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.