A sunny day at last, the warmth beckons the spring and a glimpse of optimistic, but nervous, cheer, perhaps the worst of a terrible winter is behind us. The seasons change and we already are in March, how did that happen? No donkey owner will be sad to see the back of the mud and rain. Yet each new turn of the year brings fresh exciting challenges for donkey care and sometimes in the excited thoughts of long summer days, dry fields, fresh grass and sunshine it is easy to miss what needs to be done now to ensure or donkeys can enjoy the spring as much as we want them too, so it's a good time to think about what your donkeys need you to do know.
Firstly, if your donkey is wearing a rug, a warm day provides a great chance to take the rug off and allow some fresh air to reach their skin, however, make sure you can get the rug on again before the temperature drops in the early part of the afternoon. It can be harder for older donkeys to warm up again if they get cold.
Sunshine means the grass is growing, you know your donkeys want to be out in fresh pasture and that lush green flush of new growth is so powerfully tempting. But that sun means growing grass has increasing levels of fructans (sugars) in the grass. These sugars can be responsible for donkeys developing the crippling condition of laminitis. Much like a starving child at an all you can eat buffet table, you know they will eat too much and then feel sick, our donkeys stand at the gate willing us to let them at it. You weaken and think “Just an hour or so won’t hurt”. It will make them happy and after all what better feeling than a happy donkey?
Well consider this... donkeys graze at approximately 23 mouthfuls a minute and after 60 minutes that makes about 1,380 mouthfuls of grass. If you consider the pile of grass you would have if you went into your field and pulled 1,380 handfuls of grass, you can soon see that it is a big pile of fresh grass. That much fresh grass going into your donkey's stomach is going to cause the same problems as the child at the buffet. Sudden changes of diet are always something the knowledgeable donkey owner wants to avoid, in this case, all that fresh wet grass, full of sugar is potentially life threatening as it can trigger conditions such as colic and laminitis. Sometimes it is scary being a donkey owner isn’t it?
Slow gradual introduction to grass is essential at this time of year, 5-10 minutes of grazing is all that is recommended to start with. Remember that on those lovely bright sunny frosty mornings there is even more sugar in the grass and even more potential to trigger a laminitic episode. Avoid turning your donkeys out on frosty grass and for the first couple of weeks just a few minutes of grazing each day.
Watch your donkey’s behaviour, as changes in behaviour could indicate there is a problem. If you suspect something might be wrong, call your vet for a check up... better safe than sorry. Their stoic nature means they don’t show the obvious signs of pain. Trust your little voice if you think something might be wrong. Check it out.
In our next update, we'll talk about grazing control and an exciting new way to manage your donkey's grazing and how to know how much to feed your donkey.