Donkey farming for beginners
Donkeys are members of the Equidae family which includes horses, mules and zebras. They are also called asses and burros; they have long, floppy ears and tend to be stickier than their cousins, horses and zebras.
They have leg ends in a single hoof with slender feet that are firm. Donkeys are found throughout the world in different species and breeds.
Domesticated donkeys have and are still used as working animals while in some places they were used principally as draught or pack animals; and some farmers keep them as pets or companion animals.
When selecting a donkey for farm work, choose a donkey with strong feet, hard hooves and in good health. They can be used for light work such as harrowing, hoeing and sowing in light soils.
Donkeys are very intelligent, affectionate, very gentle, brave and cautious. They adopt a protective attitude to vulnerable groups of people, children and people reduced to mobility.
Types of donkeys
There are three main types of donkeys which are the: feral, wild and domesticated
- Feral donkeys are the type that escaped from captivity and are living and breeding in the wild. They are considered pests because they damage vegetation which causes soil erosion; though they were brought in packs in Australia to replace horses which had succumbed to poisonous plants.
- Wild donkeys grow to a height of 125 cm (49 inches) from hoof to shoulder and weigh around 250 kg (551 pounds). They are found in the wild and do not move in herds like horses and ponies because they occupy marginal desert-lands.
- Domesticated donkeys vary in size depending on how they are bred and they come in 8 different types. They can typically weigh from 180 – 225 kg (400 – 500 pounds) and have a height from 92 – 123 cm (36 – 48 inches) from hoof to shoulder.
- As there are different types of the domesticated donkeys, the smallest can be 92 cm (36 inches) height from hoof to shoulder and weigh around 180 kg (400 pounds) or less. The largest donkey can weigh about 430 kg (950 pounds) and have a height of around 143 cm (56 inches) which is from hoof to shoulder.
Donkey species and breeds
Feed and water
Donkeys originated in environments with sparse food supplies and have evolved as non-ruminant herbivores and hindgut fermenters which mean that donkeys are monogastric animals that digest food in one stomach.
The stomach and small intestine process starch, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Fibre and other undigested feed passes through the small intestine to the hindgut where fermentation occurs.
Have a permanent access of clean water for your animals as the water requirements vary depending on whether the donkey is lactating or the weather is warm.
If automatic drinkers are used, they should be regularly cleaned and checked for functioning. Troughs can be used as they are easy to clean.
How To Raise Donkeys Never leave donkeys to roam freely, rather keep them in a paddock or tie them with a rope to a post so they cannot damage crops.
Housing and management
Where an animal is continuously or regularly tethered or confined, it must be given the space appropriate to its physiological and behavioural needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge.
Materials to be used for the construction of accommodation, and in particular for the construction of pens and equipment with which the animals may come into contact, must not be harmful to the animals and must be capable of being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Animals not kept in buildings shall, where necessary and possible, be given protection from adverse weather conditions, predators and risks to their health.
Farmers are encouraged to:
- Keep donkeys with their own species.
- Donkeys have access to paddock or pasture which will guarantee healthy animals.
- The space in the animal shelters should be enough to permit free movement for each donkey.
- Sufficient and clean bedding provided should be inspected daily.
- Have separate housing for Jennies (female adult donkey) and foals (young male or female donkey from birth to a year of age), also the delivery pens and jacks (male adult donkey kept for production).
Under wild conditions, donkeys spend most of their walking hours which is roughly 14-16 hours per day browsing and grazing, moving at walk on hard ground; and when they walk, their blood circulates to the hoof while regulating hoof length.
In farming conditions hooves tend to grow too long unless they are managed by farmers or keepers.
Regular hoof trimming must be done properly and it should be done according to specific needs of the donkey’s work type.
Donkey keepers shouldn’t keep hooves more than 2.5 cm longer than their normal hooves. Also to note is that when donkeys are kept in wet, dirty conditions, the foot is exposed to hoof problems such as fungi and infections.
Donkeys may require dental care due to increased feed quality that mimics natural abrasiveness for grazers.
Feeding pelleted compound feed may result in a reduction of the chewing movement in all three dimensions which is insufficient to wear the entire grinding surface and may facilitate the development of sharp edges, a high occlusal relief, and uneven tooth wear.
Handling and restraint
The human–animal relationship is built on interactions developed over time; both species will base their response to the other on their prior experiences of interaction.
Consistent, frequent and kind handling will reduce the level of fear an animal feels towards humans and will positively influence the emotional, cognitive and productive behaviour of the animal.
Use a twitch to control the animal; you can make one from a strong, thick stick in one end of which is hole through which is passed a loop of rope 30 cm long.
The twitch is put on a muzzle. Never put a twitch on the animal’s ear as it is very painful. You can also put a blanket or coat or sack to cover the animal’s eyes to calm which will make it easier to restrain.