This month's question is "How do I know how much grass to let my donkeys have?" The answer is to let them tell you. Ok, we don’t mean listen to their sad eyes or longing looks at the paddock, willing you to give them just a bit more fresh grass. We mean your donkeys' body condition score and hearth girth measurements are the keys to knowing how much to feed. If you monitor these from now onwards right through the year, you will be able to control your donkeys' weight much more easily.
In our last welfare update, we covered the topic "To strip or not to strip... that is the question" where we mentioned 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.
Here's what our expert Ben Hart has to say about how to keep your donkeys healthy:
"It is so easy to do. I am afraid there is no excuse I can find for not using these essential care tools. Really, I feel that strongly about it, I have spent 12 years trying to get people to use these simple tools to help keep their donkeys healthy, and I can find no other reason for them not being used other than not knowing about these tools, laziness or not caring about their donkeys. So I know if you are reading this, you will already be taking your monthly measurements and recording them."
Did you know we provide a Condition Score Chart and Heart Girth Measurement Calculator on our website?
On every single farm, our farm grooms weigh all of our donkeys every month because it is such an important management tool to see if a donkey has gained weight or lost it.
Knowing how much to feed is a matter of taking the heart girth calculation and converting it to kilograms by using the weight estimator chart and doing a body condition score. Why not make it part of your donkey care routine. Do it when you are grooming and put it on the calendar once a month for the rest of the year.
Provided that you have fit healthy donkeys with good teeth, if they are gaining weight you need to check how much food they are getting and cut it back. If they are losing weight, you need to check out why and perhaps increase their feed a little. If they are maintaining their weight, then you know you are giving them the right amount of food. How simple is that? You can then react to monthly changes in weight before they become a problem.
A definite no-no
Please remember never to starve a donkey to encourage weight loss. This can cause hyperlipaemia which can of course be life threatening.
Donkeys suffer from hyperlipaemia, with fat donkeys being at risk. Hyperlipaemia is brought on by stress. When donkeys stop eating enough, fat is mobilised into their blood stream to be converted to glucose by the liver. This process is regulated by complex hormones which in small ponies and donkeys does not shut off efficiently. Large amounts of excess fat can cause the donkey's liver and kidneys to degenerate and fail. Stress can be caused by pain, travelling, change of diet, change of environment or loss of a companion. Hyperlipaemia can be fatal and early veterinary intervention is required. Symptoms include loss of appetite and depression. If your donkey appears unwell or stops eating call your veterinary surgeon.
If you have a donkey with medical conditions, an old donkey or a donkey with poor dentition, we have a range of health and welfare fact sheets to help you provide the correct feeding programmes.
We also provide feeding and nutrition advice.
We'll talk about dieting in a future welfare update. There’s still lots more to tell you about to make sure you and your donkeys are ready for the summer.