Nutrition and Pasture ManagementDonkeys and mules can survive on coarser pastures than a horse. Lush pastures suitable for horses may be too rich in protein and energy and, therefore, unsuitable for donkeys. Dry matter intake of feed as a percentage of body weight should be 1.75%-2.25% to meet the metabolic demands for maintenance for most donkeys and mules. Animals that are pregnant, nursing, growing, or used for heavy work, will have additional feed requirements (rolled oats, grain, hay or pasture) above their maintenance requirements (1).
Donkeys allowed to graze freely on rich pastures may be prone to obesity, laminitis (founder) and hyperlipidemia (excess of fat in the blood). When calculating the energy demands of your donkey, it is important to know that their body weight cannot be estimated using a girth weight tape intended for horses. Body condition scoring of donkeys will also require a different mind set from that used with horses since donkeys deposit fat somewhat differently than horses.
Donkeys can be alternated with cattle and sheep on pasture. This management helps maximize pasture usage and reduces the occurrence of parasites, since the parasites are not generally shared between species (1,3). Sheep and/or cattle grazing pastures after donkeys consume the remaining grass along with hatched larvae that have migrated from stool clumps up to the grass blades. Donkeys commonly create an area where they can take dust and/or sand baths during warm weather (4).
Donkeys and mules should always have access to clean water and a salt. Loose salt is preferred over a salt block since they will consume a greater volume of loose salt than from a block, especially in below zero degree temperatures. Most animals will consume anywhere from 10 to 25 litres of water per day. Snow will not provide these animals with enough water to meet their needs. Care must be taken to ensure an unfrozen water supply in ambient temperatures below 0°C.
ShelterDonkeys and mules originated as desert animals and are well adapted to warmer climates. They can do well in cooler climates, but they do require shelters or barns in the colder and wet weather. Indoor housing or run-in sheds are needed during periods of weather extremes, especially for donkey mares and their foals. The coat of a donkey does not provide the protection needed and the foals can become chilled easily. Donkeys tend to grow longer, coarser coats that lack the protective undercoat that horses have in the winter (4).
Hoof CareHoof care for donkeys and mules is required every 6-8 weeks. There are differences in the conformation of the donkey hoof compared to the horse. In general, the hooves are more upright, tougher, and more elastic than those of a horse. The bulbs of the donkey hoof are less developed and the fusion of the bulbs of the heel is less complete. The heels are naturally long. The pastern angles are greater than the horse. The frog of the donkey hoof is not meant to be weight-bearing (5). Overall, mules will have varying degrees of resemblance to either donkeys or horses
Authors: Heather McClinchey MSx; Jeffrey Sankey , BSc, Ontario Veterinary College, Unversity of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada and Dr. Bob Wright, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Fergus, Ontario, Canada