Palo Alto's Barron Park donkeys are proving they're worth their weight in gold -- or in manure, at least.
Barron Park Donkey Project Coordinator Jenny Kiratli is selling composted donkey manure to fund the care and handling of Barron Park's two donkeys, Perry and Jenny. The manure, which comes in large feed bags, is a suitable natural fertilizer for any type of plant or soil, Kiratli said.
"It's a fun way to spread the donkeys around and also get rid of the constantly rising piles of manure," she said.
One handler had the idea several years ago to compost the manure, Kiratli said. She and her husband, Mike Holland, adopted the idea, adding leafy material, wood chips and water to the mix. As a result, the Barron Park donkey pasture has achieved net-zero waste, Kiratli said.
The composted manure is sold in feed bags for a suggested $20 each. The product, dubbed "Jen & Perry's Equine Compost Amendment," has already generated between $500 and $600 in revenue, she said.
All proceeds from compost sales go toward funding the donkeys' care, which can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 annually, according to Kiratli. Included in this yearly figure are expenses ranging from food to veterinarian visits, as well as the monthly lease for the pasture, which is privately owned.
Every Saturday morning, Kiratli and Holland walk from their home in Barron Park to the 1-acre donkey pasture owned by neighbor James Witt on the western edge of the neighborhood to shovel donkey manure and facilitate the compost process.
Kiratli and Holland scoop fresh manure onto one of four piles in the corner of the pasture, leaving it to dry for about a week. After moving composted manure from pile to pile, Kiratli hoses down the three dry piles to aid decomposition. The three dry piles represent different stages of the natural decomposition process, which eliminates nitrogen that is found in high levels within fresh manure, she said. Once manure reaches the fourth pile, it is ready for packaging. Kiratli then sifts the composted material through a plastic grid and shovels it into a feed bag, after which it is ready for purchase and pickup.
"It's a great cycle. The feed comes in, the donkeys eat the feed, then it (the composted donkey waste) ends back up in the feed bags," she said.
The Barron Park Donkey Project has been part of the environmental-action nonprofit Acterra since 2001. Acterra assists the project with fundraising through sourcing donations. The project currently has 18 active volunteers and is seeking more, Kiratli said.
"Everybody can be a part of the Donkey Project," she said.
Kiratli and the other volunteers have several daily and weekly duties as handlers. They feed the donkeys breakfast and dinner and take them out on walks in nearby Bol Park every Sunday morning for a meet-and-greet with local residents. And of course, they shovel manure.
"Two donkeys eat 24 cups of grass feed and output seven to eight gallons of wet manure per day," Kiratli said. "I am hoping to calculate the dry input-to-output ratio sometime soon."
Though the donkey-compost project is relatively new, the animals have resided in the area since before it was called Barron Park.
The first donkeys of the pasture date back to 1934, when Cornelis Bol, a Dutch physicist living in the area, bought one for his sons from a county fair. As the Barron Park area grew in the following years, residents collaborated with the Bol family to maintain the presence of the donkeys in the neighborhood, according to the Barron Park Donkeys' website.
Mickey, the last donkey of the Bol family herd, died in 1998. Three new donkeys have since arrived: Perry in 1997; Miner 49-er in 1998; and Jenny, who arrived after Miner's death in November 2016.
Preserving the unique history of the Bol family pasture and Barron Park's beloved donkeys is paramount, Kiratli said. She hopes the sales of the composted fertilizer will not only fund the animals' care but will also raise awareness of the special place they hold in Palo Alto's history.
"Kids in Palo Alto grow up thinking it's normal to have donkeys in their backyard -- you don't really get that anywhere else around here," Kiratli said.
Interested compost buyers can contact BarronParkDonkeys@gmail.com. The compost product is available for pickup at the pasture, 3590 Laguna Ave., or for delivery within Palo Alto city limits.