Donkey Feeding Guidelines

These guidelines are designed for the average healthy adult donkey. If your donkey is ill, obese, old, a young foal, or a nursing mother, you will need to supplement the following information with feeding recommendations found in the References section.

Providing a donkey with a healthy diet is one of the most important responsibilities of donkey ownership. To fully appreciate the nutritional needs and requirements of donkeys, it is helpful to know their origins. Donkeys evolved in the arid dessert conditions of Africa, where they existed on a high fibre diet of dry and sparse vegetation. They are browsers, walking for miles slowly eating small amounts of the coarse vegetation as they wander. Donkeys’ natural food consists of coarse dry grass and roughage, which can include leaves, woody herbs, thick- stemmed plants, branches, bark, twigs, thistles, blackberry, and other varieties of plants and non-grass species.

A Donkey is Not a Horse (or a cow, or a sheep, or a goat)

Donkeys and horses have differences in both digestive physiology and metabolism. Donkeys need more fibre and less protein than horses do. Feeding a donkey on a high–quality, high-calorie diet (including treats) appropriate for a horse can have serious health implications, or be lethal, for the donkey. When fed improperly or similarly to horses, donkeys can become obese, develop debilitating hoof and other ailments, develop fatty liver disease, andcan live less that half of their normal life span.
Donkeys are not ruminants and must also not be fed in the same way as cattle, sheep, or goats.


Always provide your donkeys with a continuous supply of clean fresh water in clean well-scrubbed containers.

Keep It Simple

“Restricted grass, hay, straw, with an equine mineral salt lick and water will be all that most healthy donkeys require.”  The Donkey Sanctuary, England


Donkeys require adequate pasture for browsing and exercise. A minimum of one acre of clean, well managed, rotated, mixed pasture is required for two donkeys.
In his native environment, the donkey’s diet would be dry: dry grass, small bushes, and other roughage. Donkeys will not thrive solely on grass, which nearly always (depending on where you live)contains too much moisture and not enough vital nutrients. Limit grazing time and avoid pasturing donkeys at times when the grass contains a heavier than usual moisture content, such as during early morning dew or during frosty periods. In the same way, lush spring grass is too rich for the donkey’s metabolism. At any time that the grass is growing well, access should be monitored and restricted. Unrestricted access can lead to excess consumption, which can result in obesity, colic, and painful hoof problems such as laminitis. Never allow you donkey access to grass cuttings as they can cause fatal colic.
Using a movable electric tape fence can help you manage your pasture to both restrict access and to reserve areas, if desired, for haymaking. Mowing pasture prior to making it available for donkey grazing/ browsing can also help manage the high sugar levels in rich grass. Rotating areas of pasture also helps to control the proliferation of parasitic worms.

Grass Hay and Barley Straw

To try to approximate the donkey’s natural,dry, high fibre diet, grass hay should be fed year around. Feeding hay is particularly important when pasture is insufficient, inadequate, or too lush, wet, or rich. Grass hay has the low protein levels (below 5%) required for donkeys. (Alfalfa hay, for example, can have a protein level of over 25% with too many calories, and should be avoided.)Feeding grass hay also maintains donkeys’ teeth in good condition, as they must chew it thoroughly to digest it well and to release nutrients. If a donkey is unable to chew and digest his hay and straw, this may indicate a dental or other problem that will need to be identified.
The average healthy adult 230 kilo donkey, for example,will require between 1.3% -2% of their body weight a day in food, depending on the season (the lower percentage for summer). A healthy donkey will eat throughout the day. This indicates that donkeys require feedstuffs with low energy values so they can eat large enough quantities to satisfy their natural appetite without becoming obese.
Donkeys should be allowed access to appropriate quantities of good quality grass hay and, in particular, barley straw in a hay net, or other suitable container,prior to pasture grazing each day. Daily rations of grass hay and barley straw can be divided into 2-3 such feedings per day. Barley straw should be available as the high fibre, low calorie primaryforage throughout the day and constitute the majority of the donkey’s diet. Oat straw, with higher nutritional values, can be used for old or underweight donkeys; wheat straw, being more fibrous and having lower energy values, can be used for younger donkeys with good teeth.

Equine Mineral and Salt Block

Equine mineral and salt blocks provide much needed trace minerals and salt and can usually be purchased in feed stores. A block can be hung, or placed in a container designed for it, undercover in the barn/shelter near the water supply. Care should be taken to avoid purchasing the salt blocks designed for cattle, as the high urea content is not healthy for donkeys.


“Spoil your donkey with love, not treats” Peaceful Valley Donkey Sanctuary

Avoid feeding treats to donkeys. Many horse and people snacksare too rich, provide too many calories and carbohydrates,and can result in serious hoof and digestive problems. All breads, lawn clippings, and many grains, etc. have unhealthy levels of sugars, starches, and carbohydrates. And adonkey who is always expecting treats can develop unacceptable behaviour problems, such as biting and agitation, if the treat is not forth coming. If, for some reason, a treat is necessary, a carrot, cut into small lengthwise sections (to avoid choking) can be offered.

By nature, donkeys are stoic animals, and might not necessarily show that they are in pain. Should your donkey not be eating normally, this may indicate that he has a serious health problem. A noticeable change in your donkey’s appetite is a sign that you should call your veterinarian immediately.

Supplemental Reading:

Feeding Donkeys


We’d like to thank Diane Lindsay for putting this guide together.

If would like to discuss what’s involved with rehoming a donkey, please get in touch.