The owner of the largest donkey to be imported into Australia in at least two decades says he wants to “set a new standard” for mules in the country.
Queensland mule breeder David Scholl spent about $60,000 importing Diamond Creek Moonwatcher, an American mammoth donkey, from Kentucky in the US.
Measuring about 152cm, Diamond Creek Moonwatcher, whose nickname is Moses, is considerably taller than the average Australian donkey, which is usually about 111cm.
His arrival has sparked fevered interest in the admittedly small Australian donkey and mule community and Scholl has been busy fielding requests from horse owners keen to use the impressively-sized ass for breeding.
“I’ve had him three weeks and I have already sold five mule foals,” he said. “They haven’t been conceived yet.”
I haven’t ridden a horse for two-and-a-half years
An ex-dairy farmer, Scholl is relatively new to the donkey and mule game. About six years ago one came up for sale at the Echuca sale yards and he bought it sight unseen because he “wanted to try something different”. It was love at first sight.
“You can use a mule for absolutely anything you can use a horse for, absolutely anything,” he said
“From a draft mule pulling a carriage or ploughing a paddock, to riding in English dressage or showjumping. Put it this way, I own 11 mules and 13 horses and I haven’t ridden a horse for two-and-a-half years.”
But the mule industry in Australia is “tiny, tiny, tiny”, Scholl says. There is only one specialty donkey and mule show in the country. It usually attracts about 20 to 30 competitors.
After attending the world’s largest donkey and mule show in Bishop, California, and seeing some 850 entrants, Scholl decided he wanted to change that.
“I wanted to import a Jack that would set a new standard for the ideal riding mule,” he said. “He [Moses] has a very quiet, kind nature. He’s very sweet.”
A mule is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. Though they can be difficult to train – Scholl said it was “something like an art form” – the animals are often imbued with the positive characteristics of both animals.
“It’s their sure-footedness, their work ethic, their longevity - I can ride a mule for 30 years but only stay on a horse until its late teens, and they do it on three-quarters of the feed a horse will run on. And they are 25% stronger than a horse the same size.
“Plus a mule doesn’t have the same flight instinct that a horse does. They don’t shy as much and they’re incredibly intelligent.”
It took six months for Diamond Creek Moonwatcher to make it to Scholl’s Queensland farm from the US.
After purchasing him in November, the donkey flew to Australia in March. He landed in Victoria, where he underwent a 14-day quarantine at the Post Entry Quarantine facility.
“Just like all horses, donkeys and mules who are imported into Australia, Moonwatcher had to spend 14 days in pre-export and 14 days in post-entry quarantine,” the head of biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Tongue, said.
“Donkeys could be carrying diseases that Australia is currently free-from, such as equine influenza, equine piroplasmosis and contagious equine metritis. Diamond Creek Moonwatcher met all of Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements and is now expected to become the first of a line of robust donkeys and mules in Australia.”
According to the quarantine centre’s assistant secretary, Peter Finnin, the donkey quickly became popular with staff.
“He’s certainly an impressive fellow. He’s got these quite impressive ears and we were speculating about whether he might be picking up the signals from Perseverance on Mars,” Finnin said.
“The most impressive thing was his enormous bray. He was creating these fabulous echoes right across the facility which spooked some of our security guards, who are quite some way away. They were asking: “What on earth is that noise?”
Finnin said that while Moses was very popular with staff, “some of the horses in the stalls were looking pretty tired by the end of the two weeks”.