The grass is growing and you are thinking about your donkeys' summer feeding routines. It's easy just to do what you have always done, so we thought it would be good to talk about what we can do to manage their grazing to avoid weight gain. So the question... To strip or not to strip graze or perhaps use a track system instead.
One of the challenges every donkey owner faces is keeping the weight off - we mean weight off the donkeys of course.
A donkey's efficient digestive system, designed for consuming sparse vegetation in North Africa, converts green grass to fat, very effectively. It seems a cruel irony that donkeys in the UK and Northern Europe live in such green lush pastures which are really completely unsuited to them. It is much easier to care for a donkey in parts of the world with lower rainfall and less lush rich pasture.
To prevent laminitis, colic and weight gain we need to plan how we are going to limit our donkeys' access to grass. We find one of the hardest things to explain is that a donkey's main diet should be aid-lib straw and that grass is just a small top up where needed.
We are so conditioned to see grass as the main food stuff and straw as a small unpleasant filler for the winter, that we make the biggest mistake and feed our donkeys too much grass.
Even in the Summer, straw is a donkey's main feed as it's high in fibre and low in sugars and starch. Using straw allows the donkey to meet their need for trickle feeding while preventing them from getting fat.
You are doing your donkey no favours if you give them too much grass and while they might seem happy, over time the excess weight they are likely to accumulate will result in pain and discomfort and potentially shorten your donkey's life.
Strip grazing is what we at the Sanctuary have always recommended. The key is not to move the fence too much and ensure it is working properly. Oh and to test the fence properly, you really need to get an electronic fence tester. Go on, treat yourself this year. No more touching the fence with a blade of grass to give yourself a small shock!
An electronic fence tester means you can be sure your fence is working properly and you will know when the battery is running low, before the donkeys do. Because they do know when the battery is going flat don’t they?
The problem with strip grazing is that, while it restricts the donkey's grazing, it also restricts the donkey's space to move about in.
As the year progresses remember that, just like your lawn, the grass grows up behind your donkeys, so they get the fresh grass at the fence and all the fresh grass that is re-growing in the previously grazed areas. In short you probably don’t need to move it as much as your donkey would like you to.
The other way you can restrict your donkeys' grazing is to create a track grazing system. This system uses an electric fence to create a grazing track around your donkeys’ field. You can use your imagination here, but creating a track that goes around the field and allows the donkey access from their shelter to the track means that you can restrict their grazing and yet allow them much more area to move around in.
Depending on the number of donkeys you have and the size of the paddock, a track 2-3 meters wide is quite sufficient for two donkeys. To start with, you will still need to allow limited access to allow a gradual change of diet. If you have quite a bit of grass you might also have to limit their access with a fence so they only have access to say half of the track. Once they have access to the whole track then they are free to move, run and chase around the track and you don’t have to move an electric fence every day. They just graze around the growing grass on the track.
You do have the middle of the field then to either graze later in the year if needed or cut for hay or use for your other animals. If you have sheep have them graze the donkeys’ track down first to limit the available grass.
Using a track system for your donkey could give them much more mental stimulation too, more to see and do, more movement which also helps to keep the weight off. You can make it much more stimulating for them, but more of that later.
Create a couple of fenced off blocks in the middle of your paddock so the donkeys have a figure 8 track to run around.
We would love to hear from you if you are using a track system or if you have any pictures of a track system that would help other donkeys owners with their ideas for this great way to manage the donkeys grazing.
Next time maybe we need to talk about how to know how much to feed your donkey.