West Country women returning from the market, after selling their home-grown produce (approx. 1950’s).
Example of a manger
Fresh water available with an automatic drinker.
Wire fence protected with electric fencing.
Donkeys should have access to plenty of hay.
Essential tools to perform hygienic chores (curry brush, dandy brush, head brush, hoof pick)
Step 1 – Grooming with the curry brush (circular movements)
Step 2 – Brushing with a dandy brush (following the direction of the hair).
Step 3 – Hoof picking
Stage of hoof trimming: using a rasp.
A trimmed hoof.
The donkey is a medium sized mammal, closely linked to Man since the remote Neolithic times.
In the Portuguese traditional rural world, of small scale agriculture, with low levels of production and small enclosed properties, farming communities have been dependant on the donkey for their livelihood. These animals used to be the main method of transport and general beast of burden, employed in several agricultural chores, as well being used for the breeding of mules.
Although this animal is originated from semi-desert regions, well adapted to live under the most varied conditions, climates, landscape and environments, he still needs basic care.
In order to offer donkeys the best living conditions to ensure their well-being, it is recommended the provision of an area under cover (stable or shelter), combined with access to an outdoor area, safely fenced.
The area under cover should be well ventilated, as well designed to keep draughts and rain at bay. On the other hand, the stable or shelter must be regularly cleaned and manure removed, an essential task for the promotion of a hygienic environment and illness prevention. Not to forget that floors must not be slippery and there should be an area covered with bedding material, like straw or shavings.
Additionally, the stable or shelter should comply with other requirements, namely installation of mangers raised above the ground (about 1 meter), cleaned regularly of dust, dirt and leftover feeds; for the supply of fresh, clean water all day, it is recommended an automatic
Under the right conditions, the stable should have a direct access and be left open to an outdoor area adequately fenced; barbed wire should avoided at all costs as it poses a danger to the animals (it is recommended an electric fence). This area should be large enough for the animals to move freely and to roll on the ground.
A healthy diet should have plenty of nutrients, vitamins, mineral salts and fibre, adequate and adjusted to each animal, taking into account diverse factors like age, weight, condition (case of mares in foal and young stock), and specific needs, veterinary advise should be sought.
In general, the donkey's diet ought to be abundant and varied, comprising hay or good quality straw (natural source of fibre), available all day, cereal/forage based feed suitable for equines (considering the factors listed above), grazing if possible or fresh produce (natural sources of vitamins and important for the correct intestinal function); a small addition of
Feeding times should be regular, preferably serving 2-3 meals a day.
It is important to stress that contrary to the widespread belief in Portugal, grazing on its own is not enough as a source of food, hence the need to supplement it with hay and cereal feed.
In some particular cases (expectant or lactate mares, youngsters, convalescent or very old donkeys), need adequate dietary supplements to their condition.
Regular hygienic care of the animals is paramount to their well-being.
The main hygienic chores are: hair grooming, eyes cleansing and hoof cleaning.
Animals' coat should be brushed on weekly basis. In the case of outdoor donkeys, this should be avoided more often, under the risk of stripping the coat off its natural oils, which protect the animal against climate agents.
It is also recommended the use of the different brushes by the following order: curry brush in circular movements, releasing the most dirt, followed by the dandy brush in descending movements to brush off any loose hairs.
In the case of elderly donkeys, the tear channel is often blocked, with fluid discharges. The cleansing procedure is easier and it should be part of the animal's hygiene routine; simply wipping the eyes with a cotton wool dampened in rosewater or in physiological serum.
Finally, hoof picking is also a very important task, removing all debris and manure. This is a vital task to maintain healthy hooves, a complement to hoof trimming, also allowing the early detection of irregular conditions, like infections or even abscesses.
In the past times, donkeys used to work hard as beasts of burden, which made them wear down their hooves and need to be shod as a result.
In the face of the facts, shoeing donkeys is no longer justified, although they still need special care, in order to maintain their well-being and mobility.
Hence, their hooves should be attended and trimmed regularly by an experienced, qualified trimmer, on average every 2 months, although this may change upon living condition or the rate of hoof growth.
It is never enough to stress the serious consequences that hoof trimmed, when conducted by unqualified people can have for the animal. The same applies to negligence as regards basic hoof care. Just as an example, 90% of the donkeys that come to the Shelter present hoof problems, in some cases these are irreversibly damaged and with chronic conditions, affecting seriously the animal's mobility, all result of years of deficient trimmings or owners negligence.
Health and welfare of the donkey depend on the combination of good living conditions, suitable diet and veterinary care.
Veterinary care are of two kinds: regular care, a type of preventive care, crucial for an healthy kept donkey, and casual care, provided at the first signs of illness.
Within the kind of regular care, there is yearly vaccination, as a prevention against equine flu and tetanus, which should be given by a vet.
Another regular health care treatment is the yearly dental check, to be conducted by a vet expert in dental care or an EDT. Some dental treatments comprise teeth floating, teeth extraction or the cuts of points, amongst others. Elderly donkeys or donkeys with dental problems may need more than a check-up a year.
As regards casual care, at the first signs of illness, the vet should be called. Skin problems, usually seasonal, which occur in seasonal changes (winter/spring or summer/autumn), pneumonias, or the unexpected colic (these can occur at any time, and the causes are varied, although the most frequent are sudden changes in diet) are some of the most common