Care of Donkeys in Ireland





Donkeys come from Asia and Africa and have only been in Ireland for a few hundred years - not long enough for them to adapt to our wet climate . DONKEYS DO NOT HAVE WATERPROOF COATS, therefore shelter is absolutely essential for their comfort and wellbeing. This can be a simple construction but should have a roof and preferably three and a half sides, facing away from the prevailing wind. The floor should be dry, bedded with straw or wood shavings and cleaned out regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria in the manure which attack the donkeys' hooves causing foot problems. 

DONKEYS' HOOVES GROW VERY FAST AND SHOULD BE TRIMMED BY A QUALIFIED, REGISTERED FARRIER EVERY 8 to 10 WEEKS - This costs between 15-25 euros depending on the farrier and how far they have had to travel to get to you. In their natural environment donkeys will travel up to 20 miles a day browsing for food. The terrain would be mostly sand, shale and rocks so the hooves are designed to grow quickly to combat the inevitable wearing down. When we bring them to Ireland and put them on soft land with rich grass they very quickly suffer from overlong and distorted hooves and laminitis, a painful condition due to overfeeding and/or stress (from travelling, losing a friend, moving premises etc). Their hooves should be cleaned out with a hoofpick every day if possible but certainly a couple of times a week to remove small stones and sharp chippings which may become lodged in the hoof and cause lameness. Never use a nail or other sharp instrument to clean the hooves as it is surprisingly easy to puncture the sole or even damage the hoof wall.

This link has useful information about laminitis

DONKEYS NEED TO EAT LOTS OF FIBRE - Because their natural food consists of dry, twiggy, poor quality forage the donkey's digestive system is made to cope with a big fibre intake. The best way to ensure this is to make barley straw accessible at all times . A young healthy donkey will survive the winter on half a bale of barley straw a day (left-overs can be used for bedding) with a handful of low protein crunch such as Red Mills Cool and Cooked 10% protein once a day as long as he has access to some grazing. Hay may be fed as long as it is absolutely free from RAGWORT - a plant which grows wild and is recognisable by its many yellow daisy type flowers and a nasty smell when rubbed or picked. It contains a poison which accumulates in the liver and eventually causes cirrhosis and death. One 'leaf' of hay per day per donkey is more than sufficient for a donkey that has unlimited access to barley straw (whatever he tells you!) Winter grazing for a few hours a day is also necessary to provide exercise and relieve boredom. 

DONKEYS NEED WATER - There is an old saying which claims that donkeys only drink once a year on Palm Sunday. This is, of course, nonsense but has led to the belief that donkeys do not drink much. As with most animals what they drink is directly related to what they eat: dry fodder, more water. Wet grass, less water. Donkeys should have access to fresh clean water AT ALL TIMES. 

DONKEYS ARE HERD ANIMALS - so it is unnatural and unkind to keep them on their own. Donkeys crave company, especially of their own kind though they may be companioned by a horse, pony or even, in some cases, cattle or goats but they generally much prefer another donkey. They are highly social animals with a sophisticated hierarchy within the herd. The herd may 'belong' to a stallion but is organised by a 'lead mare' who makes most of the decisions. Stallions kept on their own are often noisy as they bray constantly for a mate. 

FLIES CAN BE A PROBLEM - which is most easily solved by providing shelter where the donkey can get inside away from insects. Butox or Ridect Pour-on preparations can be used as a fly control measure and there are various sprays available to discourage flies from biting. Some donkeys suffer with sores around their eyes in the summer from the flies biting. A thin smear of Vaseline around the eye (but not in) can prevent the flies from biting and in extreme cases fly-hoods can be bought which cover the donkeys face with a fine screen for protection. Occasionally a donkey will suffer from a highly uncomfortable reaction to flies and midges called "sweetitch". In fact the itch is anything but sweet and causes the animal severe irritation so it will rub its skin raw and bleeding, which in turn attracts more flies. There are certain preparations on the market for sweetitch and some herbal dietary supplements like D-itch from NAF which have success with some donkeys. There is also a homeopathic remedy which gives some donkeys great relief. Shelter away from the midges is again VERY important. Extreme cases of sweetitch can be relieved by bringing the animal inside during daylight hours and allowing it outside to graze during darkness only or, if possible, sending them to the seaside for the summer where midges are usually less active. 

PARASITES BOTH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL NEED TO BE TREATED ON A REGULAR BASIS - Donkeys need to be wormed with a recognised horse worming paste or powder that includes lungworm as they have the ability to carry and spread this parasite without showing any symptoms themselves (such as coughing). Always worm your donkey on arrival at your premises and thereafter every six months in September and April. Carrots and garlic are natural wormers and should be included in the diet. Of the external parasites lice is by far the most common but is easily treated by using either Butox or Ridect pour-on, or asking your vet to give an Ivermectin injection into the blood. Occasionally donkeys suffer from the mange mite which is invisible to the naked eye but causes severe irritation and rubbing as in lice infestation. Your vet will recommend a special mange-wash shampoo with which to bathe the donkey. Pick a warm day and dry him thoroughly afterwards, keep him warm and ensure he is not left standing or lying in a draught while still wet or damp as this could lead to pneumonia. 

GROOMING - Most donkeys love to be groomed especially in the late spring and early summer when they lose their heavy winter coats. This can take several weeks and they are generally just looking smart again when it is time to grow a new winter coat! Any of the brushes used for horse grooming are suitable - dandy brush, body brush with curry comb to clean it, or plastic curry comb. Dog slicker brushes are also very useful provided you do not lean on them too hard and scratch the skin. Simply remove all the dry dirt and brush quietly and consistently the way the hair lies but be careful under the belly. The donkey may be ticklish and will kick to tell you so! Wash the areas around eyes, nostrils and dock with plain luke-warm water using a separate soft sponge for each area. It is natural for a donkey's eyes to water and form little crusty bits - these can simply be rubbed off gently. Never groom your donkey when he is wet. 

RUGS - are available to fit donkeys from The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth, Devon, UK- both stable rugs and weatherproof New Zealand outdoor rugs. For a young healthy donkey with good shelter these would not normally be necessary but they are invaluable for sick or older donkeys or as a temporary measure if you have inadequate shelter.

TEETH - some donkeys, particularly older ones need their teeth rasping occasionally by a vet, a qualified farrier or a qualified equine dentist. As their teeth wear through chewing, sharp spurs can be formed along the edges of the molars which make it painful for the donkey to eat. Weight loss in an otherwise healthy donkey, and little 'quids' of half chewed food spat out on the floor are both indications of possible tooth trouble. The donkey does not have the same nerves in his teeth that we do, so rasping when carried out correctly is not painful.

TACK - a good quality headcollar or halter will be needed for holding the donkey when the farrier or vet is attending and for moving from one place to another. Never leave a halter or headcollar on the donkey permanently as it may rub, get caught up on something or, on a young donkey refuse to grow when he does. Donkeys are affectionate and greedy and therefore very easily bribed to come to you and to follow instructions. Even a very timid donkey will soon gain confidence when he is offered titbits (carrots, apples, brown bread, mints and ginger biscuits) and petted regularly without necessarily having something done to him but beware of overfeeding or encouraging him to bite by teasing with titbits. Full riding and driving tackle for donkeys is available through some saddlers but is not as easily available as tackle for ponies and horses.

For a frighteningly comprehensive 'Bible' on donkeys read The Handbook of the Donkey by Dr. E. Svensden which is available from The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, Liscarroll, Mallow Co. Cork for around 15 euros. It will tell you all you need to know and much you will (hopefully) never have to know but is highly recommended for anyone intending to have their own donkeys.