Donkey Design Nutrition
Do you own a donkey or want to buy one to join your horse herd?
Well donkeys are extremely special not only in their cute looks but they also have the most amazing digestion systems.
It is important to understand Donkeys are significantly different to horses and ponies and as such need to be nutritionally managed quite differently.
I think most of us realise donkeys tend toward being overweight, but are actual scientific facts or reasons for this:
Donkey Special Facts:
Research shows that donkeys are incredibly good at digesting and extracting nutrients out of the food they eat, far more than horses or ponies.
In particular they are very good at extracting the fibre and protein out of their feed.
This is because donkeys originated from arid desert regions of the world where the plants or grasses were of very low nutritional value.
So, in order to survive this, donkeys evolved to become very efficient at ultising the dry, scrubby low nutritional value forage they had access to.
The donkeys body is considerable slower at moving food through its digestive tract than a horse.
What this means is that the food is in contact with the special enzymes and microbes in the gut for a lot longer, resulting in more time to extract as much nutrients as possible from the food!
Another incredible fact about donkeys nutrition is that they can recycle nitrogen. (which is a measure of the Crude Protein in the food).
In a horse or pony if they are fed excess protein for their needs they will excrete that nitrogen in the form of urea in the urine.
But a donkey has the mechanism to reabsorb that urea and make further use of the nitrogen.
Additional to this a donkey can up scale or down scale this regulatory system depending on how much protein is in the diet. Making it easier for them to put on weight.
Note that donkeys only require around a maximum of 4% protein in the total diet (pasture, hay, feed) for basic maintenance.
Compare this to a average horse whom need around twice that = 8%-12% protein in total diet for maintenance. So if you allow your dinkey more protein than its really needs it will not urinate it out it will reuse it.
One more amazing fact about the donkey is that they can modify their digestive system if they have restricted access to water. This of course causes incredible stress on a horse or pony, and in the first instance the horse restricts its feed intake naturally.
However, in the donkey it regulates its resting metabolic rate if there is less water and modifies the way it breaks down food further in order to absorb more nutrients.
How to feed a donkey:
Never give access to highly nutritious, spring/autumn green pasture! In many of todays horse environments our horses and donkeys have access to much greener, higher quality pasture. Allowing a donkey access to green grass like this invites many health issues such as obesity, metabolic issues and laminitis.
Very strictly strip graze on old mature grass. Put a donkey on a dry lot for most of the day.
Feed mature, stalky hay with little nutritional value.
Feed straw as a portion of their diet.
In this way we can love our donkeys for many golden years to come!
More information sources: