love your website!!!! I just found it while looking up information on donkeys, and will definitely work on a beautiful and warm home for my rescue donkey. I also have always loved gardening as a hobby, but with your suggestions and advice I may be able to really get into it. Although my donkey rats everything, so fencing is a must. Thank you for sharing your expertise! Now I need to find a friend for this donkey, who wants to come into the house with me.
Great to have you and your donkey aboard! I’ll tell Finnegan and Fergus they have a new friend.
I”m truly not an expert on what donkeys will or should eat, but I find that mine prefer turf grass over the pasture grass that I planted for them last spring. They spend a lot more time “mowing” the area that has some turf grass in it.
Your property sounds interesting!
Paul Miller says
I’m a new fan. Your donkey shelter is fantastic!
My adopted donkey was named Julio Iglasiass by the BLM. He s a treasure. His main job is vegetation management since we live in a forest with way too much understory. I worry a lot about forest fires since we live just a few miles from the King fire in the Sierra foothills that burned almost 100,000 acres last year.
What varieties would you recommend as forage for a donkey?
I have recently put 8 Swales covering about 2 acres total on our hillside hoping to store as much water as I can for the 6 month dry season. We get about 60″ of rain in the winter/spring wet season. Our deep clay/silt soil holds water well with very little runoff.
Once forage is established I will move Julio from swale to swale twice a week to keep him from overgrazing. Free rice husk is available within driving distance so I am thinking to add it as mulch along with some aged donkey poo and straw. I can’t afford to irrigate.
Thanks for all your tips!
Thanks for sharing! I love to watch all the things you do. You’ve encouraged me to be more adventurous in my gardens. I’ve tried rooting almost everything I grow. The most success I’ve had is with the mixed colored blooming lantana. I’ve had a few other successes with some things. I was hoping to have so much rooted this spring to have a little garage sale to buy the things I want for my gardens. I’ll let you know how that goes. I do not like cold, so hard for me to make myself go outside and check on things. Living in the South, we have warm days so I have to go water things in my green house and shed. I’m looking forward to spring. Summer is my favorite season for so many reasons.
Me too! I don’t care how hot it gets I love summertime. I worked outdoors all day in the cold and wet for years so now if I don’t have to work in the cold I don’t. Once I’m out there I really don’t mind, but if it’s not a pressing issue, I’ve got plenty of undone things indoors to tend to.
You have the luckiest donkeys in the land!! I think it’s great you have built them such a beautiful shelter!
Thanks Kymberlee. Their good pets, good friends, they deserve a nice house. I often cut up fresh carrots for them. I don’t even slice vegetables for myself!
Mike, if you want to really know how cold it gets in your little bunker you can get a wireless max/min thermometer and see how warm it stays. I have them in both greenhouses and I can see how cold it was in the middle of the night. I have one on our deck too – nice to see we were warm and toasty in the 2 degree night time.
Thanks. I thought about that, but truth be told these guys are farm animals and they can handle a lot more cold that I give them credit for. Last winter it went down to 15 below and they did fine in their uninsulated above ground structure, so I know they’ll do better in this one.
Love the donkey condo! Now to plant some beautiful bushes around it and hang a flower box. No reason they shouldn’t have a bit of Mike’s Backyard Nursery talent too! ………PS: is it wrong that I went straight to the donkey photos and totally ignored the video on cuttings?
Jan, I’m sure they’ll get some landscaping or something, but a flower box wouldn’t last 2 minutes unless it were outside the fence. Even outside the fence they still fish anything they can reach through the fence with those talented lips of theirs.
Little kids who visit the nursery often go home with a “donkey pruned” plant as a gift from the donkeys. If we set our display table too close to the fence they eat the plants right off the table. It gives me a good excuse and a good story to tell little kids as to why they are getting a free plant.
You don’t give us a good view of the bunker relative to the surrounding grade, but it’s not going to take much a rainfall to overwhelm your French drain and “drywell” trench if you have any kind of watershed. Even a light rain could translate into many thousands of gallons washing into the bunker. If this is the case then you will need to make some diversion berms at grade to deflect the surface runoff.. It doesn’t take much, maybe 4″ height and 12″ depth of packed clay will do it, and if you plant it with a deep rooted tough grass, it will last forever.
I do have berms in place that direct run off water around the donkey house. So the actual area that has the opportunity to drain toward the donkey house is relatively small. I’ve tested this after a night of heavy rainfall and the floor was damp near the door, but just 12″ or so inside it was dry as powder.
During the winter when they really need to be in the donkey house there’s at least 8″ of packed straw that raises them even that much further above the floor level. Even at 20 degrees they’d be fine if the water forced them out for a few hours and they do have a non insulated shelter they hang out in most of the time.
Anything below 32 degrees F. we’re dealing with snow, not rain and snow doesn’t flow across the ground like rain.
So far so, good. If you look closely at the photos, that sand on the floor before I added the gravel is natural, I did not add that. So those french drains, even when overwhelmed, catch up quickly.
I have them in my recessed container areas as well and in those areas there are no berms and the container areas both drain to one area. That’s a mountain of water and the french drains keep up just fine. Water might stand for an hour, but in those low areas I have washed stone under the pots so the pots are out of the water quickly. And of course I’m selective about which plants are placed in those water collection corners.
pat lee says
Wish I lived in the country so i could play outside like that. I love the donkey house…what a great job.. love the donkey door. Please keep sharing.
My goal is to share as much as I can as often as I can. But I have to be honest, once the nursery picks up in the spring I’m terrible about posting myself, but Duston and Sharon are always coming up with interesting topics, things that I’d never think of. So we always have something.
That’s about the snuggest little animal shelter I ever saw. The way that it’s earth-sheltered on three sides, including toward the prevailing wind, is brilliant.
When my grandparents were homesteading in North Dakota they lived in a sod house dug into the side of a hill for awhile. Your donkey bunker is probably nicer than that sod house. Those are a couple of lucky donkeys!.
Thanks Joan. The sod house sounds interesting and really cool.
Donald R Dugan Sr says
I noticed that you did not use a sock on your drain pipe. I certainly hope the soil doesn’t fill your pipe, even though it is buried in gravel. The house is really nice. With a clear corrugated roof and some more windows, it would also make a nice little greenhouse.
That’s true it could be re-purposed for a lot of things, but I’m pretty the donkeys will reside their for a long time. In my nursery I have no greenhouse at all and probably never will have. All of my plants, even my itty bitty rooted cuttings are out in the cold and they do fine.
Joan Datt says
I love that you care so much
And I love how you built Ithe shelter
You must. Be the nicest guy
I guess that depends on who you ask. Thanks for your kind words.
Hi Mike. A “Donkey Cam” would be great. Did you ever hear of Molly the Owl? She has a cam, now, and they are doing books and other things, that all make money. Just a thought.
Love your info and booklets and weekly info. I live in Arizona, and thanks to your rooting advice I have rooted over 100 Oleander plants started to sell next year. The guy at the recycle center saves all the old Nursery pots for me. Thanks again Mike, Larry.
Maybe I should do a donkey cam! Great job on the rooting, wishing you incredible success with it.
Gail Roberts says
Nice house! What about condensation? How does that vent? It seems like the inside would be rimed with ice on cold mornings, like it gets inside a very tight tent, in the winter.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem. It’s really not air tight with the rope door. And since it’s well insulated the wood isn’t super cold like the canvas of a tent might be.
Delia Sadler says
Did you know that goats & sheep love pine tree needles. Here in Savannah it has been a hit with our Bethesda Home for Boys. After the trees are stripped of needles, the bare trees are broken down for firewood which they sell.
Interesting, I didn’t know that.
Linna Lawrence says
I would REALLY love to see those two going in and out of their house. I wish you could rig up a hidden camera somewhere:) I’ll bet I’m not the only one that wants to see this…what a great house Mike…good job!!!:)
I rarely see them going in and out because they spend most of day outside, or in their old house where I feed them and leave hay for them. Finnegan is the one I worry about. I’m always afraid he’ll get too fat over the winter to fit through the door, but just this morning I opened the door and he went in. So I closed the door and he came out just fine. If I get some video of that I’ll be sure to share it.
Cathy Aragon says
A donkey. Cam would be great for they’re adoring fans aka US.
I’ve thought about the donkey cam. We’ll see. I’ll have to look into that.
Joanie Mosley says
love the “hut”, hope they do too . . . Donkeys are people too! Just like a dog is 🙂
Diane Gidaro says
We don’t love our donkeys, do we?
More than you know.
Janet Wiltzius says
What a neat idea! Great to have the doggie type door. I would love to see the donkeys using it. I’m sure they will love their shelter! Jan
Somebody else asked about the donkeys using that door. I”ll catch them going through it one of these days. Most mornings they come out early and stay out most of the day. I feed them in their old shelter so they spend a lot of time in their during the day time. Unless their out romping around.