Donkeys are really intelligent animals. Sadly, many of them in the UK spend most of their lives in the field, eating lots of grass, getting overweight, bored and sometimes developing medical conditions as a result.
Laminitis, which is a painful condition of the feet as well as the more obvious obesity can be the results of an inactive lifestyle. In their natural environment donkeys would travel anything up to 25 kilometres per day searching for food, therefore they are really designed for moving and browsing and nature has adapted them incredibly well to do this.
In the UK we have a very temperate climate with a long grass growing season. This can result in donkeys having access to too much rich grass. As a result donkeys do not have to work hard to find food. It has been said that a donkey at grass in the UK during the summer can consume up to 22 Mars bars worth of sugar per day in summer grazing!
Environmental enrichment is a term all donkey welfare advisers are very familiar with. Part of our job is to encourage all donkey owners to think about the lifestyle of their donkeys and to try and create an interesting environment for them to live in. Examples of this could be regular exercise in the form of walking donkeys or riding donkeys (with a recommended weight limit of eight stone).
Asking donkeys to carry small loads is also something we have seen, taking donkeys on walks carrying panniers for example. Donkeys can be driven, as one of my previous blogs alluded to, as well as long reined and attending events such as Palm Sundays and crib services at Christmas. Providing props in the field is another option for them to interact with.
I recently visited a pair of foster donkeys called Max and Samuel. It was interesting to just stand back and watch them interact with each other in the field. They appear to get quite excited when their guardians return from work and can be seen either rolling in one of their rolling pits or chewing on logs and branches that are offered to them in the field on a regular basis.
It was amazing how quickly the boys zoned in on the logs, and as you can see from the pictures they very quickly made an impression on the branches, chewing the bark off in minutes. Inexpensive 'toys' such as an old welly boot or a punctured football can give donkeys many hours of pleasure when left to their own devices. I have seen a length of rope or a rubber trug being carried around a field by two donkeys at a time, often developing into an equine tug of war!