What Do Donkeys Eat?
Feeding recommendations for donkeys and mules have, until recently, been extrapolated from horse nutrition. It was estimated that donkeys required 75% of the nutrients that would be given to a pony of the same size. These guidelines significantly overestimate the digestible energy requirements for maintenance.
A reasonable assumption of voluntary intake for donkeys fed fibrous forages (barley straw or maize stover), supplemented with hay or grazing, is about 1.3-1.7% daily of their bodyweight in dry matter (DM) depending upon the season, because lower value is required in summer. For a 180 kg donkey this equates to 2.5-3.1 kg of DM per day.
Protein requirements in donkeys are significantly lower than those for horses. For mature healthy donkeys, protein requirements of 40 g Crude Protein (CP) /100 kg Body Weight (BW) per day has been suggested. Provision of additional quality protein to donkeys recovering from surgery or injury may improve recovery times, as protein deficiency may limit tissue repair.
Recommended vitamin and mineral levels for donkeys have only recently been established; in the past, provision of adequate vitamins and minerals was achieved by allowing daily access to fresh grazing with an equine mineral lick or vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer. Care should be taken when using mineral blocks to ensure individuals do not experience bullying or aversion to such supplement. Owners, if concerned, are advised to feed a daily supplement.
Body Condition Scoring and Weight Estimation
Keeping a regular record of donkey’s condition scores and estimated weight measurements can be very useful for monitoring their health and management. For donkeys over two years of age their weight can be estimated using the Donkey Sanctaury’s weight estimator (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk), but this estimator is not accurate for miniature or mammoth donkeys.
To measure donkey’s height, stand him/her on a hard level surface and measure from the ground up to the highest point of their withers. Once a donkey is over four years of age this measurement will only be required once and the same measurement can be used in future weight estimations. A height measuring stick is ideal.
The hearth measurement can be taken using an ordinary tailor’s tape measure; the tape should pass around the bottom of the donkey’s chest as far forward as possible as close to the front legs as possible. Both height and heart girth measurements can then be marked on the weight estimation chart and the donkey’s weight read off the centre scale by drawing a line between the two measurements.
For donkeys less than two years of age, height cannot be used to help estimate the donkey’s weight.
To determine the Body Condition Score (BCS) of a donkey can be used the “Body Condition Score Chart”. To best manage donkey’s weight, animals must be weighed and condition scored at least once a month (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk).
Half scores can be assigned where donkeys fall between scores; aged donkeys can be hard to condition score due to lack of muscle bulk and tone giving thin appearance dorsally with dropped belly ventrally, while overall condition may be reasonable.
Fat deposits may be unevenly distributed especially over the neck and hindquarters. Some resistant fat deposits may be retained in the event of weight loss and/or may calcify (harden). Careful assessment of all areas should be made and combined in order to give an overall score, according to the following parameters.
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