Donkeys are not horses and their care requirements actually differ greatly from traditional equines. If you are a small land owner and would really like an equid type friend, a donkey can be a great choice for you! Donkeys are smart, they are thinkers, and they don’t like being alone. A donkey should never be expected to be the sole animal. They require some form of animal companionship. A donkey on its own will be very noisy and bray a lot. You almost never hear obnoxious noises from one who is happy with a companion. Unfortunately, most new donkey owners are not aware of the special needs of this unique animal.
GOOD FEED IS NOT GOOD FOR DONKEYS…
The desert bred donkey is not a grazing animal, it is a browser. Therefore, your average, grassy pasture is too much for an animal that was designed to eat sparse, poor quality forage. The genetic make up of a donkey enables them to get maximum use from their feed. Consequently, it is very easy for them to tip over into laminitis or other serious health issues when fed like a horse. Unlike a horse, a donkey will not be symptomatic. It is difficult to tell when they are in crisis because of their stoic nature. Please do NOT feed your donkey like a horse. Barley straw is a good thing to feed your donkey. If that is not an option. very low quality hay that has been cut past its prime will do.(but not moldy). Donkeys also need free choice minerals available to them.
Donkeys do not have the water shedding aspect to their coat that horses do. Remember they were bred to live in the desert. Because of this, they need shelter from the rain or pneumonia can be an issue. Trees and shrubs really are not adequate for the donkey where they would be for a horse. A run in shed is an excellent choice for a donkey.
Like horses, donkeys need their feet trimmed every 6-8 weeks. What people fail to realize, is a donkey whose feet are overgrown is in a lot more pain than a horse with the same overgrowth. Also, a donkey’s feet are not trimmed in quite the same way as a horse’s. Some farriers are not educated in the fact that you must cut a donkey’s sole away. The farrier tends to leave the feet too long, and the heels too high. A donkey was designed to be on rocky ground, and their soles to wear away. Because they are most often pasture kept nowadays, the sole does not wear down and a farrier must do it at trimming. Their heels need to be kept low. Also, there are shoes made specifically for donkeys, and it really isn’t ideal for them to wear horse shoes.
Donkeys also do need their teeth looked at by a professional, but they don’t always need to be floated as often as their horse companions do. Certainly have them checked as you would a horse, but because they tend to browse more than graze and rarely have a bit in the mouth, many people report their vets and dentist find they will not need floats as often as horses and minis and ponies.
Donkeys are very sociable and make good friends for lonely people. it is also a great animal for carriage driving, but not as good for riding. They do make good mounts for children, as they are quiet and reliable, but when the child becomes a serious rider, they need to move on to a pony or horse. They have straight shoulders compared to a horse, so the rider constantly feels like they are going to fall over the donkey’s head.
Donkeys are super smart. People tend to look at donkeys as cute and fluffy, and don’t understand what a big brain they have in those over-sized heads. They are very intelligent and tend to get bored during training sessions. A person has to be careful to train them with a lot of variety or the donkey just shuts down with disinterest.
The intelligence of the donkey is often misinterpreted by new owners as stubbornness, when the donkey is just doing what comes naturally to it. A donkey will stop and assess a new situation and think about its choices before making a decision on what action to take.
Donkeys have three different “danger” reactions while a horse only has two. A donkey will either flee, (but they will only go about 100 yards and then stop), or they will fight or they will just stand there and continue to assess the situation. The best thing an owner can do is to just let them work it out for themselves. This willingness to fight is what makes some donkeys natural guardians in a mixed livestock herd. Some will try to stomp coyotes or feral dogs to death, thus saving the offspring of the livestock housed with them. Should you consider a donkey for a guard, you need to keep in mind, some will not work in this capacity, and sometimes, they can be aggressive to small livestock.
An endearing trait of donkeys is their dog-like personalities. They form very strong bonds with their owners and the animals that they are with constantly. New people (such as the farrier or the veterinarian) can be very stressful for the cautious donkey. Donkeys are extremely rcurious about what their humans are doing and are quite content to hang out with their owners or amble along behind them. Most donkeys love interacting with children. Children can walk among a herd of donkeys and they will just stand there. Donkeys can make an excellent pet choice for children in wheelchairs because they tend to stay so calm and quiet. A donkey loves to go on walks with their owners. They really are excellent companion animals.
Donkeys are very long lived animals. It is not uncommon for them to live well into their 30’s and often much longer. SInce they form such strong bonds, it is sad that they get shuffled around so much in their lifetimes. The biggest donkey issues are the lack of gelding within this species and the prevalent “flipping” of them from owner to owner.
Most of this information and a 4 time a year publication on donkeys, can be found at http://www.donkey-mule.og.nz/