So, Donkeys

I figured the last post must have left a few of you confused so I should clarify. I have been reading up on caring for donkeys and posed a question on a farm Facebook page about their dietary needs. There isn’t a whole lot I know about equines so I am starting from scratch here. About the most I know about equines is how to ride a horse proficiently in the arena and on trails and also that they eat hay. That’s all I’ve got. So needless to say, I am doing a mass amount of research on donkeys before diving in and purchasing one for our future homestead.

I am both reading books and doing a little online research utilizing resources with some sort of credibility.


Most of what I am finding conflicts in one way or another so I am doing my best to cross reference and take notes on my findings. This is what lead me down the path to my recent inbox of hate-mail. Online, I found an incredible website for a Canadian donkey rescue that had multiple videos and lots of information. In one of their videos they mention that because donkeys are naturally “desert” animals, that they do not require the nutrient dense feed that horses require. So instead of feeding 100% hay during the summer, they feed barley straw as part of the donkey’s summer rations.

Now, this made sense to me. I read that wild donkeys travel and forage over long distances and therefore can become overweight on a purely hay or alfalfa diet. This also made sense to me because I know that my rabbits can get quite fat on alfalfa. Then I made the mistake of asking a Facebook group if they had heard of this before or if feeding partial barley straw was common practice. I don’t know! I figured the local community of farm people would be able to give me a little insight.

Note to self– Facebook sucks. That’s where all my hate-mail came from… right before I sent it on to the proverbial trash can.

If you have any helpful information or tips and tricks on donkey care or donkey nutrition, I would LOVE to hear it! I am always happy to learn. And if you have any idea why some people recommend feeding barley straw and why others swear it will kill your donkey… I’d appreciate your insight.

Until then, I am going to keep reading and taking notes. I will share my findings soon.

23 thoughts on “So, Donkeys

  1. It would make sense that barley straw could be fed to any animal that needed some balance added if the other part of their diet is too rich. I’ve been researching fodder, and at least for cows, they are supposed to have barley straw along with the fodder for the roughage that they need. If you’re growing barley for the seeds for the fodder, then you’d have barley straw left over. Sorry to hear that you got blasted because of a simple question!

  2. Sarah would that donkey rescue place be the Donkey Sanctuary in Ontario near Guelph/Aberfoyle? If so I have been there. a donation at the gate, one gets to feed, curry and help care for the animals as a volunteer. It is a beautiful place.

      • those animals were very well cared for. some of them were pretty old. jennies and donkeys stroll in and out of the barn over the rolling acres of grass really enjoying their retirement. Barns were very clean and the yard too, it is run mostly by donation and volunteers who get good training. mum and dad supported them for years. all grandchildren and visitors from over the pond would make a day out there. I haven’t been there in a few years but I am sure the standards are kept up.

      • It looked like an amazing facility and the woman who spoke for the introductory video they had seemed very knowledgeable. I am remembering now that she had mentioned that they feed partial barley straw because their pastures are so full of fresh grasses during the summer. We won’t have that luxury so I doubt I will need to feed straw, but it is good to know of these options and the reasons behind them.

  3. Dunno much about donkey feed.
    All my childhood we had 2 donkeys in our street.
    They ate grass, never saw the owners bringing them hay, but old bread they did bring.
    They were pretty curious and sometimes bit you when the food you brought was finished 🙂
    Prepare yourself to waking up at night 🙂 cause they’re loud!

    • We have two miniature donkeys that live around the corner at the neighborhood stables and on most mornings I can hear them going crazy over something. They are probably demanding their breakfast! I think they eat mostly hay too. I have a feeling that some people may feed straw when their pastures are full of rich grasses. We won’t have that “problem” here.

  4. When people hear straw, they think of wheat straw instead of barley. Barley straw has more nutrition than the wheat. FB is notorious for haters and trolls. Honestly, the internet buts world of knowledge at our fingertips and we use it to pick fights and rant on others. Sad… We feed all our animals orchard grass/timothy/random weed mix to all our animals. The Horses only got grain in winter, when they needed extra fuel.

  5. I’ve never commented here, but I enjoy hearing about your efforts. You probably already know this, but there a couple of really good donkey blogs out there that you might like to follow. One, of them, The Dancing Donkey, is written by a woman who spends a lot of time trying to understand the unique needs of donkeys. Her posts on donkey health care are especially good. She’s very thorough and methodical. She just did a post recently on straw for donkeys. She had to explain it to us (her readers), cause none of us had heard of it before either.

  6. I only know us to have rice straw in the foothills. I have never seen barley straw, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but never seen it. Call a feed store to see what variety they sell. I will happily teach you to ride and train an equine, I love horses and have taken care and ridden for over 30 years. But…I ride english. Think good balance and no horn when you hear that!

    • Hmmm… I had never heard of barley straw so that is initially what made me so curious.

      I am a pretty good rider already. I have been riding (western) for about 15 years-ish and my daughter (3 1/2) started riding lessons this summer at the horse stables around the corner. I’ve seen English riding before, but I’ve never tried it.

      I DEFINITELY want you to teach me to drive… Well, and help me teach my future donkey to drive too. 😉 With any luck we may even live in the same county by summer! Fingers crossed!

  7. Hi, new reader here. 🙂 So far I’ve read 3 posts (and one day hope to get the time to back read some). I’ve got nothing whatsoever to add about donkeys. In fact my entire stock of knowledge about them is that they can be stubborn and they like carrots. Information gleaned from Enid Blyton childrens novels! 🙂

    I did have someting to add to the thoughts though and I have no idea if it might be relevant or not so I won’t be offended if you moderate this comment out. 🙂

    We looked into owning a house cow at some stage but with a mere 1/2 acre it quickly became apparent we had completely insufficient land for fodder. I don’t want to buy in all the food. We did dabble with the idea of Dexter cows though and should we ever purchase more land I will most definitely be adding a Dexter cow to our farmyard. Dexter cows are very efficient feed converters, milk up to 10L a day, can be culled for what is apparently a very delicious and efficient beef and (here’s the relevant part) make excellent plough/cart animals. If you’re looking for a donkey for pulling a cart etc then maybe this might be of interest.:)

    Anyway, enjoying what I’ve read so far and looking forward to learning more about your micro farm. 😀

    • I have been going back and forth between dairy goats and a dairy cow. Cows milk is much easier to make butter and hard cheeses from, but goats milk is easier for us to digest. Cows are easier to fence for, but all three of us love goats and their mischievous and silly nature. It’s a tough decision.

      We got a little spoiled this last month while I was milking a friend’s goats and bringing home all that fresh milk. Now that we have gone back to cows milk (organic grocery store milk), my husband and I have noticed some digestive pain.

      • I have a friend whose son was intolerant of soy and dairy as a child. He can tolerate the raw milk from their goats but they’ve tried him on raw cows milk too and he is able to handle it with no problem. We have 2 goats, Miss Anna a British Alpine who is about to find herself a boyfriend 😉 and Miss Pandora who is a Toggenburg Boer cross and about 2 months old. Miss Anna stillbirthed premature twins last August as she was quite malnourished (came to us unknowingly pregnant and is missing some teeth and unable to graze effectively) but she’s quite a chub these days and should handle pregnancy easily (we hope). I’ve also just started making cheese – a caerphilly and a farmhouse cheddar on the weekend – and one day I hope to be self sufficient with all our dairy.
        It’s so hard to know which way to go sometimes. I figured though it was worth mentioning what I’d heard about Dexters in case that happened to fit the bill. I just wish I had 5-10 acres, 2 or 3 Dexters, an earthbag dairy and a large root cellar to store all the produce from my veggie gardens. 🙂

      • Oooo! Earth bag dairy? That is a fabulous idea! I will have to look into that since I will be starting from scratch on most all the future-farm outbuildings.

        Lots of people around here have Boer goats. I’d be curious as to how well a meat-dairy cross would produce milk. Interesting things to consider for sure.

        PLEASE share the recipe for farmhouse cheddar you use. About two weeks ago I tried a recipe and it tasted like cardboard. I followed all the directions to the letter, but something must have gone wrong. The texture was rubbery, the taste was almost astringent, but it did set up well and developed a nice skin. I don’t know. It looked good. That was about it.

      • I shall… IF it works. It’s my 2nd cheese ever and I’m planning to wax it on Friday evening or Saturday. It’s taken ages to dry out as I’ve had to dry it in a cupboard and the temperatures here this week have hovered around 40C (104F) and are forecast to hit 41C (106F) tomorrow. My husband who works in the city will have 45C (113F) with shich to contend but it’s been humid too so the cheese hasn’t dried well. 😦 It’s not a good outlook for it.
        Our Boer cross is a little special. Her mother is a very high quality pure bred Toggenburg of superb lineage but the owners previous to my friends didn’t get her registered in time and so she has no paperwork to prove her pedigree. She’s on her second lactation now but her first saw her milking 5L (1.3 gallons) a day! That’s her first so in theory she should be milking much more this time around.
        So Pandora, with a high milk producing mother has a very good chance of being a superb milker. 😀

        Earthbag is a brilliant and cheap way to build from what I’ve read. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this but this is the build we are planning.
        I’m also planning to give a walipini a go too. Underground (or in ground at least) greenhouse. There are so many great passive solar and passive heated buildings out there. 😀

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