There is a lot of thought, discussion and preparation that goes into each new arrival at The Donkey Sanctuary. Julie, our isolation nurse and veterinary department co-ordinator details the process here, so you can understand how carefully each donkey is looked after.
“The Welfare Officers out in the field are the key to obtaining important information about each donkey’s management, medical history and behaviour so we can consider any special requirements they may need before or on arrival at The Donkey Sanctuary. This can result in further information or tests being required to ensure we are satisfied that each donkey is fit to make the journey to Devon.
On arrival the donkeys or mules are given a warm bed, feed and water and a heat lamp if the weather is cold. They are allowed to settle in whilst being observed closely by the isolation grooms for any signs of stress from the journey. The next morning I arrive and discuss with the staff how the donkeys have been before heading to their barn. I often start off by rereading my paperwork, sat on my box within their yard and this gives the donkeys a chance to adjust to me and allows me to observe their normal behaviour. There is so much information that can be gained by watching how they eat, how they stand and walk, how they interact with each other and with me. My next step is to catch the donkey or mule and give them a head to toe examination. This is always done slowly and quietly, especially as many of the donkeys or mules we get in are not used to being handled and I like to move at their pace to ensure they are comfortable with each stage of the examination. This will include condition scoring, checking their skin, eyes and nose, ageing by looking at their teeth and checking for any obvious dental abnormalities, listening to their hearts, lungs, gut sounds, checking genitals, feet and limbs. They are also scanned for a microchip to check off against their passport. Any abnormalities detected during this will be flagged up to the isolation vet who will conduct a further examination and implement any treatment as necessary.
All animals are dung sampled to check for worms and their worming history and parasite results are checked with the vet and our resident parasitologist to decide the best treatment plan. Ectoparasite (lice/mites) checks and then treatments if necessary, are also undertaken. As soon as these checks have been completed we can allow the animals out to grass, this is usually with 24-48 hours of arrival. This is also the time we may put suitable donkeys together to form a small group and this needs intensive observation from the staff. If a particular donkey is not happy in the group then further discussions will take place to find the right group where they will feel comfortable. We then allow the animals to settle with as much or as little human contact as required. Some donkeys crave attention and others just need time to adjust.
In week 2 of the isolation period the donkeys and mules are blood sampled to check for any abnormalities which may not have been detected clinically. Some donkeys have ongoing liver problems which are not outwardly apparent but may benefit from medication so it is important to check for this and any other disease. They also have their feet trimmed by our farrier and if not already up to date on their vaccines, a vaccination course to protect against equine influenza and tetanus will be started.
In week 4 the donkeys will be seen by our equine dentists and by week 6 they have completed their isolation period and are ready to move to one of our farms. Discussions are held with the isolation manager and grooms, as well as farm representatives to ensure we find exactly the right place for each donkey depending on the management they need. Some donkeys will enjoy being in large groups, with lots of other young donkeys to play with, other donkeys, especially older ones, might prefer smaller groups or need special management such as shavings bedding and short chop feed for donkeys with dental disease. We will never split up donkeys that are friends and once on the farm the staff watch the new arrivals closely to ensure they settle in well.”