Managing Donkeys Alone and in a Herd

Donkeys are generally considered easy keepers, but it is important to understand the special considerations they need.
Donkeys are typically considered to be easy keepers. | iStock

There’s a common misconception that donkeys are obstinate, but Jodi Helmer, founder of Naughty Donkey Farm Sanctuary in North Carolina, says they aren’t stubborn—they are very smart. So smart that caring for a donkey, alone or in a herd, might take more effort than caring for the horses or other animals on your farm.

Waylon, Jodi’s Miniature Donkey, is almost blind but still finds ways to entertain himself. “He figured out how to turn on the hydrants in the pasture, which are now padlocked, let the goats out of their stalls, and break into the hay storage room,” she said. “We’ve changed latches, added carabiners—and even moved to locking carabiners—and Waylon still breaks in. He’s also used his mouth to undo the latches on the gate between the pastures to access fresh grass.”

Stacy Anatriello manages donkeys and horses and agrees that stubbornness isn’t an apt description. She has found that donkeys are incredibly social animals and turns her two Mini Donkeys out with a herd of 18 to 20 full-size horses.

“They’ll play with the bigger horses. I don’t think they know their size,” she said. “These donkeys seem to love each other. I think they enjoy having other donkey friends. They are dominant and great protectors. Ours have battled off coyotes.”

“Normally, we believe in providing same-species friends, so our animals can interact and communicate in their own unique ways,” Helmer added. “There are a million reasons this didn’t happen for Waylon, but he ended up bonding closely to the goats, especially a Nigerian Dwarf goat named Willie, and they became his ‘seeing eye goats.’”

The donkeys in Anatriello’s Upstate New York barn receive the same turnout and farrier care as the full-sized horses. However, she emphasizes that donkeys require extra planning for feed and pasture management decisions to avoid overeating. Donkeys are incredibly easy keepers.

“We feed free-choice hay in turnout, so we restrict what they eat when inside to avoid obesity,” she said.

A feeding protocol similar to that used for horses with equine metabolic syndrome or insulin dysregulation might also help keep their weight in check. If your donkey is gaining weight or is obese, ask your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist about a low-carb, high-fiber diet. Some might even become overweight on pasture alone, so a dry-lot might be necessary.

“We have to limit Waylon’s access to pasture when the grass pops up in the spring because donkeys will overeat, putting them at higher risk for laminitis,” she said. “It’s also why we have the hay room locked up tight!”

First-time donkey owners might be surprised at how difficult it is to find a veterinarian who treats large animals if they don’t already have a relationship with one through owning horses or other livestock.

“We’re fortunate to have an amazing vet who makes farm calls and provides excellent care to all of our animals, including our donkey,” Helmer said. “I’d suggest making sure local vet care is available before bringing a donkey home—it’s not something you want to find out when there’s an emergency.”


Katie Navarra
Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. A lifelong horse lover, she owns and enjoys competing a dun Quarter Horse mare.





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