In temperate climates the most suitable way of providing a low energy diet is straw (barley or wheat). Many veterinarians and owners are reluctant to feed straw to equids due to concerns relating to colic and gastric ulcers; however, studies carried out in a large population of donkeys showed no increased colic (Cox et al., 2009) or gastrc ulcer risk (Burden et al., 2009). Feeding of fit, healthy donkeys should focus on providing greater proportions of highly fibrous feedstuffs such as cereal straw (barley or wheat straw) or coarse, low energy hay (ideally with an energy level of less than 8 MJ/kg DM) to provide “bulk” with greater energy fibre sources such as grass, hay, haylage, alfalfa and beet pulp being fed as required according to body condition, life stage and workload.
Donkeys rarely require energy rich cereal grains, sweet feeds, or highly molassed products; the feeding of such products is poorly tolerated, often wasteful and frequently associated with the development of health issues such as laminitis, gastrc ulceration, hyperlipemia and colic (Burden et al., 2009). Where cereal grains or molasses are included to increase the palatability or energy density of feeds, it is advised that combined starch and sugar levels (Non Structural Carbohydrates) do not exceed 15% and ideally should be =10%. Care should be taken with diets for growing young stock, pregnant jennies and geriatric donkeys with poor dentition, as these may require supplements or short chopped diets (Burden & Thiemann, 2015).
Water is perhaps the most essential of all nutrients since without it life cannot continue for longer than a few days, or less in adverse conditions. Clean, fresh water should be freely available at all times; donkeys are renowned for their thirst tolerance, which should not be confused with their water requirements. Water requirements for donkeys are similar to that of horses and will vary considerably depending on workload, environmental temperature, pregnancy and lactation.
Body Condition Scoring and Weight Estimation
Keeping a regular record of donkey’s condition scores and estimated weight measurements can be very useful for monitoring their health and management. For donkeys over two years of age their weight can be estimated using the Donkey Sanctaury’s weight estimator (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk), but this estimator is not accurate for miniature or mammoth donkeys.
To measure donkey’s height, stand him/her on a hard level surface and measure from the ground up to the highest point of their withers. Once a donkey is over four years of age this measurement will only be required once and the same measurement can be used in future weight estimations. A height measuring stick is ideal. The hearth measurement can be taken using an ordinary tailor’s tape measure; the tape should pass around the bottom of the donkey’s chest as far forward as possible as close to the front legs as possible. Both height and heart girth measurements can then be marked on the weight estimation chart (Figure 1) and the donkey’s weight read off the centre scale by drawing a line between the two measurements.
For donkeys less than two years of age, height cannot be used to help estimate the donkey’s weight but Table 4 can be used instead.
To determine the Body Condition Score (BCS) of a donkey can be used the “Body Condition Score Chart” (Figure 2). To best manage donkey’s weight, animals must be weighed and condition scored at least once a month (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk).
Half scores can be assigned where donkeys fall between scores; aged donkeys can be hard to condition score due to lack of muscle bulk and tone giving thin appearance dorsally with dropped belly ventrally, while overall condition may be reasonable. Fat deposits may be unevenly distributed especially over the neck and hindquarters. Some resistant fat deposits may be retained in the event of weight loss and/or may calcify (harden). Careful assessment of all areas should be made and combined in order to give an overall score, according to the following parameters.