Managing feed for our resident herd of donkeys in Liscarroll, Ireland, requires careful planning all year round by Declan Sexton, our Head of Farms in Ireland. Summertime and the annual haylage harvest plays a major part in that planning process.

During the summer, our farm team cut and saved haylage from 125 acres of land across our four farms in Liscarroll to feed our resident herd during the upcoming winter months. Declan Sexton, Head of Farms, was delighted with the excellent weather in June that allowed the harvest to go ahead in one session.

He said: “Due to the cold and wet weather at the end of April and early May, grass growth was slow to start. As a result, the harvest quantity is lower than I would like it to be, but the quality of the haylage the team has saved is good”.  

After the team cut and saved the haylage, contractors baled it and then carefully brought it back to the farms to be stacked and stored by our farm team.

Declan and his team carefully plan what and where quantities are needed when preparing the haylage harvest for storage.

Over 400 of our Irish herd live on Hannigans Farm, where there is lots of storage and the groups of donkeys are larger. Round bales are perfect for this farm, as fresh bales are fully used after opening.

The Open Farm is smaller, with just over 130 donkeys in smaller groups on site. Therefore, square bales are more suitable for the Open Farm, ensuring optimum use of haylage. Donkeys are trickle feeders, and they eat barley straw ad-lib all year round, meaning that they eat small amounts of straw when they wish.

Our donkeys’ straw diet is supplemented with controlled access to grass when they graze in their paddocks during the spring and summer months. When grazing is not possible in the winter months, the herd receives a controlled amount of haylage.

Declan likes to ensure that we have a couple of months of haylage in reserve at any time. He said: “In Ireland, we can never predict the weather. As a result, year on year, we don’t know how we will be affected by bad weather, grass growth and access to paddocks for grazing. At all times, we have to think ahead and be prepared for any scenario. I am delighted that we have our haylage crop stored for winter, but depending on how the weather is over the next few months, we may have to buy in more haylage as well as buying barley straw.” 

Due to dental challenges, not all of our donkeys can eat barley straw or haylage. Many of our elderly donkeys live on a diet of short chop food, which ensures that they get the nutrition they need to keep healthy.