Interest in keeping donkeys as horse companions is growing. While it’s probably true that both species would prefer the company of their own kind, the fact is they do get along very well once the horse gets over the initial “What the heck is that??” reaction.
As both are equines, routine care like vaccinations, dewormings and hoof trimming are identical. However, there are some nutritional considerations that can get you in trouble, and an awful lot of misinformation or bad advice on the internet.
Optimally nourished donkeys do not look like the pot-bellied somewhat scruffy creatures you too often see. It’s easy to keep your donkey looking as slick and attractive as your horse once you understand how.
Feeding a donkey like a horse can result in obesity and laminitis. On an average, the donkey requires only about 75% as many calories as a horse or pony. This is due to a combination of much more efficient fermentation of fibrous feed components and possibly a somewhat lower metabolic rate. Unfortunately, this has led to some pretty drastic recommendations on feeding such as feeding nothing but straw. Donkeys can also survive on protein restrictions too low for a horse but survive is not the same thing as thrive. It’s likewise true that donkeys can survive several days without water (ancestors were desert dwellers) but again that doesn’t mean you should withhold water.
Donkeys on pasture of sufficient quality to maintain weight on a horse should be muzzled. If the donkey gets too thin (not very likely!), you can leave it off for an hour or so and adjust as needed. If on hay, a 100 kg donkey will need about 3 Mcal/day or 1.7 to 2 kg of a moderate quality grass hay. If you are feeding a nice but mature cut of hay, you will only be able to feed about 10 to 15% more by going to all straw instead but will lose out significantly on protein and minerals.
Speaking of protein and minerals, there are no formal studies on protein requirements of donkeys, but lots of guesstimates on how little you can get away with. Reference is often made to urea cycling in donkeys, urea being the metabolized nitrogen remnant of protein. Donkeys are efficient at excreting urea back into their digestive tract. However, this benefits the microorganisms in the gut, not the donkey directly. The only long term study available showed good weight maintenance on 1.2 grams of crude protein/kg of body weight daily. This is almost identical to a horse.
There is zero formal information available on mineral requirements of donkeys. Speculation is a poor substitute for fact so until differences are identified I advise applying horse/pony requirements to donkeys.
When you need a carrier for supplements, you can’t beat beet pulp. It soaks up as much as 4X its dry weight in water to result in a very low calorie carrier.
Enjoy your ‘long ears’, and if you feed him right you can look forward to competition about which one of them is better looking.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD