Many people think that the donkey is just a small horse, however, there are quite a few differences in their metabolism, their gastrointestinal system, and how they evolved over time.
The feeding and watering of a donkey is completely different than that of a horse.
Where do Donkeys Originate?
It was probably in a hot semi-arid environment, where the forage was of low quality, sparse, so the donkey spent a lot of time wandering around trying to find something to eat with little water supply.
Thus, over time, their need for water has become far less than that of a horse, and the food they consume is much different than that of a horse.
The donkey’s body is adapted to this sparse, low quality, forage or vegetation.
With a horse, we always think that we try to feed the best quality forage we can, the best quality hay, the best supplements to maintain their overall health.
In a donkey, this is a wrong approach. With a donkey, they have adapted with much slower digestive processes.
The food they consume stays within their system much longer than it does on a horse.
This leads for much more time for the enzymes and the bacteria that are normally in the GI tract to extract the nutrients from that food that they’ve ingested.
If you feed the same quality of forage and hay and protein supplements to a donkey that you would a horse, they’re going to get a lot more nutrients out of it and could end up causing some problems.
What are Some of The Problems Donkeys Have?
Well, we see that donkeys that are fed too much starch or sugar or given too high quality of hay and feed, they’re more prone to developing diseases such as laminitis, some metabolic diseases, they’re much more prone to obesity.
There are just several issues that we see in the veterinary world that feeding too good of quality of foods to donkeys causes a lot of problems.
With today’s advancements in pasture maintenance, even the quality of the pasture far exceeds the needs of most of the donkeys.
Most people try to take care of their pasture, reseed, fertilize, that sort of thing, and especially in the southeast United States and therefore the donkey’s just not well adapted to that lush green pasture.
What does this mean?
Are you providing the right donkey nutrition?
Well, the answer, believe it or not, is straw.
Straw is considered bedding by most people.
Bedding for goats, cattle, horses, that sort of thing.
Most people don’t believe that you would feed that, but for the donkey that’s probably the best type of foodstuff.
The Right Kind of Straw
The barley straw is probably the best approach to feeding your donkey, and oat straw is okay, but what’s readily available to most people is wheat straw.
The wheat straw is lesser quality than the other types, but it could be suitable in certain quantities that you could feed them.
What do you do with that straw?
Most of the time you have to mix it with hay that you would normally feed the donkey.
This hay shouldn’t be alfalfa or high-quality hay, it should be more of your lower quality hays, maybe even your second cutting hay off the farm where those nutrients are probably to a lesser degree and protein concentrations to a lesser degree.
You would take that straw and mix it with some of the hay, and this should be the primary diet of the donkey.
Grass and Pasture
However, a lot of people to turn them out on pasture.
This is where you can really get into some problems.
If there are lush green grasses for that donkey to forage on.
Most of the time we try to recommend that people fence off certain areas of the pasture and keep the donkey into the lesser quality areas or at least let them have access to the more mature grasses, grasses that may have gone to seed so that there’s more stem than the leafy part and therefore less protein and fewer nutrients in that forage.
Sugar and Produce
There are some other choices that you can feed the donkey, including high fiber or low sugar cubes that can be found in the feed stores, but you need to feed these moistened if you do this at all because those things can certainly cause choke in the donkey or even possibly a colic in the donkey if you fed too much of them too fast.
These high fiber cubes, they were mostly reserved for those donkeys that are underweight or maybe those with other health problems such as poor teeth, poor dental health.
Most donkeys do not require this supplementation with the high fiber cubes.
A lot of people want to feed other things, such as fruits and vegetables.
Some of this is okay.
You can feed things such as carrots, apples, maybe bananas and turnips.
If you’ve kept to one or two a day it’s fine as a treat.
I know a lot of people like to do that.
Don’t feed any old or moldy produce to the donkey. They can be toxic in the GI system and lead to many, many other health problems.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Donkey Nutrition
We usually recommend a salt or mineral block that’s appropriate for equines.
Avoid mineral blocks that are made for other livestock such as cattle, and goats, and things like that.
Because a lot of the minerals in the blocks can be very toxic to equines and even cause death.
We really strive to warn people to be careful which mineral supplements they put out for their horses as well as their donkeys.
These suggestions may not be suitable for all donkeys, especially the young donkeys or those that may be pregnant, lactating, or even those with other disease processes that are going on.
You may need some other supplementation.
You may need to feed higher quality hay.
Those are the situations where it’s best to consult with your veterinarian and determine the best way to go.
Straw is best for the donkey’s digestive system, contrary as that may sound to a lot of people.
If you are thinking of getting a donkey, or have a donkey, just please consult with your veterinarian. So, you’ll be prepared with the right donkey nutrition.
Find out the best way to find the most suitable straw source around. Also, learn the minerals, supplements, etc., that may be needed to keep your donkey healthy.
Your veterinarian will help you find laboratories where you can have your feeds tested to determine:
- The amount of fiber
- The amount of protein
- Other items within the feed
So, you will have a better idea of what exactly you’re feeding. Also, you’ll know what ratios you should be feeding, maybe your hay versus your straw.
You’ll have an overall much healthier animal in the end if you can have that knowledge. And, do the best you can to feed the appropriate amounts for healthy donkey nutrition.