Feeding Donkeys

In the equine world we certainly do see variation. From Quarter Horses to Arabians, from miniature horses to draft horses – we all know that our equine friends come in all shapes, sizes and colors. But with horses we can usually apply certain rules for feeding across a large variety of breeds with minimal adjustments.

Donkeys are something all together different. While they are related to horses and considered an equid, the way their digestive system functions is much different – donkeys have actually been compared to small ruminants in their capabilities to digest and utilize fiber. While under a visual inspection the digestive tract of a donkey and horse is the same, the way donkeys ferment and use fiber is unique. Donkeys (descendants of the wild ass)  originated as desert animals and are adapted to foraging on coarse plants and grasses. Due to their typical desert diet, their digestive system is much more efficient than that of a horse, and therefore donkeys require a different feeding strategy.

Donkeys do well on high fiber diets that are not rich in protein or carbohydrates

In many parts of the world, donkeys face the issue of malnutrition and starvation. In industrialized countries, just the opposite is true – the main problem among donkeys is obesity. In countries like the United States we present donkeys with energy rich food and usually don’t require them to work very hard for it. People tend to feed these animals just like horses – but a diet that may be perfectly fine for a maintenance horse could cause the average donkey to become grossly overweight. Here are some good tips to follow when feeding donkeys:

  • DO NOT overfeed!
  • Consider age, work requirement, environment and body weight of the animal
  • Monitor body condition continuously using the Donkey Sanctuary Scale
  • Carefully watch levels of carbohydrates and protein
  • High fiber diets are preferred
While you should always provide plenty of fresh, clean water to your donkeys, it is true that they have a lower requirement for water than horses. In fact, donkeys have one of the lowest requirements for water among domesticated animals with the exception of the camel. 
To correctly care for your donkey, remember that it is not just a “horse with longer ears”. Donkeys are unique in their nutritional and care requirements, but they will give you endless enjoyment if you manage them properly.