Donkey Care

« Lots of people talk to animals, but not very many listen, though. That’s the problem. » Benjamin Hoff

With that endearing face, those dark penetrating eyes, that distinctive bray, and lively intelligence, the donkey has a way of capturing your heart. By nature, donkeys are curious, patient, sensitive, dependable, and kind, making them ideal around children and good with people with disabilities. The calming effects of donkeys on nervous livestock are well documented.
They learn quickly and do not forget what they have learned. Their undeserved characterization as  « stubborn » or « stupid » is a human misunderstanding of their strong instinct of self -preservation, which is much stronger than that of a horse. Donkeys are careful and contemplative and not prone to panic or carelessness; they reflect and consider a situation before acting. If they know they can trust and depend upon you, they will want to please and accommodate you.
Because of their stoic nature and capacity for endurance, donkeys have often suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of humankind. But, with time, patience, and love, donkeys can show a remarkable facility to forgive the past and learn to trust again. And all donkeys deserve to be safe, well cared for, and appreciated for who they are. Life with donkey companions can bring loads of love, challenges, fun, and endless delight.

Acquiring a Donkey

Before acquiring a donkey companion, thought should be given to the time, effort, and expense involved in caring for these marvellous creatures. Donkeys can have a life span of over 40 years; therefore, caring for them represents a long-term commitment. For your happiness and wellbeing, and that of your donkey companions, here are some factors to consider:
Why would you like to be a donkey guardian?

The purpose of having a donkey may simply be to have a wonderful and loving companion animal and to give a deserving animal a second chance at a safe and happy life. With proper equipment and training, you may also enjoy activities with your donkeys such as driving, walking, children’s riding, showing, and doing light draught work on a small holding. Reflecting upon why you desire to have donkeys helps you choose the right donkey- in terms of age, temperament, character, and size- to fit your needs and expectations.

Do you have the time and commitment needed to look after your donkeys?

Some time each day is needed for daily feeding and grooming, as well as mucking of field and shelter. Because donkeys are natural stoics, an illness or injury may be well advanced before they show obvious signs of discomfort. Early recognition of problems such as illness and lameness is possible when you are familiar with your donkey’s normal behaviour and movement, appetite and thirst patterns, faeces/urine, eyes, nose and respiration, hooves, coat and skin. Time spent observing your donkey’s health and behaviour each day is the key to this early recognition.

Do you have a minimum of one acre (0.4 hectare) of paddock/pasture land per two donkeys?

It is essential to have adequate and correctly managed pasture for grazing and exercise. Being familiar with good pasture management for donkeys helps avoid problems such as obesity and laminitis (a painful hoof problem), the spread of worms, and the ingestion of toxic plants.

Is your pasture enclosed with safe secure fencing?

There are several types of recommended fencing for donkeys, including electric and post and rail. Donkeys can be great escape artists, so care should be taken that all fencing is secure and does not pose a danger to your donkeys. An ideally managed pasture can be divided into two or three paddocks to control grazing. It is essential that fencing should be arranged to allow donkeys free access to shelter and fresh water at all times.

Do you have adequate shelter?

Donkeys require access to a barn or other adequate shelter to allow them to avoid the heat and flies of summer, as well as the inclement weather in winter. Donkeys do not produce as much natural protective grease on their skin as horses do: their coats are not waterproof! Adequate shelter protects them from uncomfortable exposure to rain, wind, and snow that can lead to conditions such as rain scald and mud fever.
The shelter (at least 9 sq. meters for a pair) should have at least three and a half sides and be well drained with adequate ventilation and good air circulation. It should be protected from prevailing winds, away from areas prone to fly nuisance, and have a dry non-slip floor. Clean bedding straw or wood shavings on the floor of the shelter allow a warm dry place to lie down. Regular cleaning prevents the build up of bacteria in the manure, which can attack the donkey’s hooves causing foot problems.

Do you have a means of providing a fresh clean water supply and electricity to the pasture/paddock?

Donkeys can be fussy about what they drink. They have been known to refuse to drink rather than drink dirty water. They should always have access to a clean fresh water supply in well-scrubbed containers. In cold weather, care should be taken to see that the water supply is not frozen. Most donkeys will not break the ice with their hooves, as horses often will.

Do you have a supplier of good quality hay and straw and a dry and protected place in which to store it?

The grass hay and barley straw fed to your donkey should be examined to ensure that it is of good quality and should be stored in conditions that protect against mould, dust, moisture, and rodent infestation, etc. Mouldy, dusty, or spoiled hay or straw must never be fed to a donkey.

Will your donkey have a companion?

Donkeys require companionship and naturally form strong bonds with each other. They should never be kept alone, and should preferably be kept with another donkey. Where this is not possible, a horse or pony may make a suitable companion. If your donkey is to live with horse(s), it is important to be aware of their differences in terms of: nutrition and feeding, behaviour and temperament, shelter, tack, training, and hoof trimming.

Have you located a qualified equine vet for routine treatments?

A local equine vet should be available to call when you have concerns over you donkey’s health and well-being.
Your donkey will also require annual tetanus and influenza vaccinations. Consult your equine vet about other vaccinations that may be required in your area. During his annual visit, the vet can also check the overall health of your donkeys.

The number one worldwide killer of donkeys is parasites. Donkeys will usually need to be wormed every three months, rotating worming products to ensure effectiveness against all types of parasites. Many owners do the worming themselves, purchasing worming products for equines at local feed stores or veterinary clinics. Seek the advice of your equine veterinarian regarding worming schedules for your area.

Donkeys can develop sharp points on their teeth that can create sores in their mouths, making it painful and difficult to eat. They need an annual dental check, and, if necessary, will need to have their teeth floated, or filed, by an equine dentist. An older donkey or one with teeth problems may need to be seen more often.

Have you located a farrier for routine hoof care?

Donkeys’ hooves differ from horses’ in both angle and form: they are more upright, smaller, tougher, and more elastic. You will need a farrier who is experienced trimming donkeys’ feet and is gentle with your donkey to visit every 6-10 weeks.
All too common foot problems and diseases in donkeys can be avoided or minimized though proper feeding, daily hoof care, and regular visits from the farrier. The old saying, “no hoof, no horse”, applies to the donkey, too!

Are you well informed about the basics of donkey husbandry?

Your knowledge of the basics of donkey care and welfare is essential to the health and well being of your donkey: nutrition and feeding requirements, daily care and grooming, behaviour and general handling, general health and hoof care. You can never know too much about your companion animal.
Below you will find helpful links to books, online publications, face sheets, and information from experts to help you acquire the knowledge needed to care for your donkey.

Who is born a donkey will not die as a horse~Italian Proverb

A note for those familiar with caring for horses:

While many aspects of donkey and horse husbandry are similar, there are also many important differences. If your donkey is to live with horses, it is important to be aware of these differences as they pertain to: nutrition and feeding, behaviour and temperament, shelter, tack, training, and hoof trimming.

Can you afford the ongoing costs of caring for a donkey?

These costs can be roughly estimated to be an average of 500 Euros per year.

There will also be initial costs for equipment, fencing, shelter, tack and grooming aids that will depend upon existing equipment and facilities available.

Do you have an adequate contingency fund to meet unexpected veterinary bills?

However well you care for your equine, there may still be occasions when a vet is necessary. With the large distances involved, even a simple call out can cost over 50€ without any medication. Much larger sums are required if your donkey requires specialist treatment in an equine hospital.


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.