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FEEDING IN DROUGHT

With it being a dry Autumn after a dry Spring and Summer, most of us have a great lack of feed in the paddocks for the donkeys. There are a number of problems to be considered in relation to drought when feeding donkeys.


One "problem" is that donkeys are very good doers, and dry droughty country is their natural habitat. Donkeys will keep themselves alive eating every skerrick of dry grass, every seed, every root or strip of bark. They stay alive in conditions in which everything else starves. However this leads to a problem, and that is that they'll ruin the paddocks. They will bare the soil till it blows or washes away and also eat the seeds that need to stay in the soil to germinate into new grass once it rains (though they won't get the smaller seeds of broad leaf weeds like Salvation Jane, which aggravates any weed problem you have). This means once the cover of dry grass in a paddock is down to 70% (at a bare minimum) (i.e. when you look down at the ground the view is 70% dry vegetation and 30% visible dirt) donkeys (and sheep, etc) must be taken off the paddock. If you have another paddock in better

condition, you move them; otherwise they must be moved to yards. If you hand feed hay in the paddock they will keep scrounging around just for something to do and keep making it barer, so when the cover in the paddock reduces to 70% they must come out.


A yard needs to be big enough for the donkeys to move about (say 20 metres across) and be flat to reduce erosion, and have shelter (shed or trees), good fencing, and water trough. If you have a number of donkeys it's better to have only a few per yard and to keep like with like (young stock, or geldings, or pregnant jennies) so each group consists of ones that can all be fed the same.


Donkeys (like horses) need sufficient fibre to keep their gut functioning. This is very important as insufficient fibre will lead to colic and illness. They also need sufficient nourishment, with enough calories and protein for body maintenance and growth, and enough vitamins and minerals for health. Growing youngsters need more calories and protein for body maintenance and growth, and enough vitamins and minerals for health. Growing youngsters need more calories and protein, vitamins and minerals per kilogram of body weight than mature geldings which is why they need dividing into different groups.


The amount of fibre needed per day is a minimum of 1.5% of body weight, dry matter. So, a 11.2 to 12 hand donkey, weighing around 200kg, needs 3 kg of dry food a day (hay, straw, chaff, pellets). Small square bales of hay tend to weigh 25 to 28 kg each. Straw bales about 20kg. Weigh them at home (hold bale and step on scales, put the bale down, weigh yourself and substract), or weigh the bales at the feed store where they should have scales

for stock feeds. Chaff is cut up hay and the chaff bag will be sold by weight. So one bale of hay would last the donkey about 1 week. However, if given the 3 kg of food a day as hay the calorie count would be too high and the adult donkey would get fatter and fatter. Straw is lower in calories per kilogram of food. Most hays are also too high in simple sugars and can lead to laminitis and chronic lameness and hoof problems if too much is fed. Cereals and grasses cut for hay as they run up to flower (which is the usual time of cutting) tend to be very sweet. Lucerne is actually lower in sugar, but is high in protein and calories. Meadow hay

is often listed as the best hay for donkeys and it would be if it was just mixed grasses cut from a meadow; however a lot of what is sold as meadow hay is planted rye grass and other very high sugar grasses developed for fattening cattle and sheep, so you need to check.


Barley straw is the best for donkeys, but wheaten straw is the second choice. Straw is the residue of the grain crop after the grain has been reaped, and is just the dry yellow stalks. For the hypothetical 200kg adult donkey, yarded, give 2 to 2 and a half kilogram of straw, half to 1 kilogram of hay (part cereal and part lucerne, or all meadow hay), and give 200g of a bagged food like Hygain Zero or other food made for horses at rest and prone to laminitis (that is, very low sugar, low starch) a day. The pellets can be fed when training as rewards, instead of being put in a container at feed time. Young donkeys or pregnant donkeys need extra vitamins and minerals and so should be given a supplement like Kohnke's Donkey Supreme, or similar horse supplement (these are just little pellets of vitamins and minerals, with no food component). Mature donkeys will get enough calcium and so on from the lucerne and the bagged pelleted food.


Watch the donkeys weights and cut back the hay and pellets if getting fatter (or increase if getting thinner). Worm the donkeys. Once it rains it will take weeks before the grass has grown well enough to be grazed, so we have many weeks of managing the donkeys' feed before they can be turned out again. Training and being taken for walks will add interest to the donkey's day.


Helen Robertson

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