Five Things A New Donkey Owner Should Know

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written by Cindy Benson


Bringing new donkeys home can be stressful. I have outlined below five of the  major factors in a successful donkey relationship. I hope you will find these tips helpful. Onward!

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Mini donkeys need each other! These two geldings are a good example of that. They play “soccer” together almost daily!

  1. Social Needs

Your donkey needs a friend. Miniature Donkeys need each other but larger donkeys, and mules, seem to do well with horses and ponies. A happy donkey has a friend to play with that plays the way he does, and that he can eat with and sleep near. Well adjusted, content donkeys love their people just as much as a single donkey would. An unhappy donkey is noisy and destructive. They will chew on your fences, trees, and barns, and are pushy, mouthy, and needy. Two happy donkeys are much easier to live with and enjoy than one sad donkey. Two donkeys can share the same stall and eat together so it really isn’t much more trouble than just having one. Two donkeys can be very good companion for a lonely horse, by the way.

F Diamond

Notice how smooth this jennet is…..

F Diamond

….This is the same jennet. She’s much older, and has had many foals, but she has also been chronically overweight. Notice the roll on her neck and the large fat pad on her rump. Her weight issues will likely shorten her life and that’s a shame because it was totally preventable.

  1. Feeding

Donkeys do best on high fiber – low protein hay. They are browsers like deer and goats and enjoy blackberry bushes, etc. The most common form of abuse of donkeys is allowing them to be overweight. Their weight is completely in your control and it is your responsibility to take their well being seriously. It is a major part of equine ownership. When the grass is growing and rich you will need to limit their access to it. They are happy when they are chewing so feeding them something with moderate nutritional value will allow them to have more of it than if you feed rich hay such as alfalfa. Do not feed inferior hay, though, such as moldy hay or hay filled with weeds and stickers. Many regional grass or grain hays are appropriate. Make sure they clean up the hay you give them before feeding more. If they aren’t doing this you are feeding too much. I am often asked “How much do I feed my donkeys?”. My answer is “ask your donkey”. Every time you feed new hay the nutritional content is different from the last and seasonal differences change how much hay your donkey needs at any given time. My suggestion is to look closely at your donkeys when they arrive. Do they have large crests? Do they have fat pads on their rumps and along their sides? Many donkeys do. These are signs of an overweight donkey and in this case you need to feed them slightly less than a maintenance amount of hay so that they will lose the extra weight slowly. Feed them roughly 3-5 lbs of hay per day each – roughly! This is not absolute due to the factors I stated before. Now watch to see if your donkey’s weight increases or decreases. This will tell you how much hay is appropriate. If they seem to be gaining weight feed less, if they are losing weight, feed more. You will need to adjust how much you feed all along the way. When I feed my donkeys I pet and cuddle them. I feel their necks and look closely for developing fat pads. This is what I mean by saying that your donkeys will tell you what they need. Feeding your donkeys  does not need to be complicated or stressful for you and feeding time can be a favorite time of day for both yourself and your donkeys.

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A three sided shelter or run-in barn works well for donkeys. They will go in if they need shelter, but do not need to be closed in by you. They are smart enough to look after themselves. In this photo notice the guardian dog in the back corner.

  1. Housing

Donkeys are much easier to live with than horses in this regard. You do not need to blanket your donkeys (they would hate it and it is unnecessary) or lock them in a barn so that they stay warm. Donkeys are still a product of natural selection and have great self preservation. They WILL come in if they are cold – I promise. Your job is to provide them with a barn, stall, or three sided open shelter. If you make sure they can come in and out at will they will look after themselves. A 12’x12′ horse stall can easily house 1-3 Miniature Donkeys or two standard donkeys. Donkeys do not need as large a space to be happy as horses do because they look at things differently. They play around and around rather than taking off at a good head of steam as horses do so they need less room. Be sure your fencing is safe; please don’t use barbed wire as it can cause you lots of problems. I prefer a woven wire fence installed all the way to the ground and too high for my donkeys to get their heads over. I use an electric wire inside the fence at chest high to keep my donkeys from eating my posts and stretching my wire as they scratch on it. This little precaution will make sure your fences look great for years and years.

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This young lady and her inexperienced gelding are working through some issues – in the very public venue of the show ring! Madi was patient and gentle. The photo below shows the progress they made, at the same show later in the day. Good job!!!!

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4.  Training

Donkeys do not think and learn the same way horses do. They are more similar than different but the differences are important. You cannot push and bully a donkey into obedience but if they love and trust you they will do almost anything for you. The key is mutual respect. When you ask something of your donkey be sure your are being realistic in your expectations and are patient. If you give your donkey the time to think things through he is likely to give you what you have asked for. If you find you have unknowingly presented him with something that is beyond his training level just change the lesson slightly, reward him for that success, and take your future training more slowly. Many people believe that once you ask for a something you must get it or the donkey will learn a bad lesson. Well, if you push hard at something your donkey is not ready for you have taught him that this issue is very scary and that he can’t trust you. The important thing about training is to leave your lesson on a good note with lots of snuggles and praise from you. If you change your lesson slightly to something that is an aspect of your first request, is realistic for him, and reward like mad, your original mistake of asking too much is no big deal. Training donkeys is fun and easy as donkeys love their kind owners and want to please. Another thing to think about is that your donkeys are training you every time you are near them – for sure really! It can be so subtle. If you walk in their pen and they bump you enough that you step out of their way the donkey is now superior to you in the herd dynamic. This is not good. In a herd mentality someone is in charge, always, and it need to be you! If your donkey gives you a push give him a BIG shove back – you have now taken control. It is that easy. I think of my donkeys as weighing 1000 lbs like a horse and if it isn’t cute in an animal that size it isn’t allowed with my donkeys. It is possible to have a very friendly, soft and easy relationship with your donkeys when there is mutual respect and you are in charge. You can ask a lot of your donkeys. They are very smart!

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It’s amazing what a donkey will consider a toy!!!!! This decoy provides hours of enjoyment for this gelding and his best friend; another gelding.

5.  Toys

Donkeys are much more cerebral than horses and can be destructive when bored. Toys will help with this and watching donkeys play is an absolute delight for their people! Donkeys love hula hoops, beach balls, corrugated drain pipe rings, cardboard boxes with no staples, feed pans, hoses with the ends cut off, etc. The list is endless and fun. They also love hills of any kind and in my pastures we have added piles of dirt just for the donkeys to play on. They are a hoot to watch! Donkeys also love piles of shavings and piles of sand. They will push the shavings around with their noses, paw in it, and roll with exuberance.