Getting Ready for Your New Donkey
Updated: Mar 11
Over the years our clients have asked many questions about how to prepare for the arrival of their new donkey or donkeys. There are a few things that you can do to make your donkey comfortable and safe in their new home.
We are located in Connecticut in the Northeast area of the US. Our winters are cold and temperatures can drop well below zero, often with snow. Summers are hot with temperatures in the high nineties. Shelter requirements might differ in southern areas. We have a barn with 12' x 12' stalls that each have a door to an outside paddock. We also have a shed in each of our larger pastures and paddock.
The sheds have 3 sides and a partial wall and door on the 4th side. In the winter Karl installs heavy, clear plastic strips that you might find in a warehouse in each doorway in the barn and in the sheds. Sheds that have large openings are partially covered with wood to make the door more narrow and then the plastic is installed in the doorway. The donkeys learn to walk trough the plastic. The plastic lets light in but blocks the wind. The strips are removed in the summer.
We have a fan in each stall. They run 24/7 in the summer. The donkeys look like fish swimming upstream as they all point their heads into the fan. It keeps them cool but also keeps the bugs from landing on them. We put stonedust on the floor and then heavy weight rubber stall mats. They are a real chore to install but well worth it. We use wood shavings on top of the mats to absorb urine and make it more comfortable for them to lay down. We prefer shavings to sawdust as they are less dusty. The mats add a layer of insulation in the winter, keep the floor dry extend the life of the bedding. Every so often we strip the stalls completely and sanitize the mats with water and bleach.
Donkeys are happiest with a companion. 2 mini donkeys would be fine in an 8' x 8' stall. We have 5 weanlings in a 12' x 12' stall. In the winter a smaller stall will be warmer for them than a couple donkeys in a large stall. We rarely lock them in their stalls unless there is a very bad storm. I always fear fire and want to be sure they have an egress without anyone having to go into the barn. We have dutch doors on the barn stalls out to the paddocks and the latches are on the outside of the barn so that we can open them in an emergency without going into the barn.
When we were building our barns and fencing we started out with 4 rail wooden fencing because we liked how it looked. We added 4' no-climb horse fencing to the wooden fence that we initially installed for a few reasons.
The foals can slip through the 4 rail fence and our dogs can get into the paddocks. Donkeys and dogs don't necessarily mix and it is a good idea to keep them separate, especially if you have jennets with foals at their sides or jacks. Coyotes are enemies of the donkey. From the donkey's perspective there is not much difference between a coyote and the family dog. We are lucky and never had an issue when our older dog would slip into the paddock with our donkeys. Since we added the extra fencing we have had donkeys lunge at dogs on the other side of the fence. Best to keep them separate:-)
The fence we now like to use is the 4' No-Climb Horse fence, wooden posts every 8' and a 2" x 6" x 16' rail on the top to keep the top of the wire fence from bending. We had to add metal corner strips on the top of the 16' rail to keep our larger donkeys from chewing the top. We also add this to tempting edges on our sheds and barn. I like the wire fence because we can see through it and w have a good view of the donkeys. It keeps dogs out and donkeys in. It also gives us a little more protection from coyotes entering the pens. Foals and young donkeys are kept in areas that are double fenced. I think that donkeys in groups are more intimidating to predators. We also have our dogs who have an invisible fence around the perimeter of the farm. I think their scent keeps predators at bay as well.
If possible I would double fence work areas. It is inevitable that the donkeys will slip through a gate at some point. Our first lesson with this was when we loaded 2 donkeys to take to a fair for the day. It was 1/2 hour away from our farm. We live on a country road but there is some traffic. A neighbor called us a little while after we got to the fair. A couple of our donkeys were out near the road. We flew home and luckily the neighbor had captured the donkeys and put them back in but it was terrifying. We had left a gate latch ajar.
After that we set up our work area near the barn so that there is a perimeter fence. If a gate is opened there is now a second one.
We started out with chains with a clip for latches on the gates. They are tough to open with one hand while carrying in hay or water. We found a neat latch that opens in or out with one hand and have replaced most latches with these. It makes it easier when cleaning and when trying to remove one donkey while all of the others want to follow.
Ideally there would be a small fenced area adjacent to the barn or shelter that has no grass. Of you are just setting up the donkeys will eat down the grass in a 12' x 20' paddock in no time. I call this a dry lot. Donkeys can get overweight easily and it is good to have an outside area that you can put them in without grass if you need a Jenny Craig pen from time to time. Even limiting pasture time for 1/2 the day will help.
If you don't have much grass for your donkeys it is ok. They love hay and so long as they have enough area to run around they will be very happy with hay.
There are many different opinions about what and how much to feed your donkey. I am sharing what we do at Foster Hill Farm. It has worked great so far but you may need to modify based on your own donkey's nutritional needs and where you are located.
We purchase the highest quality second cutting hay that we can find. It should not be alfalfa. Local hay is great. No clover if possible but ok to have some as most hay in the northeast from local fields will have a little in it. Clover can be an issue if it has a certain fungus on it that is somewhat rare in our area. It causes excessive drooling and foaming called 'slobbers'. It generally goes away in 24 hours but is frightening to see. It can cause other issues in some cases so best to avoid the clover if possible.
The donkey's main sources of nutrition are hay and grass if you have pasture. This is why we like to find good quality hay to maintain healthy donkeys. It creates little donkey hay snobs to a degree, but you won't be picking up hay that is left behind because they love the good hay. You get every penny's worth out of the hay and save yourself a lot of cleaning. If lesser quality hay or first cutting is the only hay available they will eat it if you leave it in the feeder and don't keep adding more. Don't worry if that is all you can find. Network with some local farmers and line up the second cutting for later.
How much hay to feed is a tough question because it depends on how much grass they have access to. We have one large field, maybe 2 acres. It has good quality grass and can support 10 donkeys all summer. We feed a little token amount of hay just because they give us a hard stare when we are feeding the others that aren't so lucky to be in the big field. The donkeys that don't have much grass or no grass in their pens get roughly one 5" section or a flake of a rectangular bale 2 times per day per donkey. Bales are made differently so this is tough to make a blanket statement about too. Some are compressed and heavy. Others are light and the flakes are smaller. This would be a good maintenance ration for a donkey.
We feed E-Tec https://www.poulingrain.com/products/174/e-tec-onewhich is a multi purpose livestock pellet to certain donkeys. It is always a good idea to have some on hand even if you don't need to feed it daily. Just a little in a bucket that you shake and then feed will teach your donkey that you have it. It is a great way to teach them to come to you in the pasture and works great if you have one get outs by accident. We feed the pellets to lactating jennets, underweight donkeys, pregnant jennets and foals and weanlings depending on their weight.
The pellets are a great way to get supplements/medicine into your donkeys too. We feed turmeric with vegetable oil and black pepper to the young donkeys to boost their immune system. They are susceptible to fungal and bacterial issues as youngsters. We have found that adding these supplements has minimized these issues almost completely. There is a turmeric users group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/415313751866609/) that has a lot of information about this. Here again...just letting you know what we do and what seems to have worked. We are not experts in nutrition nor veterinarians. We just have a bunch of donkeys and this works for us.
I will vary the amount of pellets depending on if we are just feeding enough for the supplements or if a donkey needs to gain weight. A donkey that is thin would get about a 1 lb. coffee can of grain per day. If you have a few donkeys in one area and one is this you can feed the grain with a feed bag. We learned this from Dayle and Joe Haworth. We purchased a beautiful jack from them and he would drop weight when he was breeding a lot in the spring. We used the bag on him and now use it on a few others as well.
How can you tell if your donkey is the right weight? We like to feel their sides and like to be able to just feel their ribs if you press hard and run your fingers front to back. We like to have them a little heavy going into the winter because we live in a cold climate and a little extra fat helps to keep them warm.
It is more likely that you will be trying to keep your donkeys from gaining too much weight. They are easy keepers and can get fat quickly. They will get a fat roll on the crest of their neck and fat deposits like 'love handles' on the top of their backs and sides of their buttocks. The picture at the right is a rescue we took in a few years ago and is an example of fat deposits and a neck roll. Her feet were completely neglected. If the roll on their neck becomes too large it will flop to one side and never go back even if the donkey loses weight. It is unsightly but doesn't affect the donkey's health or function in any way. This donkey's feet were fixed, she went on a diet and was placed in a wonderful home.
This next photo is one of our jennets that had trouble keeping weight on during her pregnancy. You can see her ribs. She was receiving extra feed and her overall appearance and coat quality were good but she needed to gain a few pounds and did so after her foal was weaned.
Donkeys are so endearing and they can look at you and bray and be very convincing that you should feed them more hay. Sometimes I think, that's the highlight of their day and aside from the companionship of the other donkeys and their humans, what else to they have to live for but food? You need to be strong and resist the temptation to overfeed. Heavy donkeys are extremely prone to hoof issues like white line disease. White line disease can cause abscesses. Hoof issues are hard on a healthy weight donkey but are even harder on an overweight donkey. They lay down and all of that weight is bad for their organs as they lay down. It is more painful the heavier they are. Be tough.
Make sure you have plenty of clean water available. We dump the buckets daily and bleach them at least once a week. In the winter we use heated water buckets to encourage more water intake and keep the water from freezing.
We have a mineral salt block and a selenium salt block in every pen. Selenium deficiency can cause birth defects. The minerals are important for overall health.
Can they have treats? Yes, but in moderation. We purchase healthy treats in a 50# bag at the feed store. If you feed them by hand you may create nippy donkeys but it is hard to resist. They can have carrots, apples, bread ends, crackers, pumpkins, corn husks, corn on the cob cut up and they love Christmas or pine trees/branches. If you give them Christmas trees make sure there is no tinsel on it. If you want to avoid nippy donkeys you can always feed these treats in a dish or feeder.
Brushing and handling your donkey is a great way to build a bond with him. You don't need much:
Rubber curry comb
Main and Tail Comb
Furminator type shedding tool
We provide a halter and lead rope for every donkey that we sell. The halter should fit snugly but not be too tight. The lead should have a sturdy snap and be about 6 to 8 feet long. The rubber curry comb is used on the fleshy parts of the donkey (not face or legs) in a circular motion to loosen dirt. Then the stiff brush is used and then the soft. The soft brush can be used on the face and legs too. The Furminator (http://www.furminator.com/products/deshed/dog/undercoat-deshedding-tool-large-dog-long-hair.aspx) that we use on our dogs works terrific on the donkeys when they are shedding out. We body clip our donkeys around June 1st every year. When we only had 2 donkeys we would shed them out by hand with the Furminator. Now with so many it gets tough to find the time. If they are not groomed and shed out they are prone to get rain rot which is similar to hot spots on a dog. Their coats are thicker and dryer than a horse's. This is great for insulation but fungus and bacteria when they get wet.
You should pick out and inspect your donkey's feet at least a couple times a week with the hoof pick. Your farrier will appreciate this too because you will be getting your donkey used to having his feet handled. It is also a great way to build trust with your donkey.
You can bathe your donkey occasionally but I would limit how much as it dries their coats out. You will also soon learn that the donkey will go directly to the spot in their pen where they roll and do this just as soon as you turn them loose. The dust helps with flies and makes them feel good.