We would like to acknowledge the excellent advice and information that Wikihow provide on the care and handling of donkeys – Choosing and Handling a Donkey, Providing Food and Shelter & Keeping Your Donkey Healthy – below and on their page at https://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-a-Donkey
1. Pick a donkey of the right size, sex and temperament.
When you’re picking out a donkey, it’s important to take these factors into consideration. Male and female donkeys have different temperaments, and there are miniature, standard and giant-sized donkeys which are as big as standard horses. Figure out which type is the right fit for your needs before you decide which one to bring home.
- If you plan to keep your donkey as a pet, choose a gelding (a castrated male) or a jenny (a female).
- If you plan to breed your donkey, you’ll need a jack (an intact male) and one or more jennies. Don’t get a jack if you just want a pet and don’t keep a jack with other male donkeys, since they’ll fight.
- If you plan to ride your donkey, make sure it’s big enough to handle your weight. A donkey can safely carry 20% of its body weight. Also, just like mule, horse or camel, make sure they are not sick or injured, because this could make it worse
- If you plan to use your donkey as a guard animal against predators, such as wolves or dogs, choose a standard or giant donkey, not a miniature. It’s important that the donkey be larger than the predator.
2. Make sure the donkey has basic training.
Donkeys can be a little tricky to train, so unless you’re experienced with them, it’s a good idea to choose one that is fairly well behaved or find a friend to help you.
3. Keep more than one donkey if you can.
Donkeys are extremely social creatures and they get sad when they’re left all alone in the pasture. Your donkey will be a lot happier with a companion. Two jennies, two geldings or a jenny and a gelding make good companions for each other. Donkeys will bond deeply with their companions for life, and they won’t want to go anywhere without each other.
- Donkeys can bond with horses but if you ever plan to take the horse somewhere without the donkey, it’s not advisable to allow them to create a deep bond. The donkey will become upset when you remove the horse from the pasture. It’s better to keep them in separate enclosures.
- Donkey have very specific dietary needs, and if kept with other species are likely to become overweight and unwell.
- Donkeys and dogs don’t make good companion animals unless they’re raised together from the time they are babies.
- If using the donkey as a herd guardian, get only one so that it bonds to the herd rather than the other donkey.
4. Be gentle with your donkey.
5. Let your donkey exercise every day.
In order to stay fit and healthy, they need daily exercise. They’ll exercise themselves if they have a large enough pasture to roam around. You can also take your donkey for a walk using a long rope lead. Remember that it’s not a good idea to ride your donkey unless it’s large enough to support your weight.
- Let your donkey get extra exercise in winter. If you have to shut your donkey up during winter, you will need to let it out every few days for exercise. If you can allow the donkey to wander around the barn in between outdoor outings, this would be ideal. Don’t force a donkey that hates snow to go out into the elements; provide this animal with an alternative indoor exercise area. Keep a coat on the donkey if you’d like during winter outings to prevent chills; donkeys can get pneumonia or bronchitis if subjected to rain or very cold weather.
Donkeys always need to have something to nibble on so make sure you keep an adequate supply of straw available at all times.
- During the winter, when the grass is dead, or at other times of year when there’s not enough grass, you can supplement your donkey’s diet with meadow hay. This needs to be good quality in terms of being clean, well produced and mould-free, late-cut hay may be better as it is higher in fibre and lower in sugar. Avoid alfalfa unless you have a pregnant or nursing mare, or other special need animals. Make sure it’s not old or spoiled, or your donkey could become sick. If you can afford chaff with additives that target hooves, coats, and so on, you may want to investigate the options available. Chaff tends to be suitable for older donkeys with teeth troubles, convalescing donkeys and nursing donkeys.
- Be careful not to overfeed your donkey. Donkeys become ill with life-threatening diseases when they eat too much protein and other nutrient-rich food. Donkeys evolved in the arid and semi-arid areas of the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result can get all the nutrients they need from high fibre, scrubby pasture. When grass is too rich or abundant (think dairy or horse pasture), you might have to limit the area available to them to prevent them from eating too much and gaining too much weight. Rigging up a safe, movable electric fence will allow you to portion off the field and restrict the amount they can eat. Move the fence regularly to give them a little bit of fresh grazing.
7. Check with your vet about dietary supplements; these may be recommended depending on the soil type of your particular region. Here are a few supplements your vet may recommend:
- An equine specific salt/mineral licking-block may be helpful, but check with your vet first. Chose one that doesn’t contain molasses, otherwise they will just be licking the block for the sweet sugar taste.
- High fibre cubes—may be fed to donkeys needing to gain a little weight, try to find one targeted specifically for donkeys (you may be out of luck here depending where you live), or a second best would be one for good-doers and ponies.
- Freeze-dried grass—may be a useful supplement for some ill, underweight donkeys to get them back on form, make sure it is pesticide-free, and never feed a donkey grass clippings as the type of grass may be harmful to the donkey. Be cautious feeding freeze dried grass in any quantity as the high sugar levels could be dangerous to a healthy animal and trigger the painful hoof disease called laminitis.
- Protein pellets/cubes—these pre-made pellets contain essential nutrients; they’re useful for nursing mothers with foals or for donkeys living through very cold winters that might need a boost. Otherwise, this feed is too rich for everyday purposes. Never substitute with pellets meant for a different animal (e.g. poultry pellets); some pellets contain meat and this is poisonous to donkeys.
- Carrots—what ungulate (hoofed animal) doesn’t love a carrot?
Donkeys originated in a desert climate. They prefer warmer weather but are very hardy, provided they are given adequate accommodation. Donkeys do not like wind or rain and will seek shelter from both. Unlike horses, rain seeps into a donkey’s coat and makes life unbearable. The shelter doesn’t need to be elaborate, as long as it is adequate and provides the protection a donkey seeks. A shed, lean-to or barn with hard wooden floors is ideal. Make sure the floors are hard and dry. Donkeys have porous hooves that can become diseased when they stand in wet areas for too long.
- In a temperate climate, provide a shelter which consists of a minimum of three walls, with adequate backspace to get out of the rain and wind. This might be a shed, a stable or even a small barn. Put straw on the ground for comfort and warmth, especially in the cooler months of the year.
- In a climate with severe winter (temperatures below freezing and featuring ice, snow and freezing gales), you must provide a donkey with barn accommodation. The barn should be snug; plug up any gaps that let draughts through to prevent the donkey from catching chills. A winter barn should also have adequate space for exercise, in case the donkey does not like being taken outside at all while snow rests on the ground.
Donkeys’ teeth also grow continuously, and they get worn down when the donkey chews food. Your donkey should be seen by an equine dentist every year regardless of how the teeth appear to you. Your donkeys teeth go back as far as the length of your forearm, so there is no way to know what is going on at the back of the mouth without specialist tools. The dentist will need to check right to the back of the mouth to make sure your donkey has functioning teeth that aren’t causing difficulty eating and constant pain.
- A donkey with poor teeth may be happier on a diet of chaff or mash/wet feed – this will obviate the need for the donkey to chew too much on grass or hay. Consult with your vet as to the best options.