Lit­tle Don­key

Minia­ture Mediter­raneans, by Deb­bie Kings­ley

Country Smallholding - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.facebook. com/pen­ny­wort­mill­go­ats/;­ny­wortMil­lHol­i­dayCot­tages/

Fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions to go past the yellow bun­ga­low and the butcher’s shop sign, I stop the car when I get to the gate­way at Pen­ny­wort Mill to take in the beauty of the Corn­wall lo­ca­tion. The prop­erty near Calling­ton is ex­quis­ite — Grade II listed and a con­verted mill, al­though it looks like a mews with huge win­dows fill­ing in the old coach en­trance and exit.

It comes as no sur­prise that there are two hol­i­day cot­tages on this ap­peal­ing site, com­plete with chil­dren’s play­ground and ac­cess to a great ar­ray of an­i­mals, not least don­keys, for small­hold­ers Hi­lary and Chris Hogg keep the Minia­ture Mediter­ranean va­ri­ety. These were once found in abun­dance on the is­lands of Sar­dinia and Si­cily, but you now have to hunt high and low for them there. In­stead they are fast be­com­ing one of the ‘must have’ four-legged crea­tures in the US and the UK — de­mand is such that their price tag is an eye­wa­ter­ing £ 2,000-£ 3,000.

The Hogg’s don­keys are mostly friendly. The fe­males, with their soft grey coats and never-end­ing ears, are cu­ri­ous and par­tic­u­larly keen to in­ter­act. They are happy to sim­ply hang out with hu­mans and, al­though they show some in­ter­est in a bucket of feed, they don’t have the same in­sis­tence on get­ting their heads in the re­cep­ta­cle as their field­mates, the pygmy goats. Bo, the young jack foal, has just been weaned and he shows a lot more cau­tion, not en­tirely sure whether he can trust the two-legged beasts that re­moved him from his mother. He brays his in­dig­na­tion with pierc­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion; one of those sounds that re­quires a very un­der­stand­ing and don­key-ap­pre­ci­at­ing neigh­bour. Hi­lary notes that “they don’t make much noise most of the time”, and that Bo’s newly weaned state would ac­count for his in­sis­tence on be­ing heard.

Mean­while, Cordy a golden and cream coloured stal­lion with a fetch­ing fly fringe over his brow, paces the gate­way, know­ing that one of the nearby jen­nies is in sea­son. He stops for a mo­ment to greet Hi­lary, but

hor­mones don’t al­low him to be dis­tracted for long.

Chris and Hi­lary, both 53, moved to Pen­ny­wort Mill, the don­keys’ home, in 2015 af­ter a se­ries of un­canny co­in­ci­dences, in­clud­ing an un­ex­pected house swap for their first two-acre small­hold­ing.

They were clearly meant to be the next care­tak­ers of Pen­ny­wort Mill and its 11 acres of ground and Chris, who had al­ready spent 30 happy years in the Royal Navy, was look­ing for a dif­fer­ent kind of life. Af­ter a stint in The Nether­lands, where the cou­ple watched a lot of River Cot­tage DVDs and dreamed, they moved to a sub­ur­ban house in Tav­i­s­tock with their three chil­dren, Cameron, Char­lotte (Lot­tie) and An­gus.

Train­ing for a 5k run, NHS com­mu­nity di­eti­cian Hi­lary ran past a prop­erty with two acres and a for sale sign. Chris, de­ployed to the Mid­dle East at the time, never viewed the house, but said, “if we can afford it, go for it”. So Hi­lary put their house on the mar­ket.

“As it turned out, the ven­dors wanted to move to a house like ours. We nearly broke our­selves fi­nan­cially do­ing the swap and buy­ing their place, but it was the right thing to do. We didn’t know it, but look­ing back this was the start.”

Lot­tie had al­ways wanted a pony and, says Hi­lary, “Chris put his foot in it and promised her one only when we could keep it in the gar­den. Lot­tie was very quick to point out — re­peat­edly — that we could ac­tu­ally keep a pony in the gar­den now. She found two loan horses to start with, but the horse thing didn’t re­ally work out. It was loads of hard graft and a huge fi­nan­cial drain, plus Lot­tie was get­ting to pub and boyfriend age and head­ing off on her own ad­ven­tures, so the horses left”.

With the horses gone, to keep the ev­er­grow­ing grass at man­age­able lev­els, Hi­lary and Chris went to visit Mal­colm and Mar­garet Thomp­son of Solomon’s Farm to buy some Grey­face Dart­moor sheep, a lo­cal rare breed. Apart from their sheep, the Thomp­sons kept pygmy goats, Red Bour­bon tur­keys, chick­ens and those cute minia­ture don­keys. The whole set up was an inspiration for the Hoggs and “over time most of the an­i­mals mi­grated in our di­rec­tion and most of our cash went in theirs”, laughs Chris.

Need­ing more space a few years later, a com­pli­cated se­ries of mishaps and mis­for­tunes — in­clud­ing the ill health and deaths of both of their mothers and a much

loved aunt — but lat­terly some good luck meant that Pen­ny­wort Mill fi­nally be­came home. Two minia­ture don­keys, some pygmy goats, chick­ens, tur­keys and sheep moved with them from two to 11 acres.

Hi­lary had en­joyed some as­pects of Lot­tie’s horses and says that the don­keys of­fer “a horse-like feel with a more docile na­ture”.

Abi­gail and Rhap­sody, the cou­ple’s first two jen­nies, ac­quired in 2014, were soon joined by Cordy, who has gone on to sire Rhap­sody’s two jack foals, Blue and Bo. Two more jen­nies have re­cently joined the fam­ily and Cordy is hired out as a stud, which is a man­aged process that isn’t quite as sim­ple as turn­ing out the jenny with the stal­lion. In­juries — po­ten­tially quite se­ri­ous ones — can oc­cur all to eas­ily, so the jenny has to be teth­ered and the stal­lion is muz­zled and su­per­vised. He will be taken to an in-sea­son jenny three times a day for three or four days — if the jenny is still re­cep­tive.

A year in and af­ter some ma­jor re­build­ing, as well as re­ju­ve­na­tion of the perime­ter fenc­ing at Pen­ny­wort Mill, the Hoggs brought home four Dex­ter heifers to pro­duce beef. Fans of Ox­ford Sandy and Black pigs, they also buy in wean­ers to rear as needed. They have even learned to butcher their own meat.

Dur­ing his fi­nal years in the Navy, Chris be­came a veg­e­tar­ian. He had grown un­happy with in­ten­sive food pro­duc­tion, poor an­i­mal wel­fare and food ad­di­tives. Now, with the space to rear his own pigs, ducks and hens, the cer­tainty of food prove­nance and be­ing in con­trol of wel­fare meant that he could fi­nally eat the sort of meat he wanted.

“Lot­tie, though, found the con­cept of con­sum­ing home-grown pork a step too far and she be­came a veg­e­tar­ian,” says Hi­lary. “How­ever, it was only tem­po­rary and she now loves ba­con and the best Dex­ter fil­let.”

The Hoggs also press their ap­ples for juice and they sell their sur­plus meat to friends and fam­ily, plus ex­tra­ne­ous live­stock to other small­hold­ers.

They of­fer a ‘goa­tel’ — a goat ho­tel for peo­ple need­ing goat ken­nelling — and goat and don­key stud ser­vices. Any­one who fan­cies a hol­i­day in one of their cot­tages will also be able to en­joy learn­ing about their don­keys and goats, and par­ents can look for­ward to a lie in while their hosts take their off­spring to feed the an­i­mals.

Chris is now on the small­hold­ing 24/7. The cou­ple’s own chil­dren are in their 20s and have flown the nest, but the Hoggs have a never-end­ing fam­ily as they of­fer respite fos­ter­ing, which in­volves giv­ing chil­dren a great ex­pe­ri­ence around their an­i­mals while their main car­ers take a break. Any tech­nol­ogy brought is quickly left unat­tended as the pull of the don­keys and the other an­i­mals be­comes all-con­sum­ing.

Hi­lary and Chris are cer­tainly a pair with pas­sions. Their pygmy and Boer-cross goats, plus the tur­keys, are high on their list of favourites, but noth­ing, it seems, tops the minia­ture don­keys. How­ever, the cou­ple re­mains aware that they must not over­stock their 11 acres.

“If that hap­pens the Boer goats will have to go,” announces Chris. “And if more jen­nies are born then the Dex­ters might have to go, too. We are happy to sell on the jack don­keys, but let­ting go of any fe­males seems a step too far.”

With minia­ture don­keys tend­ing to live for 30 to 35 years, the Hoggs are clearly in it for the long haul.

Hi­lary Hogg says that don­keys of­fer ‘a horse-like feel with a more docile na­ture’

Hi­lary and Chris Hogg’s don­keys love hang­ing out with hu­mans — par­tic­u­larly ones with a bucket

Minia­ture don­keys carry a price tag of £2,000-£3,000

Chris and Hi­lary Hogg at their Grade II listed Corn­wall small­hold­ing Pen­ny­wort Mill

Hi­lary with Bo, a jack foal

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