Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeding Donkeys

Click to buy The Book of Donkeys
One of my readers told me he was considering buying a donkey, but after reading The Book of Donkeys he decided not to because “there are so many things they can’t eat.” I felt bad that my chapter on health discouraged him. On the other hand, if he didn’t feel confident it was a wise decision to delay donkey ownership until he felt convinced that he was ready.

It is true, donkeys have a unique metabolism, developed from their natural desert habitat, in that they need less energy and protein in their diet than horses. Donkeys thrive on forages high in fiber. Due to their unique digestive system food stays in the donkey’s digestive tract longer than it does in horses, so they digest more efficiently and therefore require less food than horses of similar size.

The most important nutrient for your donkey’s good health is clean water – available at all times. For donkeys kept in a paddock or dry lot, quality grass hay diluted with straw can provide adequate food, with the straw satisfying their grazing instinct while limiting calories. Hay should be free of mold, weeds, or any foreign objects. Donkeys kept in a pasture will not need additional feed in the summer. In fact, they may need their access restricted in the spring and summer months by putting them on smaller tracts or by using a grazing muzzle. In the winder supplement pasture with hay and straw. Donkeys seldom need concentrated feeds (horse food) or grains and if given supplements be sure it is meant for equines and not cattle, swine or other livestock. Do provide a salt block. Any changes in the donkey’s diet should be made gradually. Monitor the donkey’s eating habits. When a donkey goes off its feed, it is cause for concern and a veterinarian should be consulted.
Grass hay should be free of mold, weeds or foreign objects

Over-feeding can lead to various metabolic diseases including colic and founder. Equine insulin resistance is one of the metabolic diseases that can be a problem especially for miniature, small, and aged donkeys. Over-feeding and obesity are key factors in the disease. The condition can lead to laminitis and hyperlipidemia. Insulin resistance occurs when tissues no longer respond to insulin, and therefore blood glucose concentrations are poorly regulated. It can remain elevated, particularly after a meal rich in starch and sugar.

Insulin resistance can be diagnosed by a veterinarian with blood tests. While there is no cure for insulin resistance, good management practices will help the donkey live well. Reduce calorie intake, especially carbohydrates. Feed moderate quality grass hay—not alfalfa or other legumes. Some research shows that soaking hay in warm water before feeding reduces the carbohydrate content by 40%. Warm season grasses are lower in carbohydrates than cool season grasses. Do not feed grain and do not give the donkey treats like candy and cookies, or even carrots and apples even though they seem like healthy food. Increase the donkey’s daily exercise by longing, ground driving and walking.

A donkey can be a delightful companion animal and are generally hardy. Follow these simple feeding guidelines and it should do fine. As an extra plus, it is comparatively inexpensive to feed a donkey given they do better on grass hay, which normally cost much less than legume hays and seldom need horse feed or supplements.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Miramar Remembered

I think every horse owner has had that one special horse in their life. The one they will always remember either because it was an outstandingly good horse, or maybe bad horse, or as in the case of Miramar, both.

Miramar in her Younger days
Miramar was 35 years old when she died Thursday, May 28, 2009. She was a registered half-Arabian, although the folks I bought her from said she was really a purebred. She didn’t live with me in her final years. Friends were keeping her on their farm in my hometown. I retired from running a lesson barn because I got just too old to be lifting hay and unloading bags of feed, and the cost of keeping horses had become more than I could make teaching lessons. I was very blessed that my friends wanted Mira. See, Tara had taken lessons on Mira as a little girl. She, like many others of my students, loved Mira. She said yes when I asked if she wanted her, and I realize they did that for me as much as any personal reason. They knew how important it was for me to know Mira would be loved and cared for the way I wished I could do myself. I rested easy knowing Tara and Wyatt would do that for me. What a blessing to have such good friends.

Tara, and her husband Wyatt, drove all the way to my house – about a two-hour drive – to tell me in person that Mira had crossed over the rainbow bridge. “We just didn’t think it was the kind of news to give you over the phone,” Wyatt said.

They told me the vet suspected Mira died of a heart attack. I could see over the winter Mira had failed quite a bit. Winters have taken a toll on her for the past several years, but when spring rolled around she would seem to bounce back. But she always was just a little older looking and acting than the previous year. I’d been thinking about whether or not the time had come to talk about putting her down. I am glad nature took over where we did not want to go.

Tara and Wyatt spent the night and left Friday morning. That is when I gave myself permission to take the day off to grieve for my old friend and business partner. I pulled out the scrapbooks and photographs. My youngest daughter called after reading my email. We talked about how many kids and grownups have been taught to ride by Mira —hundreds I suppose. We also laughed a little as we remembered some of Mira’s antics. She was a good broodmare and a wonderful lesson horse. She could have been a great show horse, but nine times out of ten she’d find a way to make us look like idiots at the horse show.

One time I especially remember was at the NC State 4-H Championships. We were talking off her halter to put on her bridle when she slung her hear in that way only an Arabian can do, pushed past us and through the open stall door. She didn’t stop running until she reached the in-gate of the main area. Terrified 4-Hers who were inside showing had to stop their horses. Dr. Bob Mowery borrowed a halter and handed it to me. Yes, I’d followed Mira across the grounds

to the area without thinking to grab the halter first. No one was hurt, unless you count my feelings of embarrassment. I am pretty sure I heard Mira laugh at us when we got back to the barn and put her in her stall.

She was not a good trail riding horse. She did not like stuff touching her! So, woodsy trails through weeds and vines irritated her. Even riding through a field of tall grass that tickled her belly sent her into crow-hopping and sometimes bucking. We could ride down a road without too much ado, unless we passed by cows. Then it was “Nelly, hold onto your hat!” Mira would spin around, leave you hanging in the air, and run toward the barn before you could even think about gathering leather and reining her in.

Yes, we remember two Miramars. The gentle, sweet old gray mare who tolerated little kids bouncing on her back until they learned to post, and bumping her mouth with the bit until they learned to ride with a fluid hand. Those people knew Mira during her golden years.

But, others, who knew the Queen of the Barn in her younger days, remember a horse full of “presence and attitude.” She was the mare who when she trotted looked like a helium balloon dancing in air. She was the horse that beat the local favorite quarter horse stallion in a halter class at the Albemarle Circuit Horse Show in Windsor, NC many years ago and the same mare who ran away at the 4-H show I described above.

Mira let me cry into her neck many nights when I slipped out to the barn for the solace I knew I could find there. She kept all my secrets. I think we had an understanding by the last leg of her life. We knew we’d weathered some storms together. She talked to me. Even bystanders could see her tell me where I could go with that horse wormer, and that the only reason I successfully got the dose in her mouth was because she decided to let me. And when it was time for a lesson to be over, it was over sister. OVER!

I still miss the old girl. Miramar, you were The Queen of the Barn.

Miramar is one of the main characters in my children's book Puddin' Tain Comes to Twin Pines Stables