The average age of a well-cared for donkey is 27 years but they can live for as many as 40 years. Owning a donkey is a long-term commitment and should not be entered into lightly. Stallions are by their nature unpredictable, especially if a mare in season is close by and geldings can still be boisterous. Before you consider owning a donkey, make sure that you can provide the basics to keep a donkey happy and healthy
- Costs of approximately €500 per year
- One acre of well-fenced grazing
- A spacious shelter with hard standing
- A supply of hay and straw & storage for the hay and straw
- Regular removal of muck
- Regular attention of a veterinarian and farrier
- Donkeys prefer to live with a companion animal
- Fresh feed and water should always be available
- Check your donkey morning and evening for injuries
- Always observe your donkey's normal behaviour
- Muck out the stable
- Check if droppings and urine are normal
- Check grazing for poisonous plants
- Check fencing for damage
- Groom your donkey
- Hoof checks every 6-10 weeks as advised by your farrier or veterinarian
- Routine worming and delousing as advised by your veterinarian
- Dental checks - annually or, for older donkeys and donkeys with teeth problems, more frequent checks
- Annual vaccinations
Veterinary Care & Health
A healthy donkey should be alert and interested in what is going on around it with ears pricked. No donkey should spend prolonged periods lying down. Healthy donkeys should be able to get up and down easily, and move without limping, taking their weight equally on all four legs. Riding should not begin before the donkey reaches the age of 4 years; his bones will not be fully developed before this age. The rider must weigh no more than 50kg or 8 stone.
Check for fresh faeces, the consistency of which may alter with diet. There should be regular output of normal, moist faeces formed into balls, which break up easily. Normal urine is yellow and watery, and may on occasions be cloudy. Male and female donkeys each adopt a different characteristic stance when urinating but it should be passed freely. Repeated attempts to pass urine, or urine which is obviously discoloured or bloody, requires the vet’s attention. Mares in season may attempt to pass urine more frequently.
Lungworm can be present in large numbers in a donkey without showing any signs. Regular worming is essential – your veterinarian can advise on a suitable product. Ringworm is not a worm but a fungal skin condition. It is contagious and if suspected, call your vet. Ringworm lesions (patches) sometimes appear as circles with hair loss, but can take different forms and become widespread. Treatment should be followed to limit the spread to other animals. Ringworm can also be transmitted to humans so wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after handling the donkey. Also disinfect the donkey’s environment.
Flies can cause distress and irritation. They can spread infection especially around the eyes and they lay eggs in wounds. Some donkeys suffer large swellings when bitten. To prevent problems, remove manure frequently. Also site muck heaps as far away from stables as possible. Provide a field shelter, use a summer sheet or anti-fly rug and apply fly repellent – Ask your veterinarian for advice.
Midge bites cause intense irritation, leading to excess rubbing - especially on the mane and tail areas. Culicoides midges cause ‘sweet-itch’ in hypersensitive or allergic donkeys; if your donkey is affected seek the advice of your vet. To prevent problems caused by midges, stable the donkey at dawn and dusk and use fly repellents several times daily. Keep donkeys away from water/wet areas.
There are a number of mites that cause intense irritation by biting, usually on the lower legs or around the head and neck. Some mites live on the donkey, other types live in hay and straw. Your veterinarian can identify the type of mite on skin samples and prescribe an appropriate insecticide.
Lice, unlike mites, you can see with the naked eye. They are often found in large numbers and cause rubbing and hair loss. A number of anti-louse preparations are available. You will need to use them more than once to kill unhatched eggs.
Usually ticks cause mild irritation at the site of the bite. Ticks may carry Lyme disease and infect humans. Ask your veterinarian for advice on prevention. Check the head is out if you remove the tick; leaving it may cause irritation and infection
Food & Drink
A healthy donkey should be looking to eat throughout the day and have no problems chewing or swallowing. The amount a donkey will drink obviously varies according to air temperature, moisture content of food; workload etc. but routine checking of the water supply may provide evidence of its intake.
Most donkeys will become obese on unrestricted grazing, and overweight donkeys are more prone to foot problems. The sensible use of electric/moveable fencing will enable you to control your donkey’s intake and maintain an area for haymaking if desired. Electric tape systems are preferrable to wire as they are more visible. Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Keep your fence neat and well maintained and check it every morning and evening, moving as appropriate.
The rotation of grazed areas can be very useful in helping to control parasitic worms. Ideally pick up dung daily as this prevents the spread of worms. Where this is not possible dung should be removed from the paddock at least twice a week. Donkeys do not like to graze areas spoiled by faeces – would you?
In general, take care with feeding. Adequate pasture for grazing and exercise is essential. Depending on the type of land and quality of grass, a 1-acre field correctly managed should provide sufficient grazing for a pair of donkeys. Introduce any supplementary feed slowly and feed small feeds frequently. Similarly reduce or change feeds slowly usually over 7 days. Use high fibre/low starch-sugar feeds. Good quality new hay may need to be introduced slowly in limited amounts. And be very aware of grass cuttings dumped in pasture – grass cuttings can cause fatal colic in donkeys.
Be aware of the risks of laminitis from excessive consumption of grass (stressed grass i.e. frosty grass can also be a problem). Donkeys being turned out in the spring after winter housing are particularly susceptible. It is advisable to feed donkeys hay/straw prior to grazing, for a limited time only, when first turned out. Fields previously fertilized may pose a greater threat. Spring, however, is not the only “risk period”. Whenever grass is growing well it may be a potential problem. Frosty conditions can also increase the threat of laminitic attack. Limiting grazing time can be a useful way to restrict access to grass as well as restricting grazing areas by electric fence. Limiting grazing to early mornings and bringing donkeys off pasture by mid morning may also help prevent laminitis.
- Poisonous plants and poisons
Grooming should be carried out on a regular basis to ensure the coat stays healthy and free from matted areas. This also provides an opportunity to examine the donkey for bites, wounds and skin complaints. Do not brush when the coat is wet as water and dirt can reach the skin which increases the chance of skin infections A healthy donkey should have a flat, clean coat with no signs of itching, bald areas, sores or abnormal lumps and bumps. It is a good idea to get your donkey used to you routinely running your hands over all areas of the body, legs and head – a donkey’s coat can often hide developing problems. Clean eyes, nose and dock areas daily.
Skin & Hair
Both of these conditions occur when the skin/hair is wet for a long time. A course of antibiotics is often required so your veterinarian will need to see the donkey. Rain scald affects the shoulders/back and rump, while mud fever affects the lower limbs. The organism responsible is dermatophilus and causes crusting and matting of the hair coat. When the hair coat is pulled out there is pus beneath the scabs. Treatment involves antiseptic washes, good hygiene and dry conditions.
To keep your donkey’s feet healthy pick them up and remove all the muck and stones daily. Keep bedding clean and dry. Provide a well-drained, clean exercise area and avoid grazing in muddy fields. Find a farrier who regularly trims donkeys’ feet; ask him to visit every 6-10 weeks. If your donkey has specific problems it may need more frequent visits. If you suspect lameness or laminitis contact your veterinarian straight away. Seedy toe (an infection of frog and sole) or thrush (a disease of the hoof wall where areas become weak, grey and crumbly) need particular care and attention. They must be kept in a clean and dry environment and have their feet picked out daily. If seedy toe or thrush becomes a problem then professional help needs to be sought.
- Eyes & Nose
Eyes should be clean and bright, open and free from discharge. The nostrils equally should be clean and discharge free. At rest there should be minimal movement of the nostrils as the donkey breathes. In fact it is often difficult to make out the movements of the chest at rest, the movements of the flanks are often the easiest to observe. A flaring of the nostrils, a marked rise and fall of the ribs and flanks, or any noise associated with the donkey’s breathing should be cause for further investigation.