Category Archives: Norma Jean

The good and the bad about having a free-range donkey.

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023 | Filed under Norma Jean

As most of you know, my 30 year-old donkey, Norma Jean, is now a free range donkey during the daytime.

This is mostly good, but sometimes, not so good.  Like the image below… this happens daily.  Not only is it potentially bad for our porch to have a free-range donkey clunking about, but this vision tugs at my heartstrings and I want to stop all I’m doing and run out to see what she wants.  This is not so good.

This is a daily thing.


I’m letting her roam because she’s old enough now where she doesn’t cause a lot of damage when she’s out, and she’s old enough to not get herself into trouble.  Earlier this year, her paddock mates were intimidating her… so I felt it best to separate her.  However, separating her made Norma Jean unhappy.   Hmmm, what should I do?

Well, I decided to let her be a donkey in the wilds of our home in Grass Valley.

Norma is quite respectful.  She knows when it is time to go into the barn for the night and she puts herself away.  She does have a daily pattern of roaming, but she also breaks away and does whatever she wants, when she wants.

Mostly, she will roam over to her old paddock and spend time, eating fallen bits of hay or brown grass on the other side of the fence from her old friends.  Then she usually meanders to the green weeds of the new tree (which is watered daily) and up the hill to the upper pastures.  It is about mid day that she wanders up to our porch, and sits at the front door.

I’m not complaining (OK, I am a bit complaining) because she is healthier than she has been in a few years since she’s been free-range.  She looks good for an older girl.  Norma is bright and reasonably happy – for her – Norma is not very emotive, however she gets her point across and is able to tell me what she wants and what she doesn’t want.

Versely, though, when I tell her what I want or don’t want, Norma becomes deeply offended.  For example, if I shoo her off of the porch, she pouts an inch off the porch for an hour or so.  If I need to get her back into the barn for some reason, she will greatly resist until I raise my arms behind her – and then she’ll literally RUN back to the barn, as if I am the worst/scariest/meanest human ever to be behind her.

I cannot tell in words you how much I relish watching her move about and make choices daily.  I find her life decisions fascinating.  For me, stealthily  watching her from my office window is a total joy.  I always stop what I’m doing when I see her down there, and watch.

If you have the opportunity to have a free-range donkey, you should.  However, they might be a (a little bit of an ornery porch ornament).  But, they might just fill your heart with the magic of donk.

I came out, of course, and gave her a treat, which made her smile.

HERE IS A VIDEO OF NORMA ON MY PORCH and me trying to figure out what she wants…

Norma Jean loves to sit on the porch and take a nap.  She also looks in the windows.  Usually she wants a treat.  Any fruit, please, and she loves cold cucumbers.

Click here to watch video.

Click image to watch Norma Jean at my door… begging for treats.

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She had an idea…

I know I probably talk too much about my donkey and her thought processes – and if I do, I’m sorry.  I just find it fascinating.  Now that she is free to roam around in my paddock, I can observe her – just being Norma Jean – often.

And today, this happened…

(Except, I only got photos of the last part.  So just go with me on the first part.)


I was in my office looking down into the backyard.  I saw Norma, visiting with Ethel Merdonk and Princess Buttercup Pebbles.

Then she turned around and went up to the new tree to nibble on the green weeds around it.

Here is where it got interesting…

I saw her pick up her head and stare straight forward.  Her ears were rotating around as she contemplated… something.

This was all happening as she was staring (I thought) straight into the living room through the French doors.

As I continued to watch, I clearly saw her switch from contemplation – to having a complete plan and execution decided.  I swear.  I saw the lightbulb go off and her whole demeanor changed.  She was on a mission.

Norma Jean walked straight forward, at a healthy clip, towards the downstairs windows.


I was a bit alarmed because I could tell that she was marching directly towards the French doors.   She doesn’t see that well and she had her fly mask on…which didn’t help.  I was hoping she was going to stop and not crash through the glass doors.

I flew downstairs to find… this.


I was so relieved that Norma had stopped at the door, I immediately went to the fridge.

I know, I know, rewarding her with watermelon was a bad idea, but I just loved that she was peering in to see what I was doing!  Or maybe she just realized that the windows were windows and that she could see inside… or maybe she saw a reflection and thought that I might be around in there.  I have no idea, really.  All I know is that she had an idea, and she went for it.

After gifting her the watermelon, I thought I’d better get Norma back down to the barn before she figured out how to turn the doorknobs… so I decided to feed 20 minutes early.

Norma must have read my mind because she dashed around to the front of the house and BRAYED for everyone to hear that I was coming out to feed – early.

She loves watermelon… and I was happy that she didn’t crash through the doors.

Thank goodness her head was facing away from me… her bray can be very loud…


I put on my hat and walked to the barn.  Norma Jean followed as fast as her little donkey legs would take her.

And as soon as we both arrived, she ran in front of me and blocked my path.

Norma:  You need to pay the fine.

Me:  I just gave you watermelon.

Norma:  I know, but that isn’t the fine.  You know the fine.  Pay up.

And so with that, the oldest donkey on the farm put her head into my chest and I paid the fine of cheek rubs and forehead kisses.

After she finished braying, she waited patiently for me to put on my hat and sleeves to go feed.

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