As desert animals donkeys do best in a temperate climate, although they will adapt to cold climates if provided with proper shelter and extra feed. They do not mind the cold. Donkeys dislike rain, and are susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis when chilled. In Canada during late spring, summer and early fall an open front shed will do for shelter if it is well bedded with dry straw. In winter, depending on the region of Canada, donkeys may be shut in a barn, but allowed to run out on good days, or they may be loosed housed in a comfortable shelter facing away from the prevailing wind. Some donkeys like snow, but others suffer from the cold. Guard against chilling by the wind.
Wet snow can melt down into a donkey's coat, soaking the hair and causing the animal to chill. Snow should be scraped off a donkey when it is put inside the barn. During a rain, the horse will have water pouring off its back, but the donkey's coat will become sodden with the rain as it soaks down to the skin. Donkeys therefore needs adequate shelter during the cold rains of spring and fall.
Donkeys can graze coarser pasture than a horse. Lush pasture is not recommended because donkeys have low energy requirements and are prone to obesity and certain metabolic disorders such as laminitis (founder) and hyperlipaemia if allowed free choice high quality pasture.
Allow each donkey from one-half to one acre of pasture per month. This will vary with the quality and amount of growth in the area, and the size of the donkey. Obviously Mammoths will need larger areas than Miniatures or Small Standards. If possible divide pastures and alternate from one pasture to another. When a pasture is at rest the long grass and weeds can be trimmed down well before the animals are to be returned to it. Harrowing the pasture will help to spread the manure and reduce parasite problems.
Donkeys will make a place where they can take dust/sand baths during warm weather.
Pasture fencing can be page wire, plain or barbed wire (beware of cuts from the latter), electric or a combination of both. Donkeys quickly learn to be very respectful of electric fence.
From mid-May to early September, pasture will provide enough to meet the nutrient requirements of donkeys unless drought conditions exist. Make the change from dry food to grass slowly in the spring, to avoid health problems such as grass founder. Allow donkeys on pasture for thirty minutes per day at first then gradually increase the length of time each day, donkeys should be turned out after they have been fed dry feed. After a week, the donkey can stay on pasture all the time.
Feed and Water
Provide fortified trace mineralized salt in block or loose form in the pasture or by the shelter. Check with the district agriculturalist to learn which minerals are deficient in the feeds of the region (e.g. selenium, copper, zinc, etc). These must be added to diets for donkeys, usually in the salt or mineral mix.
Fresh water is essential. Donkeys are very particular about water being fresh and clean. They will drink from 10 to 25 litres per day.
High quality hay should be fed in winter or when pastures are depleted in the fall. Legume hay (rich in alfalfa or clover) is not recommended as the only hay for donkeys because of its high protein levels. Timothy, meadow grass, brome grass or mixed legume-grass hays are suitable. Hay composed of 50 per cent timothy and 50 per cent alfalfa is suitable for donkeys that, are growing, pregnant, nursing and during the coldest months of winter.
When available, silage may be fed in small quantities with the balance of the feed to be made up of hay. Beware of mildew (grey dust) or mold on hay - They are poisonous!
Concentrate feeds, such as grain, are seldom needed by donkeys. However, growing youngsters and pregnant or nursing jennets may receive grain rations depending on their body condition. Donkeys need grain if they are use work (driving, packing, predator control in sheep, etc.).
Prepared horse feeds provide supplemental energy, protein, minerals and vitamins required by donkeys. Supplements formulated for cattle, pigs or poultry should not be used, because they may contain additives that are toxic (e.g. Rumensin).
The average Small Standard donkey (approximately 44 inches tall and weighing 400-500 lb) that does little or very light work in winter, requires only two handfuls of whole oats per day and some hay. Watch donkeys closely to determine whether they need more or less feed. Youngsters under the age of two and older donkeys that are more than 20-years-old have been found to do well on rolled oats or a 50 per cent rolled oat and 50 per cent rolled barley mix. Adult donkeys over the age of two years do well on good quality, clean whole oats.
An obese donkey should be fed only hay (2-4 flakes per day). A thick roll of fat along the crest of the neck indicates obesity in donkeys. This roll of fat is extremely hard to reduce once it has formed. Eventually the excess weight of the neck roll will cause it to fall over to one side of the neck, creating an unsightly malformation. Avoid placing the obese donkey on a starvation diet in the hope of rapidly removing excess weight. The loss of more than 2 kg (4.4 lb) per month can precipitate metabolic disorders such as hyperlipaemia according to The Professional Handbook of the Donkey.
Adult donkeys in good condition will eat the same amount of hay, plus the ration of concentrates mentioned above. Naturally the amounts fed will vary with the size and condition of the donkeys. Mammoths or miniatures need correspondingly more or less feed.
A rough guideline is to feed a total weight (hay plus grain ration) of 1 kg of feed per 50 kg of body weight (two pounds of feed per hundred pounds of body weight).
The donkey is more of a browser in his eating habits. Therefore it is important to supply the donkey with free choice good quality barley or oat straw, along with his ration of hay and grain. Research at The Donkey Sanctuary in England has shown that straw in the ration may help the donkey produce natural biotin to improve skin and hoof condition. However, straw is a low quality feed and must not be used as a substitute for hay in the diets of donkeys.
Any animal that is frequently fed tidbits will spend its life looking for them and will soon learn, just as a horse or pony, to nip the hand with no food in it. Feed any treats in a tub on the ground while petting and talking to the donkey.
Grooming and Health Grooming
Donkeys enjoy being groomed. Brush them with a fairly stiff brush in the direction the hair grows. Be gentle with the ears, do not twist or hold them tightly. In spring, a shedding blade is useful for loosening the thick winter coat. Do not be too hasty to help shed the winter coat. Donkeys take up to two months longer to shed their hair coat than horses and will easily catch a chill if the coat is shed too early in the spring. Use caution when grooming in winter. Grooming destroys the natural air pockets in the coat that provide insulation, so groom only on warm days. Clipping is not recommended unless adequate protection from inclement weather is provided.
In summer, grooming is almost hopeless because donkeys take dust baths. This natural method of bathing is used by animals that do not like water.
Watch for the donkey that rubs its coat, especially at the tail head - it may have lice. If evidence of lice is seen, check with a veterinarian for the best preparation to remove the lice.
Clean out hooves regularly. Remember donkey hooves are very elastic and do not wear down like those of other equines. If left untrimmed they grow to astounding proportions and such neglect can cause an animal to be permanently crippled. Ideally hooves should be trimmed every four to eight weeks depending on age and speed of growth. The hooves of foals generally grow faster than those of adult donkeys. Keep feet short and neat.
Deworm donkeys three to six times per year, using any of the equine paste wormers currently on the market. If the presence of parasites is suspected, a veterinarian should do a fecal test to determine exactly what type of worms are present and how best to treat for them. Rotation of deworming products is recommended. Unless internal parasites are removed by regular deworming, donkeys will suffer internal tissue damage from migrating parasites, which may considerably shorten their life span.
Donkeys should be given an annual injection of a four-way equine vaccine every spring. The injection provides immunity against eastern and western equine encephalitis, equine influenza and tetanus, which are all potentially fatal equine diseases. When doing an initial vaccination on a foal, the first set of shots must be followed by a second set of shots three to four weeks following. This important, one time only step should not be overlooked. Check with a veterinarian about starting a vaccination program and to also see if there are any special immunization needs in your area.