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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Feeding Donkeys

I'm going to write down everything that I understand about feeding donkeys, based on quite a bit of research and my own experience. I am always second guessing what to feed and how much but here's my honest understanding of the subject.

Donkeys need:
Coarse, low protein hay with low non-structural carbohydrates.  If you have your hay tested, this number is referred to as NSC.  Protein should be less than 9% but way lower protein (less than 5%) is okay too.

They need barley straw (oat straw is too rich and wheat straw is too long and hard to digest.) Barley straw should make up 75% of their diet in winter, according to the UK Donkey Sanctuary.  Why?  Because donkeys are trickle feeders like horses, and need to eat small amounts of forage frequently.  If this forage is in the form of grass or hay, you are giving them too many calories  and they will get too fat, which in turn has many associated health risks.  Having said this, I don't feed 75% barley straw, probably closer to 40% as it's harder to come by than hay.

Also, the stomach of an equine produces hydrochloric acid which is buffered by digesting feed.  If the stomach is empty, the acid can cause ulceration to the stomach lining, hence the need to eat often.  But as I mentioned in a previous post, the intestine is complex, so you don't want to overwhelm the animal with a huge amount of feed to process all at once. 

They need salt, either in the form of a mineral/ salt block or loose.
They need clean water (not freezing cold.)  They won't drink out of murky grungy buckets!

DO NOT feed them:
Cereal grains (that's corn, oats, barley)
Sugar (that's molasses, glucose, dextrose, etc.)
Never give them a bite of your ham sandwich (animal protein can be fatal!)
Don't feed them Oreo cookies or bread or doughnuts (people do!)

If your donkey needs supplements (for example, Deenah gets Ulcerex, ground flax, vitamins and a selenium/ Vitamin E supplement every day) you can mix the powders into a soaked mash of something.
I have been using Fiber Max from Otter Co-op which is 40% beet pulp & 60% soy bean hulls.  But I have just been able to get some Timothy Balance hay cubes (which have some un-molassed beet pulp mixed in) and so will switch to that.

They love brush and I offer huckleberry, a few maple branches, raspberry canes, even hemlock branches that have lots of twiggy ends.  They sometimes have access to salal and Oregon grape which they will eat when they choose, roots and other sticks and twigs.  On my land, I have to watch out for Ragwort, foxglove, poison hemlock, cherry trees and leaves, red elderberry and mushrooms but there are many other plants that are toxic to donkeys.  It's important to know your flora and be able to identify what is either poisonous or toxic.

You can also offer carrots, cut into "fingers" not disks and apples cut into wedges but remember there are sugar and carbs in both of those so go easy.

I use treats when I am clicker training, but I go for Timothy hay pellets or broken hay cubes, the occasional horse peppermint or apple flavoured treat.

When I administer dewormer, I will squish it from the tube into a scooped out piece of apple or sometimes, I'll make a sandwich of a thinly sliced piece of bread (just this once!) slathered with dewormer paste and folded over. I just find it easier than haltering, tying and jamming the tube into the donkey's mouth but that's just me.  I've never had a donkey spit it out and they think they're getting a treat rather than meds.

But honestly, try to abstain from giving them grain or sweet feed or alfalfa unless you have a sick or thin animal.  Keep it as natural as possible!

Give them air and room to move but also provide shelter from rain and wind and snow.  I have made plenty of mistakes.  Ringo's pre-laminitic condition last summer was caused by diet - I let him get too heavy and boy was I sorry.

To do it right, really really right, we all should:
- measure the height and heart girth to estimate body weight (see the UK Donkey Sanctuary's nomogram)
- feel our donkeys all over to body score them (not just a visual guess)
- have hay and straw analyzed by a lab annually (I use A and L Canada Labs)
- figure out how much hay each donkey needs based on their weight - between 1.2 - 1.7% of their body weight = total amount of feed per day, including any grazing!
- feed small amounts of hay and straw frequently, not a big pile twice a day) or feed from a slow feeder
- do several fecal floats a year for each donkey rather than simply shove dewormer down them

Phew! ... seems like a lot to figure out but to me, feeding donkeys (and horses) is a balance between art and science - hence the lonnnng post!

42 comments:

  1. What vitamin/mineral supplement do you feed your donkeys? Thanks!

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  2. ken of hereford... can anyone tell me why not to feed my donks cabbages ???

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    1. Hello - I am very careful about feeding anything that contains sugars, so I rarely feed carrots, apples or bananas. Some people feed banana peels, but I think I would only do that if the bananas were organic. Apple peels or core would be better than whole apples I think. And I do offer carrot tops from the carrots on my garden. I really can't comment on feeding cabbages or broccoli! I also don't feed any cereal grains, although I do add ground flax to the daily mash, but only a tablespoon or so. But it sounds as though your donkey is doing just fine and lucky to have you to care for him. Older donkeys do have trouble keeping weight on. If he has a good supply of roughage, I wouldn't worry. One sign that he is having dental problems is if he is dropping wadded up food before swallowing it. Best of luck!

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  3. I have a two year old lovely donkey who shares afield with two shetlands and a cob I feed hay twice aday and one feed of alfalfa,carrots and garlic powder but recently i have read that garlic is not good for horses and donkeys am i doing it right? It is something i have always done. I would be grateful for any comments.

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  4. Hi, Please don't feed Alfalfa - it is too rich for donkeys and probably for the Shetlands also. Can you find a coarse, mixed grass, low protein hay? They will do much better on that - even barley straw would suffice if they are getting grass as well.

    I'm not sure about garlic - I don't feed it. Have you tried an on-line search? I feed a morning mash during winter with soaked hay cubes (not alfalfa though!) beet pulp, salt, ground flax and vitamins.

    I feed 4x/ day with extra barley straw overnight. Donkeys are trickle feeders and need forage in their system to counter hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. Do they have anything to nibble on in their field?

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  5. I have a two year old amazing boy. He is out on pasture through the day in the barn at night with local hay and his mash made up of fiber max and recently added cubes of Alfalfa mainly for a treat. He seems like he's bored with the fiber max by itself. Should I cu the cubes out? Could I replace it with something more appealing? or is the Fiber Max just fine on its own?

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    1. Thanks for your comment - a couple of questions ... is your boy a mini or a Standard? How is his weight and have you noticed any separation at the white line on his hooves? This would happen if he is getting to much feed that is high in protein and/ or non-structural carbohydrates (sugars) - hay or pasture could have both. I wouldn't feed alfalfa - the Fibermax should be okay but is probably not necessary. He needs a mineral lick and if you live in an are where selenium is low, get one that has that added. I also put out loose white salt and make sure he has clean water. Does he have company?

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  6. please tell me why i should not feed corn, oats, and sweet feed to my donkey friends? the owner has fed them this for years and now im confused because i feed them this also

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    1. Think of donkeys as though they are all diabetics! While a bit of an exaggeration, it's true that they are all borderline insulin resistant. Fat, sugar and starch in the diet can lead to metabolic problems later on, hoof problems and obesity. That's why it is important to keep their diet full of low calorie fibre. Sure they love sweet feed and kids love candy but you are not doing them any favours by including that in their diet.

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  7. Is rye straw safe to feed donkeys? I can't find barley straw.

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    1. Good question and I'm afraid I don't know the answer! Go to the UK Donkey Sanctuary website - they may be able to help you. For feeding any straw though, you want to make sure that it has no residual grain and that your donkeys are able to chew and digest it well. Their teeth need to be in good condition. I'd be interested in what you find out about rye straw!

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  8. Hi there!
    I'm very happy to have come across your blog as my husband and I just inherited three Sicilian Donkeys with the home we just bought! Unfortunately they are overweight as the previous owner gave them full access to their three acre meadow in spring when it was full of lush high sugar grasses. They have bellies and neck fat :( Now their meadow is pretty much dry and although they have full access to it I don't feed them anything supplemental except and apple a day as we have apple trees on our property. I'm worried about their health, will they lose their weight come winter? And what about the neck fat? I heard that it doesn't go away once it's there, is that true? Should I be doing anything else at this point or just wait it out? I did get them a salt block and they love it! And how to maintain their healthy weight once/if it's back to normal? Perhaps come spring I don't give them full access to the three acres and/or only let them out at night when the grass has a lower sugar content?
    Thanks!
    Alina

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    1. Hi Alina, Thanks for getting in touch! Your instincts are good but perhaps I can help. When you say "their meadow is dry" what do you mean? Is it dry grasses or is it barren? It's important to go VERY slowly when trying to help donkeys lose weight. Sudden changes in feed, or withholding feed is NOT the way to go and can lead to health problems. The best approach to helping donkeys to lose weight is to offer them access to clean barley straw, free of any residual grain.

      They need to have fibre in their diet throughout the day in order to mitigate possible problems with ulcers. They should eat approx. 1.5% of their body weight (for each donkey) per day. My minis eat about 4 lbs of mixed hay and straw per day. and I divide that into numerous small feedings.

      If this is impractical for you, try filling slow feeder hay bags with 1 lb. of barley straw in each bag and offer each donkey a bag several times a day or leave them scattered about the field for them to find. Take care in how you tie up the bags (that's another topic.)

      Please don't feed them apples if they are overweight. Yes apples have fiber but they have a concentration of sugar too and I think I would eliminate any sugar from their diet. Especially since you don't know the sugar content of the grass they are eating.

      An electric fence in their meadow can be used to offer strip grazing in the Spring. My donkeys only get to graze a strip of grass at a time throughout the year! Unfortunately grass is not really that healthy for donkeys, even though they will tell you otherwise!

      The fat neck crests will probably remain but it should become soft, not hard. Please don't withhold food though - donkeys should be fed appropriately - low sugar, starch and protein, but access to fiber, a vitamin mineral salt block and fresh clean water. Exercise will help them lose weight too. It takes quite a while though so, like the donkey, you need to be patient! Hope this helps!

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  9. I have a mini donkey that lost his buddy awhile back. He is doing fine but wanted to get another mini donkey. Will they get along or should I not get one

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    1. Hi Carol, Yes definitely get a companion donkey for your little guy - donkeys are stoic - they may appear to be doing fine, but they don't do well at all on their own. He'll be terribly lonely and the saying goes "a lone donkey is a lonely donkey!" It's true and with loneliness can come depression and possibly illness. How old is he? If he is a youngster, I would look for a donkey who is older and can act like an auntie or uncle. Two youngsters together often don't get the guidance they need from a donkey who is more experienced, in my opinion. They should get along fine. Good luck!

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  10. This question is going to sound silly however bear with me . I live in Australia and just want to confirm that when Donkey owners speak of Barley Straw they mean as in bedding barley straw NOT Barley Hay (which we have access to in Winter when our grasses don't grow as quickly for the farmers to bale.) I can access barley straw (bedding straw) all year around and from what I've read I'm looking obviously for the cleanest, freshest straw, which can be harder to come by as the priority isn't for eating it's for bedding! .... thanks for any clarification :-)

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    1. Hello, Thanks for your question - yes you are correct - barley straw, not hay and most equine owners do use it for bedding. not feed. So you have to select the bales carefully to look for clean straw that is not dusty or mouldy. The benefits to feedings straw to donkeys are many ... it offers fiber/ roughage without calories and really helps them keep their weight down. At this time of year in Canada, I am feeding approx. 50% barley straw and 50% grass hay that is low in sugars and starch. on Feeding Donkeyssafe: "2 replies."

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  11. Hi Stephanie, It sounds like you are really doing your homework! My concern about Bute is the long-term effects on the liver but also that it can mask pain and the donkey may re-injure or aggravate an an existing injury. But I'm not an expert on this! Theres a veterinarian in Australia who writes a newsletter about donkeys and also manufactures some products that sound excellent (wish we could get them here!) Perhaps you've heard about him: www.kohnkesown.com - hope this link works - they have a Facebook page also.

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  12. Hi rrlgrl, Yes! I have Dozer on Kohnkes Own Donkey Supreme (the mineral/vitamin pellet). Dr Kohnke is invaluable with his research. I read all his papers re donkeys so far :-) Really appreciate you commenting on my post!! I agree with your advice re 'bute, it is always my last course of action and for a minimal time as possible. :-(

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  13. Ah - maybe you could be my supplier for Kohnkes products! I wrote to them once about shipping to Canada but alas, they said "no." Funny but in the UK and Australia, it seems there are excellent products especially for donkeys but not so in Canada! I am lucky to find a good supply of barley straw though. PS - rrlgrl and Cynthia are the same person!

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  14. Oh dear, that's funny! I'm new to blogs and posting comments etc :) And here I was thinking another person was reaching out to me across the oceans !! So I think we could set up a working agreement here... I can box up Kohnke's Own products easily enough however I'm not sure you're going to as successful posting barley straw ! ;-)
    I've started walking with Dozer, we did our second walk today. The pair of us hit the blistering pace of 3kms in just a smidge under an hour! I'm told that's a fair crackin' pace for a donkey! I'm having such fun slowing down within myself to match Dozer... he is helping me to 'come back to Earth' in this whirlwind world of ours. xox

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    1. Hi Stephanie, Let's continue these interesting conversations through email instead of through the blog. Near the top right just above the "recipes" you'll see a note that says "Visit my Art Website" Go there and find my email under Contacts. You and Dozer sound like a happy team - I look forward to chatting more and maybe photos?

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  15. Hi there, great to find your blog :) I am getting two gelding foals who are nine months old. We have a huge space for them - about 10 acres, of forests and tracks and open grass spaces. A donkey paradise I'm thinking! However - there are also literally hundreds of foxgloves! I have done so much research and yes I know the whole plant is incredibly toxic, but I'm also told by a couple of vets that they should be fine, as they are very bitter and they are likely to spit it out when they try it (which they will do....) They said that donkeys are very selective and have a strong survival instinct. I'm wondering about your thoughts?? I am naturally feeling a bit nervous! many thanks :)

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    1. Hi there, thanks for writing. I personally wouldn't assume that the donkeys will NOT sample foxgloves. I have had donkeys eat daffodils, red elderberry and other toxic plants - and found said donkey drooling copious amounts of saliva to try to purge the toxins. Also, 2 nine-month foals will not have the guidance of older animals and may not know what to avoid. They do learn from each other!

      Could you reduce the number of foxgloves and then follow them a bit to see what they choose? Also - be very careful about grass - you probably already know this, but it is so dangerous in many ways ... good luck and keep me posted!

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  16. I have a small donkey not really miniature though. My question is he is has been losing his frogs. i try to pick them every night and they don't seem to really smell bad. Does this mean he might have thrush? Thanks P.S. is it OK to give him about a cup of grain a day for a treat with my horses or should I reduce the amount or not at all?

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  17. Hi, Thanks for getting in touch! Regarding your donkey's frog - if he is standing on soft wet ground, that would be the cause, I think. It happens to us every winter even though my donkeys have a high, dry barn and our land has good drainage. But if that's not the case, please have your farrier take a look. You could also feed him a mineral supplement that has Biotin in it (I feed CA Trace minerals) and that might help - does he get a vitamin/ mineral supplement? If not, that could also be contributing to his hoof condition. A powdered or pelleted supplement is better than a block as they can't really get what they need from licking a block. Please do NOT feed any grain. Yes, they love it, but donkeys should not have any cereal grain, as recommend by the UK Donkey Sanctuary. Keep me posted!

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  18. It has been very dry here so not because of wet ground. I will try some of the supplement you suggested. Thanks

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  19. My donkey tends to flick his back heels, is this something I should be looking for? Is this normal?

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  20. We changed our feed from sweet 10 to sweet 13. Nothing else has changed and we lost 2 donkeys. Could this be the problem
    Everything else is the same we are looking for answers we had these donkeys 15 years and could not get sweet 10 anymore so went to sweet 12.

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    1. Hello,

      I am SO sorry to hear that you lost two donkeys - of course it's not possible for me to know what happened but ... PLEASE do NOT feed any grain or anything with sugar/ molasses to donkeys!

      Yes, they love it but it is far too rich, to caloric and too high in energy for them. I believe my post above outlines a proper diet for donkeys. Donkeys are very close to being insulin resistant, so sweet feed also spikes their glycemic index (same with us!) Think of forage diets for donkeys and they should have room to walk around.

      Trickle feeding (small meals, often) to approximately 1.5% of their body weight is a good rule of thumb. I use slow feeder hay bags and mix barley straw in with my hay that has been tested so I know what the level of total sugars in the hay is (should be close to 10%)

      Good luck! Where are you located?

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  21. Hi. Can (or should) donkeys eat orchard grass? Is this ok for them?

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    1. Hello, Yes Orchard grass hay is fine for donkeys provided that it is low in sugars, starch and protein. Even better if you can mix it with barley straw -that's what I am currently feeding. If I think the donkeys are putting on weight I adjust the ration of straw and hay (more straw!) Feed to a max. of 15% of body weight.

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  22. Thanks. When we first got our donkey (BLM Burro) she was eating alfalfa as that's what the BLM was feeding them all. We switched her to Bermuda but then decided to switch her to Orchard (mind you this is over an 8 yr time span and not real fast).

    She is getting a bit "chunky" so I am wondering what I could do. She eats about 1 flake a day, half in the morning and half at night.

    I really don't want to put her back on Bermuda as our horse can't have Bermuda and he does like to go clean up her leftovers. Plus the Bermuda we get around here is really bad.

    She's been having issues with her front feet on and off lately so I was wondering if that could be the Orchard. She walks VERY tender footed and her front feet hurt. Thought either was from the Orchard or from the wet ground from the rain. Hoping (CROSSING FINGERS) it's not something like founder.

    Farrier is coming out next weekend to check her out.

    Should I leave her on the orchard or mix it or what? (just want whatever it is to be something the horse can also eat)

    Thank you !

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  23. A couple of thoughts ... Feet are connected to nutrition, so if she is having hoof problems, it could be related to her diet. Check our Pete Ramey - he has an excellent set of DVDs on donkey nutrition and hooves but also lots of great info in the internet!

    Donkeys are not small horses and you can't feed them like horses - they need coarse, low nutrient fiber and lots of it. That's why barley straw is an excellent option if you can get it? If you are feeding grain, please eliminate that from her diet as well as any sweet feeds or high protein processed feeds. She needs, salt, fresh water and hay + straw.

    Small frequent meals are much better than 2x/ day. I feed in slow feeder hay bags + loose straw and they almost always have something available. This won't make them fat unless the hay is too rich. Exercise is also a key component in maintaining weight and overall health.

    Wet ground can cause lameness or abscess - does she have a dry spot or can you create an area of pea gravel for her to stand? Where are you located? Sounds like you're on the right track and great that the farrier is coming.

    If she's sore, you could make her a hoof boot - one of mine really benefits by this! I use cotton batting, vet wrap and duct tape. Good luck and keep me posted!

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  24. Hello and thanks for your suggestions.
    We are in Southern California. We got his hard with this last rain and my whole pen was pure mush and parts of it were flooded. She does have a dry place to go but insists on walking thru the slush. Since we are supposed to get a bit more rain in the next few days, i'm thinking of locking her up and covering the whole bottom of one of my pens with straw. Maybe that will give her a better place to stand than in the mud? It's a corral with 3 sides and a cover. I can fill it all up with straw. Think that may help?

    My husband said when he got home from work last night (just before I did) she was walking awful. I gave her some bute with dinner and she seems to be walking better this morning. She was even SCREAMING for breakfast which she hasn't done in a few days.

    I did notice while cleaning her feet last night that her back hoof is peeling. It's like the whole outside of the hoof wall is just peeling off. Doesn't seem to bother her though. So yet another thing for the farrier to look at.

    In your opinion do you think that we should take her completely off orchard? I'm going to the feed store this weekend to talk to the owner and see what food she suggests as she also has donkeys.

    This is so frustrating to me as I just adore my equine. I've had her for almost 10 yrs now and never had an issue with her feet before.

    Thanks again.

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    1. Oh dear - it's so complicated eh? One one hand, we don't want donkeys to just stand all day but when the weather is bad, we don't want them slogging through slush either? Yes, I'd say put straw down for her but - is she used to it? She will eat it (which is good) but you don't want to radically change her diet, i.e. go from Orchard grass to straw! Even switching hay types should be done gradually. Do you happen to know what kind of straw it is? Barley is best, oat straw is richer and wheat straw is coarse. Are her teeth good? I feed straw (plus hay) and what they don't eat, I add to their bedding. It's not the best thing underfoot as it gets slippery. but I think she'll appreciate the cushioning. I have heard about hoof sloughing but I have no experience with that - I'll be really interested in what your farrier says (and maybe the vet?) And remember donkeys are SO stoic, just because she "seems" to not be bothered by her hoof, it's not really a good indicator with donkeys.

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  25. I have put straw down for her before, especially when she had her baby so she is used to straw as bedding. I'm not sure what kind of straw it is, it's the only one the feed store carries and it's usually for bedding, not feed.

    Frustrating.

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    1. The feed stores always say straw is for bedding, so no worries there! Many people don't understand the benefits of feeding straw to donkeys - I think the UK Donkey Sanctuary has really opened this up as an excellent forage for donkeys who need lots of fiber but not calories! As long as your donkey's teeth are okay, she'll be fine eating whatever kind your feed store carries (but it would be good to pry some info out of them!)

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  26. Hello again ! Due to all the rain and an unexpected funeral, we've had to cancel the farrier twice now! He will be out this sunday to check out our donkeys feet. She's doing much better just since the ground has dried out. We have added some 3 way hay (grass/straw or whatever they call it) to her orchard. It is Oat/Wheat/Barley mix. (hope this is ok for her)

    She doesn't care for it of course she wants the horses alfalfa (which she CANNOT get to). She is eating the 3 way though, mixed with her orchard.

    I will fill you in with what the farrier says this weekend.

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  27. Hello! So glad to hear that your donkey is feeling more comfortable! I don't have access to forage hay here so don't know too much about it! You could write to the UK Donkey Sanctuary for their opinion. I have always thought that forage hay would be too rich for donkeys due to it being cut when the seed is still intact, however it's not really something I know about. Do you know if it has been tested? That would give you a lot of information!

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  28. Hello,
    I have three miniature donkeys and I am worried that they are too thin. I feel like their pelvic bones are protruding too much, but everything I read about donkeys seems to indicate that giving them extras can be bad for their health. I feed them hay regularly throughout the day and leave them some overnight as well. I have given them carrots as treats and have started feeding them Sweetena. The two females are pregnant. We will be moving them to a field soon, but it is not rich at all. Do you have any suggestions for other options to fatten them up a little bit?

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  29. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for getting in touch! I understand your concern about your donkeys' weights. Here is a link to the UK Donkey Sanctuary's Body Scoring chart - this should help you determine whether or not they are in fact too thin.

    https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1423234830-donkey_health_and_welfare.pdf

    And I don't know what Sweetena is but the word "sweet" makes me nervous! I try to avoid any and all sugar. Even carrots should be fed in moderation. This next link discusses sweet feed in general (for horses) but will give you an idea. Donkeys tend to be borderline insulin resistant, so I feed as though they are ... i.e. you wouldn't give any sugar to a diabetic so I don't give any to my donkeys! Also avoid cereal grains (corn, oats, barley etc.)

    http://www.understanding-horse-nutrition.com/sweet-feed.html

    Be careful of fast growing Spring grass as even poor pasture can be high in sugar.

    And finally here is yet another link re feeding pregnant jennys:
    https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1423235408-donkey_health_and_welfare.pdf

    I hope this information helps! Good luck and keep me posted!

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