The speakers at this conference were really impressive and from a wide area of study. I guess the number of people studying donkeys and mules worldwide at a professional level is relatively small and many of them were at UC Davis for the symposium. I felt very fortunate to attend!
I won't highlight all of the presentations but I will write just some notes about the things that really stuck with me.
Donkeys have such an extraordinary history and a lot of it, with humans by their sides (or visa versa!)
We were treated to a fascinating lecture by Dr. Fiona Marshall who is a zooarcheologist and I found this link to a paper that she co-authored (dense but worth bookmarking if you are interested in the history and domestication of donkeys) http://www.pnas.org/content/105/10/3715.full.pdf?ck=nck
There was a terrific presentation on nutrition given by Dr. Karen Rickards from the UK Donkey Sanctuary - she is the head veterinary surgeon there.
She broke down the energy requirements of donkeys into 4 categories:
Fiber (hay & straw) Starch (grain) Sugars (grass) and Fat (oil) She talked about appetite being 1.3 - 1.8% of their body weight and went into a very detailed breakdown of dry matter intake and digestive energy requirements in summer and in winter.
Donkeys need continuous access to fiber BUT it has to be low energy! If feeding straw, make sure there is no or very little grain left in it. Hay or straw should only have 6-8% protein and the same goes for sugars.
A huge take-home message was about avoiding overfeeding donkeys especially in North America, the UK and other western countries where donkeys are not doing much work. It seems that worldwide, donkeys are either under fed or over fed!
Side-note: Personally I find feeding my donkeys properly is a constant challenge. I am always adjusting for weather conditions, grass conditions, body conditions, results of my hay analysis and whether or not I am able to get decent barley straw.
Right now I have barley straw from 3 different sources - one batch has gone moldy and even has "pink" strands throughout the bales. I will NOT be feeding this and have recently dropped off a sample to be tested by the Ministry of Agriculture to find out why it is pink! Weird!
I also have nice clean straw that is chopped way too finely and is full of chaff, which can cause impaction, and sharp awns - don't like that either! But I just got some that is nice and fluffy and clean. It's crazy expensive though, especially for a by-product - the grain being the main product.
More DWS info: Donkeys are inherently insulin resistant and this is increased by being overweight.
Stress factors - it is so important to minimize stress factors for donkeys as this can lead to digestive upsets, hyperlypemia, ulcers and other nasty conditions. Stress factors were listed as management changes, weather/ seasonal changes and the obvious things such as illness, loss of companionship, etc.
Dr. Tammi Krecek, a parasitologist now working at Texas A & M University, gave a lecture on internal parasites. Although I have previously attended both a lecture and a clinic on this topic, there's always so much to learn! Sadly one of the main reasons given for the resistance to dewormer medications (causing huge concern in the equine world) is the fact that equine owners have been advised for years by vets to deworm their animals routinely, every 60 days! This advice is no longer considered to be a good approach.
Parasite management steps include: removal of fecal matter, healthy composting practices and pasture rotation (allowing some pasture to be fallow for 2-3 months.) Sensible deworming protocol involves fecal testing of individual animals and only deworming animals that show a high parasite burden.
There were presentations given on Besnoitiosis, Equine Herpes Virus, Hyperlypemia and Sarcoids.
I learned several things about sarcoids: These common tumours have 2 components - the surface is benign however the sub-dermal is NOT! A biopsy is the only sure diagnosis but Dr. Alain Theon warns that we must have a treatment plan in place because if the lump is indeed a sarcoid, then the biopsy procedure (any site disturbance) will accelerate cell proliferation. Dr. Theon suggested that it is ethically wrong to treat a lump with just a clinical diagnosis - a biopsy is the only certain diagnosis. he said that even with his many years of experience as an equine oncologist, he has been wrong about 30% of the time with just a visual, manual examination.
I have more notes on sarcoids and hope I won't need to refer to them, however it seems there are common misconceptions about these lumps!
There were other lectures - we heard from the UK Sanctuary about their work in other countries, the Bureau of Land Management, the Humane Society ... I'm probably forgetting a few. Long days FULL of info and experiences!
Finally, Ben Hart, behaviourist and trainer from the UK Donkey Sanctuary offered a couple of things that
I thought were particularly interesting. He drew a big circle and divided it up into 24 pie-shaped sections like a clock with "noon" at the top. He asked : what is your donkey doing each hour of the day?
I thought this was great and ... hard to answer (unless you want to do an all-nighter and/or have a webcam in the barn!)
The other idea he suggested was to draw a resource map of your donkey environment. Put in everything that your donkeys have access to (shelter, shrubs, trees, toys, etc.) and ask yourself:
"how can I create a more stimulating and enriching environment for my donkeys?"
VERY good question and I plan to do just that. We tend not to think of our equine companions as being in captivity, the way zoo animals are - but if there's fencing on your property, then, guess what? they are!
And so, like the very best zookeepers, we can strive to make a fabulous, changing environment for them.
Clicker training, "paddock paradise"(look that up if you haven't heard of it!), additions of stimulating toys, brush piles are a few things that immediately spring to mind.
Over and out - this concludes my symposium notes!