Bertram family finds respite in raising miniature donkeys

Patricia “Patsy” Oertli raises miniature donkeys at the family’s ranch near Bertram.  (Photo by Dana Delgado)

Patricia “Patsy” Oertli raises miniature donkeys at the family’s ranch near Bertram.
(Photo by Dana Delgado)

By Dana Delgado

BERTRAM — Patricia “Patsy” Oertli is quite the charmer.  She just knows how to attract and captivate an audience.

Her admirers attend to her every word and when she moves they follow her ever so closely. You can see their strong adoration for her in their eyes and Patsy, well, she is loving every minute of it.

Her love affair is with a herd of miniature donkeys that she devotedly breeds, raises, sells and shows.

“I have a love for the animals,” Oertli said. “They are so affectionate, so sweet, child-like and gregarious. They are also very therapeutic.”

It started out as a business in 2000 after being inspired by her son-in-law, Koby Schooler, who is married to her daughter, Charla. Patsy Oertli saw that Koby was a natural with animals, so attuned to finding quality miniature donkeys, diamonds in the rough, if you will, and was doing well in his business ventures. Plus, she enjoyed attending the shows and everything that surrounded the business.

For a few hundred dollars, Patsy and her family took a chance on a breeding jack named Luigi that she found in Lufkin. Her new endeavor, however, drew some quick quips from friends.

“You’re raising what?” Patsy remembers them asking. “What do you do with them?”

After some explaining, she remembers telling them, “And they pay for themselves!”

The challenge would be to establish themselves as reputable breeders, but the most pressing matter was what to call the business. Finally, they settled on Frontier Legends Miniature Donkeys, a name that seemed to fit them perfectly.

And Patsy’s first breeding jack proved himself to be a winner just as she had hoped. He won numerous honors at shows and went on to become a National Champion. With success came creditability to the Frontier Legends Miniature Donkeys name and the involvement of various family members, but that changed over the years as did other things in the business.

“My oldest daughter, Tanya Lyons, as well as her daughter, Morgan, showed with us in the beginning,” Oertli recalled. “Koby (son-in-law) and daughter Charla’s son, my grandson, Zane, was very active in showing at all the shows and put in many hours cleaning pens and feeding over the years. Zane, and my granddaughter, Morgan, showed together when they were only 4 and 5 years old. They are both now 19 years old and have moved on. My 5-year-old granddaughter, Ella, adores the donkeys and wants very much to show. We will see how things go in the future.”

With her children and grandchildren growing up and becoming involved in other things, Oertli was left to show the animals herself, a spotlight she’d never had but now anxiously accepted. She traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to train with a friend who had experience showing the animals. The result surprised her.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it but now, I mainly just do fun events,” she said.

Patsy has also had to adjust to other changes in the business including an increase in the number of states staging shows, an ever-changing focus on the preferred color and now size of donkeys, performance standards, and a drop in the market the last three years.

“When we started, Texas was the main place to show especially at livestock venues. But today, many more states including California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas and Tennessee host events,” she said. “Color also seems to drive the market.  In 2000, black was the color, then red or sorrel and now spotted miniature donkeys. The size is also moving from 32-36 inches in height to 28 inches or below and performance showings including car-pulling and obstacles have been added.”

On the ranch, however, Oertli is very much at peace. Part donkey-whisperer and a whole-lot-of country girl, Patsy Oertli has her entire miniature clan wrapped around her little finger or at least most of them.  Some are their rambunctious selves while others are shy and still others jealous. But according to Patsy, most are loving and gentle. The herd count is at 32 not counting babies with a mix of blacks, reds, and spotted donkeys. At times, her herd has been as high as 65.

While Patsy adores her entire herd, three animals hold a special place.  One is Lady Luck, the first foal in her herd that went on to produce seven foals, the last of which Patsy plans to groom as her next show/performance donkey.

“Although 12 years old, I think Lady Luck is still a beautiful jennet,” Oertli said.  “I remember her as one of our special show jennets when she was a youngster. She did well but did not like to have her picture taken. She would never put her ears up. I remember drawing quite a crowd one year at the Fort Worth Exposition when we were taking pictures and doing everything but standing on our heads to get her to put her ears up for the picture.”

Another favored animal is 12-year-old Star Fire.

“Star Fire is one jack that is like family,” she said with emotion. “I would never sell him.  He’s an awesome little guy.”

Pawnee, however, is her most favorite donkey on the ranch and is also a community celebrity of sorts.  He has traveled to shows with them for 10 years and is such a “trooper,” according to Patsy.

“He is also Bertram’s special donkey and has his picture on the mural in Bertram,” Oertli said. “He has been in many local parades. At Christmas and other times we have done pictures with him. One of these was a Project Graduation Fundraiser. We also do a ‘thing’ here in Bertram on Groundhog Day each year.  We call it ‘Donkey Day.’ Pawnee is given a choice of oats or sweet feed to eat to predict an early spring or more weeks of winter.”

Oertli is always on the lookout for another addition to her collection.

“Sometimes just driving down the road, I see some donkeys in the pen and slow down or stop to take a look,” she said. “They are the best kind.  Small breeders or backyard breeders don’t know what they have.”

While the business has been both demanding and fulfilling, she welcomes life changes and events that should make things even that much better. Her husband, Skip Oertli, a former Bertram veterinarian, retired August 29 from the state after 13 years as a veterinarian. He had been involved in the state’s bait drop program aimed at curbing rabies among wildlife in west Texas. Dr. Oertli also previously retired with the rank of Colonel from the Air Force with 23 years of service.  Patsy was quick to say that a long “honey-do” list awaits him.

The couple also celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on August 30 and are about to begin the move a few miles down the road from in-town Bertram to the Oertli ranch where the donkeys are being raised now that their new home has been completed. To complicate things a bit though, Patsy is needing to undergo a knee replacement as soon as she can fit it into her schedule.

Despite all the changes, Patsy can’t wait to move into her new home with her retired husband, loving animals at her doorstep and surrounded by family and friends.

“I am looking forward to the time we will be able to spend together on the ranch,” she said. “I am especially looking forward to being able to go out and spend time with the donkeys, just petting them. I can look out my window and watch them graze and watch the foals playing. In the past we have always been rushed to get things done before dark. I am sure there will never be a dull moment and that we will stay very busy.”

Skip and Patsy were high school sweethearts at Bertram High School where they were involved in band and yearbook together. He also was in sports. Both come from long established families in the Bertram area.

Patsy grew up with two older brothers on a 300-acre ranch about five miles west of Bertram.  Her father was a farmer and rancher and her mother a homemaker.

“We always had livestock to care for and a very large garden,” remembered Patsy. “I picked many rows of beans and shucked lots of corn.  There was a creek that ran through our place and we always had fun as kids playing in the creek.  It is dry today. We would roam the pastures playing and fished in the tanks. All our city relatives loved coming to visit us.”