How To Care For A Donkey: A Simple Guide

Whether you have a donkey or are considering acquiring one, it’s important to know exactly what these friendly, sturdy little equines need in the way of care. In this article, we provide smart, sensible tips to help you take good care of your donkey. Read on to learn more on how to care for a donkey.

What Is A Donkeys Temperament Like?

what is a donkeys temperament like

Donkeys are naturally easy-going and kind tempered, but of course, like any other animal if they have been abused, they can become wary and cranky. Luckily, because donkeys are very smart, they can learn to trust again if you’re able to convince your donkey that you are trustworthy.

Consistency is the most important tool in trust building with your donkey. Establish a regular, daily routine of catching, feeding and grooming.

Always perform these tasks with a calm and quiet demeanor. Doing the same thing at the same time every day will prove to your donkey that you are trustworthy.

How To Groom A Donkey

How Do You Train A Donkey?

Intelligence is one trait that all donkeys have in common, along with good sense. Although they are long had a reputation for being stubborn, the fact is that while horses obey, donkeys tend to decide.

That’s why, whenever you’re dealing with a donkey, you’ll need to exhibit good sense yourself and behave in a consistent, sensible and intelligent manner.

Use training techniques that help create a bond with your donkey and build trust. Remember that donkeys are smart, sensible and like to decide for themselves. For this reason, your training/trust building exercises should focus on working together as partners.

The kind of training shown in this video helps build trust and communication and gain cooperation. All of these are very important in working with any equine, especially donkeys.

Donkeys are far better at learning by observing than are horses. When you work with your donkey and demonstrate what you want (as shown here) you will find that your donkey understands and wants to work with you.

Training Donkeys: Groundwork, Condition And Muscle Training Tips

Meet Your Donkey Where He Is

Before you begin working with your donkey, take time to observe and evaluate him and understand what he already knows. That way, you can meet him where he is and move forward together.

Building on your donkey’s current knowledge and giving him time to think through new tasks is a recipe for success. If you find that the task you’re working on seems to be too complicated or unfamiliar for your donkey to master, take a step back and do something that he already knows how to do.

Think of ways to connect your donkey’s current abilities with the new skills you wish him to learn. Always reward success with a positive attitude, petting and scratching and appropriate breaks.

Avoid rewarding your donkey with food treats because this is very likely to spoil him in turn him into a brat.

Smart Donkeys Need Activity!

Because donkeys are quite a bit smarter than horses, they also become bored much more easily. It’s a good idea to keep toys available for your donkey at all times. You may already have some items on hand that your donkey will enjoy pushing around and tossing into the air. Good homemade toys include:

  • Rubber feed pans
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Hula hoops
  • Beach balls

There are also lots of commercially available equine toys, such as Jolly Balls, which donkeys enjoy. Yes, there is a lot of ongoing expenses for you to consider when you decide to buy a donkey.

A Donkey Alone Is No Donkey At All!

donkeys are sociable animals

Donkeys are sociable animals and make very good companions for other equines. A donkey is happiest with another donkey, but they will quickly bond with horses, mules, cattle, goats and other critters.

This is why donkeys are often thought of as traditional companions for high strung animals, such as racehorses. A single donkey also makes a good guardian for a herd of animals such as sheep, goats or cattle.

Take care when introducing your donkey to any companion. It always takes a little time to establish a pecking order, and some donkeys do have an innate dislike for some smaller animals, such as dogs, cats, sheep and goats.

Keep a close eye on the potential friends, and keep them separated when you can’t supervise until it is absolutely clear that everyone will get along.

A Donkey Needs Less Space Than Other Equines

Ideally, an acre per animal is a good rule when keeping equines; however, donkeys can get by with quite a bit less space as long as they are getting regular exercise and have free access to a good, mixed grass hay.

It’s also important to provide your donkey with effective shelter (here is our article on their sleeping habits). Remember that donkeys originally hail from very warm climates, so they don’t tolerate cold well, and they do not like to stand in the rain.

In a very cold climate, your donkey will need a stall or a four-sided shelter with a door. In moderate to warm climates, a three-sided shed is fine.

Be sure to keep a filled, net bag of mixed grass hay available at all times, along with fresh water and a mineral block.

Don’t forget to regularly clean their stall or shed, and you can potentially use the donkey’s manure for composting.

What Do Donkeys Eat?

what do donkeys eat

In the wild, donkeys are browsers and enjoy grass, bushes, berries, fallen fruit the edible parts of cactus and a number of other different types of vegetation that they may find in their native environment.

Donkeys can do quite well on pasture alone, as long as the grass is not excessively rich and lush. If you have a pasture that is made up of a mixture of native grasses, bushes and edible trees, you may not need to feed your donkey.

If you have a mono-crop, fertilized field of Bermuda grass or some other rich grass, you should give your donkey regular turnout times and limit the amount of grazing available to him. Too much rich, lush grass can make your donkey fat and cause a number of different health problems.

It’s important to understand that donkeys thrive on a diet that is high in fiber and low in protein. Although you might be tempted to give your donkey rich, fertilized hay and sweet feed, this would be a very bad idea.

Donkeys who eat an excessively rich diet tend to get fat very easily and develop all sorts of health problems including laminitis.

Instead, it’s a good idea to free feed a locally sourced, mixed grass, unfertilized hay. If you’re unable to find a local hay supplier, you may have to buy hay by the bale from your local feed store.

Avoid very rich hay, such as fertilized Bermuda and any alfalfa. If feeding very rich Bermuda grass hay, you may need to soak it in cold water for half an hour before presenting it. This will remove excessive amounts of protein and sugar, which could make your donkey very sick.

Don’t feed alfalfa hay at all. It is only suitable for very hot blooded horses who are worked hard (e.g. thoroughbred racehorses). Alfalfa hay is a major culprit in causing problems with laminitis.

A good, local mixed grass hay can be kept in front of your donkeys at all times in a hay net. Hay nets slow down rate of consumption, reduce waste and give your donkeys something to do to keep them occupied.

If feeding a rich, fertilized Bermuda hay, measure it carefully. Generally speaking, a standard donkey will want a couple of flakes of hay a day.

Donkeys don’t typically need much (or any) grain, but a 50-50 mixture of soaked beet pulp and crimped oats is a nice, simple choice for donkeys needing to put on a little weight. Confer with your vet to determine how much grain your donkey should have.

If you must change your donkey’s feeding routine, do it gradually over a two-week period of time. This will give your donkey’s digestive system time to adjust.

Always feed fresh, clean hay and feed. Never accept any moldy foodstuffs. Always keep ample fresh water available, and set up a salt/mineral lick in a sheltered area, off the ground.

How To Feed And Take Care Of A Donkey

Donkey, A Beast Of Burden

The amount a donkey can carry varies depending on the size of the donkey, the weather conditions, the equipment being used and the terrain to be covered. Naturally, smaller donkeys are better able to carry smaller loads and smaller riders, and larger donkeys can carry heavier loads and larger riders.

Generally speaking, a healthy, well cared for donkey can carry between twenty and twenty-five percent of its body weight. This means that typically, a miniature donkey might be able to carry a small pack or a small child.

A standard donkey could comfortably carry a pack that an average adult could lift or handle. A standard donkey is a good-sized mount for an average sized woman or small man.

A mammoth donkey is as big as a horse and quite a bit stronger. A mammoth is a good choice for carrying heavy packs (within reason). A mammoth donkey is also suitable as a mount for a larger man or woman whose weight does not exceed 25% of the weight of the animal.

How To Ride A Donkey

What Kind Of Veterinary Care Does A Donkey Need?

Your donkey will need to be seen at least once a year for a thorough examination, worming and update of vaccinations. If your donkey has a health condition that needs monitoring, such as laminitis, hyperlipidemia or pregnancy, you’ll naturally need to have the vet out more often.

If you acquire a jenny, or if your jenny gets out and goes visiting with a jack or a stallion, you’ll need to have the vet come out to determine whether or not she is pregnant.

A donkey pregnancy can last as long as fourteen months, and you’ll need to have your vet visit two or three times to make sure that all is well.

Pregnant Donkeyrobics

Schedule Regular Hoof Trimming

Donkey hooves are similar to horse hooves, but they are not exactly the same. It’s important to find a farrier who understands the structure and composition of donkey hooves. Improper trimming can cause lameness.

A donkey will seldom, if ever, need shoes. It’s best to look for a donkey farrier who knows how to do a good barefoot trim. If you will be riding on pavement or extremely rough terrain, you may wish to invest in a set of sturdy rubber hoof boots.

Why You Need A Donkey Farrier

The presenter of this video feeds alfalfa to bribe her donkeys into being haltered. Do not feed donkeys alfalfa. It is far too rich and can cause donkeys to founder.

Furthermore, don’t set yourself up for haltering challenges. Establish a regular, everyday schedule of feeding that includes haltering and grooming. If your donkeys are used to this, you will never have a problem with catching and handling your donkeys.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is a donkey a high-maintenance pet?

Just the opposite! Healthy donkeys are very easy-care and low maintenance, generally. If you can provide safe, secure pasture and shelter, ample good quality hay, salt and mineral blocks, fresh clean water and regular vet and farrier care, your donkeys will be happy and healthy.

2. Do donkeys have to be brought into the barn at night?

It’s best to simply have open shelter that the donkeys can choose to use as they see fit. Sometimes they will sleep inside at night. Sometimes they won’t. They should always be able to get shelter from the elements if they need it, but it’s best not to keep them closely confined.

3. Are donkeys safe from theft?

Unfortunately, these days no equines are safe from theft. Horses, donkeys and mules are often stolen to be sold into slaughter or even to be butchered on the spot. Be sure your pasture has locks on the gates. Install a security system with cameras. Never leave your donkeys or other equines’ halters on because this makes it easier to steal them.

4. Can donkeys tolerate low temperatures?

As long as a donkey has good shelter and is allowed to grow its winter coat, it should be able to tolerate cold temperatures as low as 14 degrees. It’s important to understand that donkeys are not naturally cold weather animals, though. Be sure to provide shelter that will keep snow, sleet and rain out. Use plenty of straw for bedding, and keep good quality hay and clean, drinkable (not frozen) water available throughout the winter months. It is also important to protect donkeys’ large ears from freezing in very cold weather.

5. Are food treats good positive reinforcement for donkeys?

No. Giving any equine food treats can lead to nippy, entitled behavior. There are plenty of non-food ways to provide positive reinforcement during training, such as positive words, pets and scratches, breaks and rest. Easy/hard alternation of tasks also provides positive reinforcement. To do this, after completing a new and difficult task, revert to one the donkey has previously performed successfully and easily. Reverting to an easy task when the animal is having difficulty mastering a new task can also provide positive reinforcement.

11 thoughts on “How To Care For A Donkey: A Simple Guide”

  1. We have two young mini donkeys. With what you have provided I think we have some abnormal donkeys. They stand out in the rain a lot. Even when it’s cold even though they have a nice shelter. We are in MO and have full four seasons. They have developed really thick hair. Thank you for the info especially what to feed them and grazing.

  2. Positive reinforcement training comes out of the field of animal behaviour, it is a rewards based training based on the psychology of how animals learn. All reputable zoos train their animals this way, from polar bears to alligators. It also works with all equines, including Donkeys. They will NOT become “brats” if you give them treats, you just have to know how to use this evidence-based approach and train them to not mug or beg. They will get it in 5 minutes or less! It is lesson 1.

    They are food motivated which can make training easier by having something that they want as a reward for desired behaviour, rather than using fear and pressure.

    Often, people who have “grown up” with horses and equines use traditional methods rather than keeping up with the current ethical and scientific methods because that is what they know. However, when dealing with behavioural problems “traditional” solutions are not always humane and can use fear and punishment… which frankly ruins your relationship with that animal. So please look into R+ (positive reinforcement) before training or correcting behaviour in an aggressive or fear-based way. Your donkey will thank you!

  3. I am still looking for the open air bubble bath animal sanctuaries, the end of zoos, the end of animal mills, the end of animal rape and the shared resource allocation which allows animal lovers to visit, run these valuable economic resources. Instead animal lovers are subjected to disgusting satanists view of the beloved animal provided free on this planet. These losers might have to give up their unlimited water damage that caused all of the drought.

  4. I rescued 2 abused donkeys about 2 years ago and they still run from me and will not let me pet them, only occasionally. The jenny was pregnant when I rescued them (I had no idea) and the baby is now 5 months old and is up for sale. I do not want him to end up like they are and not let humans touch them. My farrier has to run them into a runin and lasso them just to trim their feet and they are so upset when he leaves. How can I get them where they don’t have to be traumatized to get a trim, wormed or anything else? Also, how do I get them to trust me so that I can pet them and check them over every day? I have had horses all my life and I am completely lost after 2 years!

    • Hi Cheryl! How wonderful that you’ve rescued these two. I’m a little confused about your timing. You say that you got your donkeys two years ago, your jenny was pregnant at that time and the baby is now five months old. Donkey gestation period is between 11 and 14 months, so even at the outside, that doesn’t add up to two years.

      Is your other donkey a jack? Could the jenny have gotten pregnant after you acquired her? If so, your first step should be to get your jack gelded. A gelding is a lot easier to handle than a jack, and he won’t be defensive and trying to protect the jenny from you. This will help with gentling.

      Another thing to consider is setting. I don’t know your situation, but if you have them running loose on a fairly large piece of land, you may never get them gentled. One of the best ways to gentle a skittish donkey or mule is to get the animal into a smaller, enclosed space where you can interact without it being able to run off.

      Once you have them in a smaller corral, put a halter on each of them, and leave the halters in place so that you can eventually catch them easily.

      Provide free-feed fresh water, shelter and medium to low sugar/protein hay, such as wheat straw, barley straw or mixed prairie grasses. Feed a small amount of grain once a day at the same time of day – nothing rich or excessive – one or two quarts of crimped oats for each donkey should be plenty.

      Don’t hand feed treats because this will encourage nipping.

      When you feed, sit down on a lawn chair with the feed dish in your lap. A shallow galvanized metal or rubber pan is a good choice for this activity.

      Talk quietly, hum or sing and present a rather disinterested demeanor. Let them choose to come to you to eat. This may take several days. As long as they are able to get enough hay, that’s fine. This is a time for them to learn that they can approach you and trust you in exchange for something good.

      Spending quiet time in their stall or corral pursuing your own interests will help them learn to trust you. Just sit quietly reading, listening to music, thinking, drawing, etc. Never raise your voice, and don’t make any sudden moves.

      When they are coming to you without hesitation, you can slowly begin touching them and maybe offering them an occasional carrot or apple. This is when you may be able to start taking hold of the halters, attaching a lead rope and trying a little leading.

      As they become more and more used to you, introduce grooming, hoof care, etc. This is a slow, incremental process that may take a very long time. Frankly, it would be a lot easier if you could separate them. As long as they are bonded to each other, getting them to bond to you will be much more of a challenge.

      Best of luck to you!

  5. Thank you for all this info. I have a friend that wants me to adopt two ten yr old minis. I’ve never had a donkey or horse before. I have a good size property 5 ac.
    I hope I can give them a good rest of their life. How long do they live? And I hope I don’t spoil them with treats…lol


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