Many people mistakenly attempt to raise donkeys as though they were long-eared horses! While there are many similarities, there are also key differences, as described in this article.
Raising young donkeys is a challenging but rewarding journey. Work put in during their formative years is the best way of ensuring your donkey becomes a well-rounded, healthy, and valuable part of your farm. Donkeys perform many different jobs; their future career dictates how they should be raised.
Donkey foals are among the most adorable, fluffiest little balls of equine cuteness. The journey of raising your donkey from a bumbling baby to a well-rounded adult is a rewarding endeavor to undertake if you learn how to do it correctly.
What Are You Going To Use Your Donkey For?
You may be wondering why this question has been included in an article instructing you on how to raise your donkey. However, the answer to this question is particularly relevant to how your donkey needs to be raised to perform well in their future careers.
Donkeys are versatile creatures capable of performing many different types of jobs, and the kind of donkey you get will depend on what job you intend them to perform. All donkeys should tolerate at least basic handling regardless of the type of job they will one day do.
Raising Donkeys as Livestock Guardians
Donkeys are territorial and, as such, are frequently used as livestock guardians. Livestock guardians are rapidly gaining popularity as a means of protecting valuable livestock without needing to kill predatory animals.
Only standard or giant breed jennies and geldings are suitable for use as livestock guardians. Intact jacks are too aggressive and often hurt or injure the livestock they’re supposed to protect.
Ideally, donkey foals should be born into the herd they will one day be responsible for guarding. If this is not possible, the donkey foal should be introduced to the herd at six months when they are weaned.
Donkey guardians should not grow up with other horses or donkeys, and instead should be given every opportunity to integrate and bond with the livestock under their protection.
One of the predators donkey guardians protect their herds from is feral dogs, a particularly hazardous nuisance to sheep herds. As such, the donkey should not be exposed to friendly working dogs when growing up.
Raising Donkeys as Therapy Animals and Pets
There is a growing movement of donkeys being used as pets and as therapeutic service animals. These donkeys may be used to help people cope with anxiety, depression, or even more complex conditions such as Autism and Asperger’s.
Additionally, people have started training miniature horses as service animals for the visually impaired. The tiny horses are preferred to dogs as they live for 25 years to 35 years compared to a dog’s lifespan of 12 years to 15 years. It won’t be long before the pocket-sized miniature donkeys are drafted in to perform a similar function.
Not only do therapy donkeys have to be incredibly polite, but they also need to be supremely confident. Donkeys who’re exposed to a wide variety of stimuli when young are more likely to face new challenges (e.g., a child having a seizure while handling them) with more grace and stoicism when they’re older.
Positively shaping the formative years of a future pet or therapy donkey is key to laying a foundation for success. These donkeys should begin “training” from birth!
Raising Donkeys as Mule and Hinny Breeders
Mules and hinnies are prized as hard-working pack and riding animals. They combine the surefootedness and hardiness of donkeys with the size and stride length of a horse, in other words, they’re the best of both worlds.
Unfortunately, both mules and hinnies are hybrid animals and, as such, are sterile. A mule’s sterility means that to breed mules, you need to convince donkeys to mate with horses and vice versa.
This cross-species mating may seem like an easy thing to do, but in reality, this can be trickier than you think. Donkeys raised with donkeys don’t want to get intimate with horses, and horses raised with horses don’t want to do any funny business with donkeys!
Thus, it’s vital that donkeys and horses intended to be mule breeders be raised with each other.
Giant breed donkeys are the preferred donkeys to breed pack and riding mules. Miniature donkeys may be bred with miniature horses to produce pet mules and hinnies. Standard donkeys are rarely used in mule or hinny breeding programs.
Raising Donkeys as Riding Animals
Although less popular than horses and mules, donkeys nonetheless make surefooted, hardy riding and pack animals.
These donkeys need to be exceptionally polite and willing to work with humans. The willingness to “try” is best fostered when donkeys are still young. A donkey is a formidable foe when they decide they’re not interested in working with humans!
A donkey’s generosity can be nurtured by:
- Setting them up for success in each exercise
- Giving them ample time to problem solve on their own
- Using praise and treats as a means of positive reinforcement
- Ensuring they know they can’t “bully” you into compliance
- Never handling your donkey roughly or unfairly—they have a strong sense of justice and will quickly shut down if unjustly punished.
How To Score Your Donkey’s Body Condition and What To Feed Them
The UK-based donkey sanctuary has created a guide on how to score your donkey’s condition. When scoring a donkey’s body condition, they’re given a score out of five, with three being the ideal condition. (source)
Many people assume that top marks, i.e., 5/5, are the best scores; in reality, these donkeys face obesity-related complications. Obese donkeys are more likely to develop laminitis and hyperlipaemia.
Maintaining Your Donkey’s Body Condition
Donkeys are much more efficient foragers than horses and gain weight much more quickly. However, donkeys are trickle feeders like horses and should never be left longer than four hours without food.
High fiber, low-sugar feed sources allow your donkey to trickle feed without gaining too much weight.
Donkeys in good body condition can easily maintain their weight if fed a diet of natural grazing mixed with low calorie grasses like barley straw and oat straw. Oat straw has a better nutritional profile than barley straw and thus should be preferentially fed to older, pregnant, lactating, and sick donkeys.
All lawn cuttings are toxic to donkeys, as is unboiled linseed. Moldy feedstuffs should never be fed to your donkey as they can cause fatal colics. Always research what local plants are toxic to donkeys and remove them from your donkey’s grazing areas.
Never feed any food source containing urea, which is thought to be toxic to donkeys and horses.
Extra Mineral and Vitamin Requirements of Young and Pregnant Donkeys
Growing up is a tricky business! Young donkeys, pregnant jennies, and lactating jennies have extra metabolic demands that they need to meet.
To ensure your donkey is receiving all the vitamins and minerals they need, make sure you provide:
- A free-access mineral lick, which can be put in their field or stable
- A high protein horse-balancer pellet
Most balancer pellets are densely packed with vitamins and minerals. They have between 19% to 25% protein depending on the brand of balancer pellets fed; however, balancer pellets have very few calories.
Balancer pellets are only fed in small amounts, usually less than 1.6 lbs (500g) per day.
Meeting The Calorie Demands of Young Donkeys and Their Moms
Although donkeys are “good doers,” they occasionally need help putting on weight; this is particularly true for jennies with young foals at foot. Switching to high-quality hay and straw is an excellent first step, but a grain-based concentrate may also be used to supplement them.
The best concentrate to feed thin donkeys is horse pellets designed for laminitic horses. These pellets are high in fiber but low in sugar, which suits the donkey’s digestive system.
Always introduce new food slowly over seven to fourteen days. The slow introduction of new food allows the healthy bacteria in the donkey’s digestive tract to slowly adapt to the new food. Thus, preventing your donkey from struggling with painful colics.
Deworming Schedule and Pasture Management for Young Donkeys
Donkeys can easily pick up worms while grazing in the pasture, particularly if they share their field with other livestock. Controlling your donkey’s worm burden is essential to preventing future health problems. Additionally, worms “steal” all the good nutrition from your donkey’s feed.
Before deworming your donkey, you should determine their weight using a livestock scale or weight tape. Round your donkey’s weight up by adding about 110 lbs (50 kgs) to prevent underdosing. Worms and other internal parasites may become resistant if your donkey is consistently underdosed.
However, don’t add more than 110 lbs (50kgs) to your donkey’s weight, or you will accidentally overdose your donkey!
Good pasture management, i.e., poo-picking, rotational grazing, and preventing contact with other animals, is the best way to prevent worms from being ingested.
Deworming every three months at the change of season is the best way to manage your donkey’s worm load. Your vet may recommend you deworm more or less frequently based on fecal worm counts, your donkey’s condition, and the area you live in. If you’re concerned, it is always best to contact your local vet for advice. (source)
Active Ingredients Used in Donkey Dewormers
Donkeys may be dewormed with ivermectin (Furexel and Eqvalan), benzimidazole (liquid Panacur and Panacur paste), and pyrantel (Pyratape P and Strongid P). Speak to your vet about which locally available dewormers contain the above listed active ingredients and which dewormer is best to use at specific times of the year.
What Vaccinations Does Your Donkey Need?
Donkeys typically follow the same vaccination schedule as horses, which vary according to which part of the world you live in. Donkeys are susceptible to many of the same illnesses as horses, such as African horse sickness, equine herpes virus, strangles, rabies, and tetanus.
An easy-to-use vaccination schedule for foals and adult horses, donkeys, and mules has been created by The American Association of Equine Practitioners. (source)
Hoof Care for Young Donkeys
Most young donkeys won’t need to see a farrier until at least a year old unless they have hoof problems. From then on, they will need to see a farrier every six to ten weeks, according to their hoof growth patterns.
Donkey’s being raised in abrasive sand pastures, or hard rocky ground will naturally wear their feet down faster than those living on lush green paddocks. The former will manage a ten-week trim cycle, while the latter will need to see the farrier more often.
Always prepare your donkey before their first few farrier visits. Ensure your donkey is comfortable with having their feet held in funny positions for long periods.
A scared donkey can hurt the farrier if they fight or try to get away. Additionally, the donkeys are unlikely to behave well if their first few farrier visits devolve into scary wrestling matches!
Your farrier should research donkey hoof trimming before coming out to do your donkey’s feet. Most farriers are trained to work on horse hooves. Trying to change the shape of a donkey’s foot to look like a horse’s will cause an untold number of problems.
Gelding Your Jack
A crucial decision to make when raising male donkeys is whether to geld your jack. In 95% of cases, the answer is a resounding YES!
Intact jacks can be unpredictable, aggressive, and dangerous to work with. Additionally, their elevated levels of aggression make them unsuitable for most donkey-friendly homes and jobs.
Your jack should only be used in a donkey or mule breeding program if they’re a near-perfect specimen AND have an excellent temperament.
All non-breeding jacks should be gelded between 6 to 10 months old. Gelding jacks as this age enables them to grow into mild-mannered, steadfast animals who can excel at virtually any career.
Does Your Donkey Need To Be Stabled?
Your donkey does not need to be stabled, especially if you live in a mild climate. Livestock guardians will live out year-round with their flock. Donkeys living outside must have access to a three-sided shelter to shield them in cold, wet, windy weather.
Jennies with foals at foot do better when stabled during extreme weather conditions, e.g., freezing wind, violent storms, and thickly packed snow.
Does Your Donkey Need Friends?
Guardian donkeys and mule breeding donkeys do best when raised with the type of animal they will live with as an adult.
All other donkeys do best when given companionship. Ideally, this should be other donkeys, but horses and sheep can do in a pinch.
Does Your Donkey Need To See a Dentist?
Young donkeys do not need to see a dentist unless they develop tooth issues. Signs of teeth problems include:
- Inexplicably losing body condition
- Dropping food
- Excessive salivation
- Facial swellings
- General depression and malaise
- Eating strange non-food items, i.e., chewing stones and wooden posts.
Adult donkeys should be seen by a dentist at least once a year for routine care.
A renowned horse trainer once said, “If you love your horse, you will train him to the best of your abilities. A well-trained horse will always have a good home, even if circumstances dictate that home can’t be with you.”
The same is valid for donkeys. Raising them right and setting them up to be successful in their future careers is not just a question of current wellbeing, but also of future home security.