Donkeys can survive on very poor diet and nutritional conditions. The nutritional requirements have not been properly elaborated. Some documentation provides rations for donkeys similar to that of horses. Nevertheless, a good daily ration for donkeys should depend on a greater extent on the breed, age, purpose and reproductive status of the Ass and the required daily food intake necessary for it to meet both physiologic and physical needs. Ebangi et al., (2004), investigated the nutritional intake of the N’dama and Crossbred donkeys in the Sudano-sahel region of North Cameroon and found significant differences in feed consumption and weight gain; work force and response to seasonal changes between the N’dama and the cross bred donkey.
Their work showed that the male donkeys had a better body condition score throughout the dry season period compared to their female counterparts and that seasonal changes in weight gain in both sexes experienced were good indicators for supplemental feeding (and watering, emphasis mine) necessary to improve body condition of the donkey. The main nutritional feed of the donkey is grass. The donkey is a non-ruminant herbivore with a single stomach chamber and like the horse is referred to as a hind gut fermenter.
Donkeys can eat grasses, bark, leaves, and stalks among others. Generally a donkey prefers the grassy part of habitat over shrubs or woodland part (Lamoot et al, 2004). Thus a donkey may consume 80% grasses, sedges, rushes, 10% other flowering and herbaceous plants and 10% woody plants. A donkey can survive with little water and has more endurance and tolerance to feed and water scarcity than a horse (Kingel, 1990). The donkey has a tougher digestive system compared to that of the horse in which microbial fermentation takes place in the caecum and the large intestine.
Generally the donkey eats in small amounts over a longer period and can handle 1.5 percent of its body weight per day in dry matter because of its efficient and structurally designed digestive tract. The efficiency of the donkey’s digestive abilities over the donkey may also be associated with the functional levels and interplay of its gut enzymes and microbial flora. Although a donkey can obtain must of its energy needs from structural carbohydrates there is great controversy on the type of feed sources a donkey may be fed. A typical feed ration for a donkey should consist of forage as the main source and other sources of proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals with regular access to fresh drinking water. It is important that the ratio of legumes to grass may not exceed 1 in 4 parts. It is generally advisable to avoid feeding potatoes or anything from Brassicaceae (cabbage) family, rhubarb leaves, cereals, onions, leeks, garlic or fermented foods.
Silage has a high moisture content, low pH and high protein content and is not suitable for donkeys. Hay and other supplemental rations are important during dry season and winter periods. It is risky to allow donkeys for long hours on lush pastures or leguminous forage and heavy concentrate feeding as this can predispose them to obesity, laminitis and hyperlipemia or gastric ulcers. Feeds high in fiber given in small quantities are good to minimize the risk of obesity and hyperlipemia.
Housing and sheltering
Modern donkey farms consist of sheltered stables with nutritional feed supplements, grazing fields and unrestricted access to water. These farms provide facilities and management conditions for improving welfare of donkeys such as proper ventilation, lighting and bedding materials and emergency precautions against hazards such as fire extinguishers and precautions from injurious objects. With proper adjustments, standards boxes for horses can be adopted: The recommended box sizes are 3.66m x 3.66m for very large breeds and 3.05m x3.05m for large breeds and 4mx4m for expectant Jennies.
In developed countries where their use as beasts of burden has considerably receded, donkeys are used to sire mules, to guard sheep and can be ridden or used as pets. Donkeys may be pastured or stabled with horses and ponies, and are thought to have a calming effect on nervous horses including providing companion and protection to weaned horse colts. In pastoral communities like in eastern Africa, children herd household donkeys with the calves, but during the wet season, donkeys are free ranging. Many families pen donkeys within the settlement thorn fence or in calf enclosures at night for protection against predators.
Different methods are used to identify donkeys including branding (tattooing), ear tags and the use of coat color or body identification marks. Many families also identify their donkeys by names which the donkeys recognize. It is very important to properly identify and age donkeys especially those moving from one country to another in their passport and other traveling documents.