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 will be 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?
Visiting Ruby, Bonnie, and the roaming herd
As far as possible, we believe in letting the donkeys lead us. That’s why you aren’t just a visitor; you’re a guest – a guest of the donkeys that inspire us and touch us so deeply. If you've visited us in Sidmouth before you'll know that we aren't a zoo; we're a sanctuary for donkeys and people alike.
When you come to visit us - whether that's to see your adoption donkey, or to find your own slice of sanctuary - there will be a new trail for you to follow along with the Main Barn herd, who are likely to be making the most of their new grazing away from our main paddocks.
If you can’t see your adopted donkey in any of the paddocks close by, ask a volunteer where your special friend is - they'll be able to send you on your way to discover where the donkeys are exploring that day.
It could be that your four-legged friend is having the time of their life roaming free in Weston Valley!