Donkeys are different to horses in more ways than one, and particularly when it comes to feeding and nutrition. From past research and our extensive experience as donkey carers, we know that donkeys need to be managed very differently to horses and even ponies of a similar size in terms of what we feed them. Feeding a donkey as if it were a small pony will, over the years, be detrimental to a donkey’s health in the majority of cases.
Donkeys are much more efficient at digesting food than horses and ponies, and so they are able to absorb comparatively more calories. Donkeys are also less likely to be worked and more likely to be pets with a fairly sedentary lifestyle. Add these two facts together and donkeys come out as being predisposed to weight gain and related health problems including laminitis, arthritis and other joint problems, liver disease and metabolic disorders to name a few! These diseases and disorders will not appear overnight in most cases, but are the silent killers that accumulate through years of inappropriate feeding.
In the past it has been difficult to source feedstuffs which are appropriate for such a niche animal, resulting in unsuitable equine products being fed. Over the last five years The Donkey Sanctuary has been working with some of the major UK horse feed manufacturers and suppliers, to bring new products to market which are safe and palatable for donkeys.
As a result of this we now have a much broader range of feed which we can recommend, negating the need to feed ‘horse mixes’ and other cereal products.
Having said that, the main things donkeys really need to eat are straw and hay/haylage or limited grazing. Feeding straw is often an idea that is unwelcome to horse and pony owners new to donkeys, or even to some donkey owners who have been feeding horse feeds for years. Straw really is the closest thing to a donkey’s natural food source in terms of their evolution and genetic make-up. We have been working hard to get this message heard and understood by the donkey loving public. Straw can safely be fed to donkeys with good teeth and should form the majority of their diet. Thanks to the work of our Welfare and PR departments our voice has been heard and straw is becoming more and more popular amongst donkey keepers as the mainstay of their donkey’s diets.
We’ve recently partnered the development of a donkey forage balancer which is the perfect addition to a straw based diet. The balancer ensures all the donkey’s vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrient needs are met without adding unnecessary sugar and calories to their daily intake.
Need further advice?
If you need some more information on working out a diet for a donkey in your care, we have prepared some donkey health and welfare fact sheets which address some of the more common queries which come our way, or for information on TopSpec® products please download the brochure below for a comprehensive guide to donkey feeding and TopSpec® products.
For further advice on feeding donkeys, or if you have a specific query, then please complete our feeding and nutritional advice form and a member of the research and nutrition team will get back to you shortly.