When Storm Arwen battered much of the UK at the end of November, our regional sanctuaries in the north of England pulled out all the stops to continue delivering the critical care that our resident donkeys need.
Gale-force winds of up to 60mph, unrelenting rain and freezing snow saw our dedicated grooms snap into action to ensure the welfare of our donkeys continued at the highest level.
Extreme weather can adversely affect our donkeys and how we deliver their care, so procedures are in place to provide the care they need. When adverse weather hits, the priority of all our sanctuaries is the safety of our donkeys and teams.
Melanie McComb, Manchester Centre Manager, explains: “In icy conditions, it is important that we make sure the donkeys are warm by putting on rugs and heat lamps where necessary. We also make sure that there are no slip hazards on icy ground.
“Donkeys can slip easily, so before we prepare them for turn out, we have to assess that the ground is suitable.”
Donkeys are naturally blessed with thick winter coats, but as some get older, they need a little extra protection, especially from cold winds and rain.
A rug is an essential accessory to help donkeys who feel the cold more offset the chill.
Melanie adds: “Hector, our miniature donkey, gets cold easily, so the team monitors him to see whether he needs a rug during cold weather.
“We also make sure that there is suitable drinking water for the donkeys, providing warm water for them to drink throughout the day.
“When it snows, donkeys like to stay dry, but we do have one donkey at Manchester called Crixus who likes to stand out in the snow until his back is covered!”
As the team prepare the donkeys for night-time, they lay an extra thick bed of straw down in the stables and prepare the warm drinking water.
Some donkeys can lose a little weight in the cold weather, so the grooms always supplement their diets with a small portion of hay at night, which is put down in the stable for them to enjoy.
When the team are happy that the donkeys are ready for night-time, they check the predicted overnight weather and put the heat lamps on in the stables when necessary.
When our Leeds sanctuary received a good flurry of snow, the team made sure that the ground beneath both their and the donkeys’ feet didn’t turn into an ice rink.
Grooms snapped into action to clear the yard of snow and spread the ground with white rock salt to ensure the donkeys had a firm footing while walking. They also created a pathway from the centre to the yard, so staff members didn’t slip.
Cathryn Hampshire, Leeds Centre Manager, says: “Bad weather can pose several challenges. It can be hard work mucking out and pushing wheelbarrows and getting straw from the barn to the stables.
“Our rural location means that the lanes leading to and surrounding the centre are not cleared, so our staff struggle to get in when there is snow.
“Most winters, we have to walk the last half a mile or so to the centre!”
Sometimes the snow can fall so fast that staff members cannot leave their driveways to make the trip to work.
Thankfully, the dedication of our grooms means there is always somebody on hand to brave the elements – and they all say how rewarding it is to see the donkeys running into the snowy field and having a ball.