At The Donkey Sanctuary, we let donkeys lead the way. The Freedom to Roam project allows our Main Barn herd in Sidmouth to guide us in making the best decisions about their care.
This Autumn, our Main Barn herd were able to roam freely around sections of the Weston Valley in addition to their normal stable space.
Getting to the root of grazing
While our donkeys enjoy the highest levels of care, new thinking means we’re always learning from our herds.
Recent work in animal intelligence and emotion is giving us a broader understanding of how donkeys experience the world. We strive to give our animals great standards of welfare, and we think we can give them something amazing: the freedom to roam, graze and enjoy a far wider area.
We’re keen to find out if a more relaxed approach to grazing our land might be best for not only our donkeys, but for their habitat itself.
Giving our land a hand
Being responsible for such a large number of animals, we also have a duty of care towards their environment. Ultimately, if our land is well cared for, the land will look after our donkeys in return.
Historically, we’ve followed the tradition of strip grazing to control our donkeys' calorie intake and manage their weight.
That can put a stress on our pastures, leading to some short-cropped swards of grass and poor soil health. By reducing the intensity of our grazing space, we’re discovering if we can make an improvement to the biodiversity and environmental health of our pastureland.
What's in it for the donkeys?
Although our Sidmouth herds might look perfectly natural on their rolling green pastures, donkeys are in fact a desert-adapted species. The Freedom to Roam project aims to discover if we can give them a style of grazing that suits them better, where they’ll feel even more at home.
Just like us, donkeys are individuals, in different stages of life, with varying likes and dislikes. Some older donkeys can’t cope with steep hills any more, while our youngsters jump at any opportunities to play and explore.
All animals benefit from having choice in their day-to-day routine. No matter a donkey's character, Freedom to Roam enables them to choose a way of engaging with their environment that suits their needs best.
Given more choices, which plants and behaviours might our animals be drawn to? And how might that benefit the landscape for donkeys of the future?