Horse Care Other Tips

How to Adopt a Wild Donkey: A Helpful Beginner’s Guide

Written by Susanna W.

All ears for a new adventure?

Did you know an estimated 55,000 wild horses and burros have been taken off BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and now reside in government run facilities? You can adopt an untrained wild horse or burro for as little as $25. As of March 2019, the government is offering a $1,000 incentive for those who successfully adopt these animals.

Why should you consider adopting a wild burro? These animals are part of America’s heritage—a symbol of the American West. While challenging, many find it rewarding to adopt and train a wild burro. They can make excellent partners, whether they are used for companionship or competition.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the entire adoption process as I personally go through it. I’m an experienced equestrian (but rookie donkey owner!) who is adopting two burros from the BLM.

Who should adopt a donkey?

If you want to form a strong bond with an animal, and have the time, patience, and means to provide the right care, consider adopting a donkey. There are tens of thousands of horses and burros waiting in holding pens to be adopted. The process to adopt one of these wild animals isn’t really that rigorous; so that said, please use good judgement and be truly honest with yourself—can you give one of these amazing animals a home for life?

Technically, a wild horse or burro can be titled to you after a year of possession and successful inspection by a veterinarian. After that, ownership of the animal will transfer to you.

Adopting, training, and reselling donkeys is not going to be a profitable transaction. It takes significant time and resources to gain your donkey’s trust. You can adopt one for $125 or purchase a sale animal for as little as $10. Even trained, the demand for burros isn’t high. Donkey sanctuaries are not hurting for animals.

Only adopt if you are willing to commit to providing a fantastic home for a lifetime.

Who should NOT adopt a donkey?

If you don’t have the time, patience, or financial means to care for an(other) animal, please don’t adopt a donkey.

Training a wild burro takes a LOT of time and patience. BLM donkeys have been through a lot—they were likely rounded up via helicopter, placed in holding pens, then restrained for basic veterinary care (vaccines and, if they are male, gelding). From there, they were loaded onto a trailer and hauled to another location. So far, their experiences with people haven’t been positive.

It will take time (and a lot of treats) to build trust. Rushing the process simply won’t work with donkeys.

While donkeys are generally a less expensive alternative to horses, they do cost money. If you are able to keep them on your own property, you’ll need to provide shelter, clean water, feed, get their hooves trimmed, pay for vet visits (at least annually, more frequently if needed) among other expenses. If you opt to board them, monthly expenses will be even higher. Don’t adopt a donkey if you aren’t financially prepared to care for them.

The idea of adopting a wild burro is a noble one. It is, however, a big commitment. Did you know donkeys can live into their 40’s? The oldest donkey in the world lived to well over 50. Be sure you are prepared to provide a fantastic home for a long time.

What is a BLM donkey?

The Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protects wild horses and burros. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for the protection, management, and control of wild horses and burros on public land.

BLM burros are donkeys that were born wild on public lands in the United States. BLM burros can be domesticated and still referred to as “BLM donkeys” as they originated on BLM land.

BLM Burro Adoption Requirements

The minimum requirements for an applicant to adopt a wild horse or burro include:

  • 18 years or older
  • The animal must remain in the United States until titled (animals are eligible to be titled on their 1 year adoption anniversary)
  • No convictions of inhuman treatment of animals
  • No previous violations of the Wild Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act
  • Provide an appropriate facility with access to food, water, and shelter
    • Minimum 400 sq ft of corral space per animal
    • Fencing made from suitable materials and appropriate height for the adopted animal
    • Shelter that meets minimum requirements based on animal and state
  • Applicant must provide an appropriate trailer for transporting the adopted animal

How do you adopt a wild burro from the BLM?

First, read the requirements to adopt a wild burro and be sure you check all the boxes. If yes, consider which program is best for you. At present, the government is offering a $1,000 incentive to adopt a wild burro. (This is not paid out immediately.)

Not all facilities, however, will have burros and you may be limited by selection or proximity.

The BLM partners with the Mustang Sanctuary to certify professional horsemen and horsewomen for the Trainer Incentive Program (TIP). This program means you can adopt a somewhat-trained animal instead of a wild one.

This can make a huge difference, whether you are a novice donkey owner or have experience. Training a wild burro takes time and patience, and not everyone can make that commitment. If you adopt via the TIP, you’ll pay a $125 adoption fee and will forfeit the $1,000 incentive. Instead, a $750 incentive is paid to the trainer, who gentles the burro and helps place it in a good home.

We believe foregoing the $1,000 incentive is well worth it to get an animal that is halter broke, familiar with loading onto a trailer, and will pick up their feet. We’re new to donkeys, so accelerating the training process to make everyone’s lives easier was an simple decision!

How do you pick the right donkey?

Picking a donkey can be a difficult decision. It helps to know what you are looking for. We didn’t care about color or gender. We knew we wanted animals that would be able to participate in pack burro racing and backpacking, so we evaluated the animals based on their conformation.

Correct conformation means the animal will be less likely to experience injuries and will likely be more competitive.

We had four donkeys to select from; they were all male. One donkey was much older than the rest, which was a red flag. Donkeys form very close bonds, so we wanted to pick two that were close in age. Another donkey appeared to be severely pigeon-toed, which is a conformation fault where the legs or hooves splay outwards.

This could cause additional wear/tear on his tendons and ligaments, which may cause lameness, especially with heavy work. For this reason, we decided to pass on him as well.

One donkey was the boldest of the group. While he was still too timid to take a carrot from our hand, he consistently came the closest out of all four. He also had the best conformation of the group. He was an easy pick!

blue donkey

Meet Blue!

The last donkey seemed to already be buddies with the boldest of the group. He was willing to come reasonably close, and had a gentle, willing look to him. He was also much lighter grey in color than the rest of the herd, which we happened to like. Since he had good conformation as well, he was an easy choice to select as our second donkey.

moon donkey

Meet Moon!

Read more about the two donkeys we selected here!

How to prepare to bring your donkey home?

It can take a lot of work to prepare a safe, comfortable space for your donkey, especially if you are new to caring for them! Here are a few thoughts on each of the components we’ve considered so far:

  • Water Source: We will be using a 3’ round metal stock tank.
    • For winter months, we’ll need to keep a water heater in the trough to prevent it from freezing. We ran electric to the location and will add conduit so we can minimize the amount of cord accessible to donkey teeth. The water source is about 100’ away, so we’ll be investing in a heated water hose for winter use.
  • Hay & Hay Storage: We found small bales of grass hay locally and will be storing it in a cinderblock barn. I lined the dirt floor with pallets to keep the hay off the ground and away from the walls for airflow. Just like horses, donkeys can’t tolerate moldy hay so proper storage is essential.
  • Shelter: Shelter requirements vary state-by-state. We are working on renovating a lean-to for shelter for our donkeys. In addition to repairs, we will need to donkey-proof any exposed wood to prevent the donkeys from chewing it.
  • Fencing: The BLM requires 4 ½’ tall fencing for wild burros. We purchased metal panels like what you’d use for a round pen for horses. It was surprisingly easy to put up! The next step is to reinforce the center of the panel with t-posts.

donkey fencing

  • Equipment: Rope halters seem to be effective especially for training purposes. We bought two rope halters and leads specifically designed for donkeys. Two donkey-approved options that we found are:
  • Manure Management: Our enclosure is approximately 1,400 sq ft and will need to be cleaned out regularly. We’ll designate a manure dumping location and then arrange to have it either spread or hauled out during the summer months for fly control.
  • Veterinary Care: While the donkeys have been vaccinated and gelded, they will need annual vet care (at a minimum). I found a local veterinarian that advertised donkeys as part of his large animal practice and called to ensure he was accepting new clients. It is always better to get a vet lined up in advance—you never know when you may need emergency care and it is much easier to handle when you are already established as a client.

What else you need to know

Donkeys are different! While a horse generally has a “flight” response to a scary situation, donkeys have more of a “freeze and fight” response. Often interpreted as stubborn, donkeys need to carefully consider the situation before deciding on the appropriate course of action.

Donkeys form very strong social bonds, usually with a single individual. They can actually become sick if separated.

Physically, donkey hooves are also different. The wall is more upright, and the frog is wider. When looking for a farrier, be sure to find someone who has experience trimming donkeys.

What can you do with a donkey?

Donkeys have many purposes:

  • Companionship (human or animal)
  • Riding (be aware of weight limitations—donkeys can generally carry 20-30% of their body weight)
  • Driving
  • Pack animals (hunting, wilderness trips, gold mining)
  • Pack Burro Racing (the official summer sport of Colorado! Read more here)
  • Therapy animals

Frequently Asked Questions

Are donkeys and burros the same?

Yes! Burro is simply the Spanish word for donkey. Wild donkeys are commonly referred to as burros, while domesticated animals seem to be more likely to be called donkeys. Regardless, technically a donkey and a burro are the same animal.

Fun fact: Did you know the British term for a donkey is a Moke?

Are donkeys in the horse family?

Donkeys and horses share the same ancestors but have evolved into different species.

Both species come from the same family, Equidae Gray, which includes asses, horses, and zebras. In spite of being closely related, they split at the Subgenus level and are different species.


What is a BLM TIP Trainer?

The Bureau of Land Management has partnered with the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) since 2006. MHF is a non-profit dedicated to helping place America’s excess wild horses and burros. They have several programs to accomplish this, including the Trainer Incentive Program (TIP).

TIP supports hundreds of horse and burro trainers responsible for gentling, training, and finding homes for these excess animals.

There are over 1,000 approved trainers in 47 states according to the BLM’s website. TIP Trainers must go through an application process before they can pick up animals for training. They are responsible for gentling the animals (defined as halter breaking, loading in/out of a trailer, and allowing all four feet to be picked up) and then finding qualified adopters.

TIP trainers have 10-90 days to meet the requirements. The actual adoption is still handled through the BLM.

Once the adoption is completed, trainers are paid for their services. The current rates are $1,000 for wild horses and $750 for wild burros.

How much does it cost to adopt a wild burro?

The minimum cost to adopt a burro is $25 for an untrained animal. If you opt to adopt a trained animal from a TIP facility, the cost is $125. If you utilize the Trainer Incentive Program, you are not eligible for the $1,000 adoption incentive through the BLM.

Do donkeys need a partner?

Yes, donkeys are herd animals and will need a buddy to be happy and healthy. Donkeys are quite social and form very strong bonds, so they do best with another donkey as a companion. That said, donkeys can live well with other animals as well. Always introduce new animals carefully and with plenty of supervision, especially other animals that may have horns.

Donkeys can exhibit a calming influence on other animals—for this reason, they are commonly partnered with horses.

How long do donkeys live for?

Donkeys can live to 25-30 years old in the wild. When domesticated, they can live to 40 or even 50 years old. The oldest donkey in the world is Bubbles, a UK donkey residing at Hatton Adventure World. She was 60 in 2019.

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About the author


Susanna W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!