Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Thoughts about habitat and health

It is so hard to keep the minis slim!  They seem to inflate even with very limited grazing.  With my recent investigations into carbohydrates and sugars in hay (and straw) I really think these components are to blame for weight gain.  Fiber with very little carbs is what they need ... but also "chew time!"

Equine are meant to be grazing for about 16 hours a day.  Take that away from them and you are also having an effect on their emotional health.  So, the trick is:  how to keep equine slim and trim, emotionally healthy and stimulated?  

I used to think having a lot more land would be the answer.  While it's true that I do crave a few more acres, it would have to be comprised of the right kind of mixture of bush with not much grass.  We have some forest on the property but it isn't fenced and has some pretty treacherous, steep footing.  We also have several acres of marshland - beautiful habitat for birds and beavers but not donkeys!

I know many people with large acreages who can't let their horses or donkeys "out there" because it would be to much grass for them.  Really the ideal climate for these animals is desert but I imagine that would be harsh in other ways.  Probably solve any hoof issues associated with wet weather and eliminate laminitis though.

At the top of our road is a 17-acre parcel of land that was rudely clear cut about 10 years ago.  I say rudely because the loggers took everything and didn't leave any seed trees to regenerate the land. So it's been slow to recover and consequently I think of it as prime donkey land!  It's high and hilly with sparse vegetation. Native grasses, foxgloves, salal and wildflowers are slowing taking root. I sometimes walk a donkey up there as the view is superb and I muse about "where I'd put the house and barn" if it were mine!

But back to the problem facing horse and donkey owners:  this question of management and how to create a healthy (emotional and physical) environment for our equine.  I believe that nearly all health problems that our equine have, are created by us and our management practices.  Not intentionally of course!
But Siog's diarrhea is undoubtedly due to something she's eating, not something she was born with.  From metabolic issues to boredom - we owners are usually responsible.

If only I can find the right hay or straw that tests for low carbs, low sugar and low protein! Then they could eat free choice and weight gain wouldn't be such an issue.  (I'm waiting for test results from some hay now!)

Here are a few ideas I have for stimulation, remembering that anything the donks and I do together is also good exercise for me and relationship building for us all!

1. Take a donkey for a walk!  I try to take someone out nearly every day, even for a short walk up the road.

2. Set up an obstacle course.  I have a cavaletti jump, cones and other stuff that I can set up for fun.

3. Both minis love to play with a huge exercise ball (Deenah isn't at all interested!) They'll chase it around and roll it with their noses if I get them going.

4. In the evenings, I like to wander around the paddocks with all the donkeys.  If I break into a run, they usually do too and we play hide and seek in the trees and jump over logs together! 

5.  Instead of a big open field or paddock, think of setting up a pathway or track using temporary fencing and step-in posts (thanks for this idea, Sola!)  I haven't done it yet but the idea is to create a trail for them to keep them moving.  You can set up different things along the way, like a sand area for their feet or to roll in, sprinkle bits of hay along the trail, some obstacles, etc.  I intend to try it along the inside edge of my meadow, so that one side is permanent fencing and the other is step-in posts.

6. Any clicker work is stimulating and engaging as the donkeys view it as fun and it appeals to their sense of curiosity.

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