I chose to focus mostly on the nutrition talks and labs - and learned that I have a good grasp of how, when and what my donkeys should be eating! Always more to learn but that was reassuring! Spent a whole morning in a nutrition lab where we looked at different samples of hay and straw and learned some visual assessment methods - but still the feed needs to be tested in a lab as there is only so much you can tell but looking and feeling! I often hear people say that their hay looks like straw (meaning coarse and brown, I guess) so therefore it's "good hay." Not necessarily so!
There was a very interesting talk called Comparative Equine Cognition: Inside the Minds of Donkeys, Mules & Horses, given by Leanne Proops, a comparative psychologist and ethologist from the University of Sussex. I just love this stuff and especially with my strong interest in positive reinforcement training, I find the workings of mammalian brains fascinating. In these studies on cognition, tests are developed to assess learning ... and sometimes to prove that the results are innate behaviour or learned behaviour in different species.
Here are a couple of links that outline some of her research if you are interested!
The talk on Preventative Medicine, given by Dr. Karen Rickards from the UK Donkey Sanctuary was interesting. So much of what we do in our husbandry practice comes down to proper feed and exercise! We can cause a lot of health problems, some not seen for a long time, like metabolic issues, by feeding the wrong stuff, over-feeding and confinement.
Dr. Rickards mentioned that long periods spent lying down is not normal for a prey species, even when they are old. She outlined normal behaviours as:
Browsing: 12-20 hours per day
Relaxing: 2-6 hours per day
Sleeping: 2-6 hours per dayThis makes me think hard about how much feed most of us are putting out overnight - mine get fed at 9 PM and again at 6:30 AM - that's 9.5 hours of their day that I need to account for.
As much as I hate to think it, our animals are living in captivity and it's up to us to learn about the very best way to care for them. On a side note, Ken Ramirez, world renowned trainer, includes training as one of the four essential components of animal care!
“Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care. Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component, nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program”
Ken Ramirez – From the introduction to “Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement.
But I digress - Ken wasn't at the Donkey Welfare Symposium! On to dentistry - (gosh how I hate donkey dentist days!) however, there's no one more qualified than Joao Rodriguez DVM from Portugal! He showed many images of donkey mouths with varieties of disorders and stressed the importance of a donkey's ability to properly masticate feed in order to prevent things like impaction (dental & gut) weight loss, etc. He stressed the importance of counting all teeth and checking the soft tissue. He mentioned that a dental check-up doesn't necessarily mean dental work, which proved to be the case with my four last month. Everyone was assessed but no one was floated.
I got to meet Dr. Steve Purdy from MA - he specializes in donkey reproduction, is a donkey owner himself and a truly lovely person. He works with lots of students, helping them to learn about donkeys and teaches many vets and vet students about his inventive ultrasound techniques. We may have to perfom such a test on Siog and his knowledge will be so valuable!
I have skipped some lectures - there's too much to tell! But here is the most fascinating for many of us, I think. I'm shamelessly pulling the text below from Dr. Eric Davis' write-up from the DWS Facebook page, as I think he says it well.
"Erick Lundgren, a PhD student from Arizona State University who studies the ecology of wild burros in the AZ desert just blew everybody away with his research, his enthusiasm for burros, and his take on "invasive species". In an eye opening lecture he related the status of modern wild and free ranging burros to the issues of extinction in large herbivores across the planet, since the rise of our own species, Homo sapiens. Clearly, it is not as simple as often presented!!!!! Here a picture of a burro digging a water hole (serves many species and enrich the environment)
This lecture had us all talking, applauding and offering funding so that Erik can continue his research!
Check out his research here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-unseen-ecology-of-the-wild-burro#/