Donkeys: Feeding, Breeding, Health

Donkeys are friendly, hardworking, and non-aggressive animals that are not artiodactyls. They are quite common in households around the world. They differ from their horse brothers in greater endurance and adaptability to harsh climates. This material will consider who donkeys are, what types of donkeys exist, as well as what are the features of their breeding and reproduction in farms.

Who is a Donkey?

Domestic donkeys are breeds of wild donkeys that were domesticated by humans several millennia ago and were actively used in households and farms. It is believed that these animals were domesticated a little earlier than horses, however, with the domestication of horses, the popularity of donkeys dropped significantly.

Despite the low milk yield, they were distinguished by a smaller constitution and much less strength.

The homeland of these animals is considered to be the north of Africa and some territories of Mesopotamia – it was in these territories that the ancestors of all currently known donkey breeds began to be bred. A little later, already in the era of antiquity, they spread throughout Eurasia and then were actively used in the US farms. At the moment, the population of domestic donkeys is not so large, mainly we are talking about breeding individuals in breeding farms for competition and entertainment.

It is believed that donkeys are much more resilient than ordinary horses: they are able to withstand more weight and are also better adapted to an unfavorable external environment and rocky ground. This factor has led to the fact that donkeys have become a popular pet in arid regions with mountainous and uneven terrain and little lush greenery. In addition to milk and meat productivity, in ancient times, some elements of clothing and work tools were made from the skin of these animals, and the wool of certain types was used to make durable fabrics.

If we speak in dry facts, then the donkey belongs to the equine equines. General characteristics: it has a rather long and strong tail with a brush tip, large and long erect ears, a massive horse’s muzzle, and strong, but not particularly elongated legs. The average weight of an adult varies up to 300 kg (in the male), the average height – up to 165 centimeters in some individuals. The average life expectancy is up to 35 years, in rare cases up to 45.

Life Span

Many farm owners refer to figures for the same parameter in domestic and wild horses when they mention the average life expectancy of domestic donkeys, which is not a completely correct approach. The birthplace of the first Nubian donkeys is the Nile River Delta (Africa). The hot, hot, and poor moisture, food, and fresh greens climate made these animals adapted to even the most severe environmental conditions. This affected not only the health of the animals but also the overall life expectancy.

Under natural conditions, donkeys live no more than 15-25 years due to lack of food and raids by predators. These animals are known for their sharp mind, however, they are not adapted to long and fast movements due to the limbs not developed for running.

After the process of domestication in caring human hands, some individuals were able to live up to 45-47 years. The difficulty of studying the issue of longevity of these animals lies in the fact that most individuals today are raised either for milk production or simply for meat. The milk productivity of the animal decreases on average by the age of 20, and it is the young animals that are famous for the juiciest and tasty meat. Adults over 25 years old are usually used as helpers in the household, which is why the estimate of the average life expectancy of these animals is not entirely correct.

Listing of Donkey Breeds

After the domestication of horses, interest in donkeys dropped significantly, as did the breeding processes for developing new breeds of this animal. At the moment, no more than 300 breeds are known around the world, which is rather not an independent species, but the result of an accidental crossing of a purebred breed with individuals of the local economy. Due to random selection, most donkey species are extremely similar to each other, which makes it difficult to accurately count the individual species. Experienced farm owners identify only a few distinct varieties of donkeys, you can find them below.

Mammoth Donkey or Poitou

It is considered one of the rarest and oldest species in the world. Differs in characteristic thick hair with long brown or yellowish hair up to 50 centimeters in length. Today, the population of this breed is extremely poorly distributed, individual individuals, can occasionally be found in the agriculture of France. The homeland of this species has not yet been established. Some breeders believe that the first individuals of this species were brought to French lands from the Roman Empire as much as 2 thousand years ago.

There, these donkeys were used exclusively as beasts of burden and were used to transport small loads or to move quickly in mountainous terrain.

The breed is one of the largest among all domestic donkeys, it is distinguished by a proportional massive constitution, powerful limbs, and also rather large growth – up to 1.6 m at the withers (which, in principle, was equal to the average height of an ordinary horse). Due to the selection and the lack of breeding of purebred individuals, the breed has undergone its own changes: the average height fell to 1.5 meters in males and 1.4 meters in donkeys, the average weight decreased, which affected the slaughter yield of donkey meat.

Some mammoth donkeys have black or rich chocolate hair. Wool was once used as a material for sewing carpets and clothing, however, in the future, the haircut was canceled due to the specific smell of wool. The presence of a mammoth donkey on the farm (with long and matted hair that looks like dreadlocks) has long been considered a real symbol of the well-being and prosperity of its owner; such donkeys cost much more and were grown exclusively for decorative purposes. Later, by the end of the 17th century, it was customary to completely shear donkeys due to the high risk of developing skin infections due to the scalp.

A purebred breed can be determined by the presence of light or variegated patches around the eyes, nose, and chest or abdomen. You should not try to determine an individual by the density or length of the hairline – this does not depend on the breed. All individuals that have mammoth donkeys in kinship will have long and thick hair.

These donkeys got their unofficial name “Poitou” from the small French town of Poitiers in the west of France. By the second half of the 20th century, no more than 45 purebred individuals remained in the world; already with the onset of the 21st century, the population grew slightly thanks to the efforts of breeders. To date, no more than 450 individuals of this breed can be found all over the world, while only a small half of them will be purebred. Some confuse this breed with the American mammoth donkey, putting an equal sign between them. The fact is that the American mammoth breed was bred in the United States by crossing several breeds, including the Poitou breed.

Catalan Donkey

The Catalan (Catalan: Ase Català or Ruc Català, Spanish: Asno Catalán) is a breed of large domestic donkey from the historic region of Catalonia, now in north-eastern Spain and south-western France.

It was first bred in medieval Spain, where it became widespread due to its great strength and endurance. Since the beginning of the 18th century, the breed began to be actively exported to the USA and Europe for use in factories and mines as a draft force. However, with the onset of the technological revolution, the need for these animals disappeared, which is why the population itself has decreased.

The current home of the breed is considered to be Catalonia and northern Spain, where it is now bred in very small quantities and, as a rule, for decorative purposes. Most often you can find this breed in the farms of Barcelona, Puigcerda, or the city of Olot. If until the beginning of the 20th century, at least 50 thousand individual individuals of this species could be counted around the world, now this figure has dropped to 4-5 hundred, a quarter of which are in single farms outside Spain.

Breeding the breed cannot be called particularly profitable due to the lack of great demand, however, the price for an individual adult can be up to 6 thousand euros.

The variety is considered the largest of its kind. At the withers, the growth of individual individuals can reach 1.7 meters, the constitution is powerful, proportional, the bones are strong, the limbs are powerful and long. The hair is usually black or dark in color (near the eyes, on the stomach, and on the muzzle, the hair is light or whitish), the hair is thin, not particularly thick, and short. By winter, the coat thickens, shades can vary to brown and reddish.

A characteristic difference from other varieties can be considered large and long ears, which in any case stand straight up (“scissors”).

Now the Catalan variety of donkeys is considered a kind of unofficial symbol of Catalonia. In the second half of the 20th century, the future official symbol of Spain was developed – the black “Osborne bull”, which was originally developed as a trademark for the Grupo Osborne house. Later, in the course of the struggle for the independence and autonomy of Catalonia, Spanish designers developed another symbol – the Catalan donkey, which carried the message of a stubborn, stubborn, and hardworking animal. The residents of Catalonia really liked the new symbol; now it can be found everywhere as posters, stickers, and images on many goods in souvenir shops and haberdashery.

Miniature Mediterranean Breed

It is considered the smallest variety among all donkeys. The first mentions of this breed date back to the beginning of the 20th century; some dwarf varieties of donkeys from Italy and North Africa can be considered the ancestor of the individual. Initially, the growth of the individual was more than 1.1 meters, today, thanks to the selection, the growth has significantly decreased and does not exceed 90 centimeters at the withers. At first, it was actively cultivated only in Italy as an ornamental animal. A little later, the breed began to be exported to England and the USA, where collectors and many farmers strongly liked it.

Individuals began to be used exclusively for decorative and exhibition purposes, due to its low weight and weak strength, the breed is not adapted to hard work.

The animal is actively used in circuses and games for children – these donkeys are distinguished by a calm and friendly character, not prone to aggression or stubbornness. Outwardly, animals can be immediately distinguished by their small stature and miniature size of the body and limbs. The color is most often grayish, brown, or dark, there are characteristic white markings on the face and around the eyes.

In purebred individuals, you can notice the color gradation between the color of the back and abdomen – the coat on the chest and limbs is several tones lighter. Some feral individuals of this species can even now be found in their natural environment – for example, in Cyprus or in Africa, the USA, Australia. In some regions, feral individuals have created entire populations of up to several tens of thousands of individuals.

Care and Maintenance of Donkeys

Donkeys are among those animals that do not require any special conditions for their care. Below will be formed a list of basic rules and recommendations for raising a donkey on the farm.

Accommodations. The first thing you will need is a large, warm and well-ventilated area without drafts or damp corners. A wooden barn with a well-rammed earthen or wooden floor is best suited – the tree warms up faster and cools less quickly. Provide good straw bedding. Hay should be placed in special feeders; it will quickly get dirty and wet on the floor. Some experts in horse breeding recommend building special covered houses right in the paddocks. In houses, the floor should be only wooden, the feeders made of durable material – preferably wood upholstered in the tin.

In this case, the entire area of the corral is covered with rubble, however, options with the open ground or completely concreted corrals are acceptable.

Hygiene. Try to regularly ventilate the room when the animal is walking in the fresh air. Feces, spoiled food, and stagnant water should be cleaned up in time so that the animal does not get poisoned or get sick. Some types of donkeys are extremely clean and may refuse food in a dirty room.

Walking. In warm seasons, the donkey must have a place for walking in the open air, it can be a corral with access to fresh grass or hay. Moreover, it should be quite spacious for entertainment and walking. An equally important part of the pen is a high-quality fence. Most often it is a wooden fence, rather high so that the animal cannot get out through it, and rather narrow so as not to let predators inside.

Make sure that there are no barbed or cutting elements on the territory – barbed wire, a piece of iron, otherwise, the animal may get hurt.

Character. When choosing an animal for any purpose, you should pay attention to its behavior and temperament. Donkeys are usually peaceful and calm, however, some individuals may show inexplicable aggression towards other animals or even people. It is not recommended to take such donkeys, you will hardly be able to re-educate them.

Socialization. Avoid contact of donkeys with other animals on the farm. This is especially true of dogs or cats, which can cause real aggression in the donkey by their actions. As a rule, the anger and discontent then spread to the owner of the farm.

When raising a donkey, you should immediately pay great attention to touch. Juveniles may not be used to being petted or hand-fed. You should not use obscene language or shout at donkeys – these animals feel great direct aggression. The same applies to beatings – the animal will probably be afraid of you, but whether it will obey from this is unlikely. Regardless of the exact purpose for which you buy animals, it would be best to buy just 2 or even 3 animals at once.

Donkeys are very painful to endure loneliness and parting with their flock.

There should always be clean and fresh water in the room with the animal. If the water has been standing for several days, then there is a great chance of the formation of microbes in it, which can lead to many diseases. At the very beginning, decide why you need an animal. If for meat and milk, then it is worth taking a more responsible attitude to the quality and regularity of feeding. If for help in the household, then you should not load the donkey with work at an early age – up to 3-4 years old, individuals form an organism, the spine strengthens. From severe stress at an early age, an animal can receive many injuries and injuries. In the best case, donkeys can carry up to 30% of their weight, keep this in mind if you want to use the animal for riding.

For decorative and entertainment purposes, it is best to choose castrated males and females, they are more calm and peaceful. If we are talking about reproduction, then it is worth choosing for only strong and healthy individuals (most often 1-2 donkeys and one male). Males should be kept separate from females and from each other so that they cannot harm anyone.


It is worth considering the basics of nutrition and diet for a domestic donkey. Initially, your attention will be presented with general recommendations for feeding, and then a list of products that can and cannot be given to an individual.

  • Unlike some horses, donkeys are not advised to add pure cereals and cereals such as grains, oats, barley, and corn to their diet. All these products contain just a huge amount of starch, sugar, and other harmful elements that the donkey’s body is not able to digest in such quantities. Eating large amounts of such food can lead to obesity, laminitis, and in the future, to problems of the cardiovascular system.
  • The main condition for feed is a large amount of fiber, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, and a minimum amount of sugar. The best option would be cereal hay or, for example, barley straw. They are incredibly healthy and less high in unhealthy carbs. This straw is an excellent substitute for a lack of fresh grass and succulent food in cold periods.
  • Donkeys are initially wild animals, so for their diet, there can be nothing better than good and spacious meadows and pastures with plenty of fresh and juicy grass. Walking in the pasture is good not only with lush grass and natural vitamins but also with fresh air, without which these animals feel oppressed. However, fresh grass should not make up the majority of your diet; try to divide your feed portions so that hay and straw are the majority.
  • In winter and during cold seasons, you should constantly supply the animal house with sufficient straw. The digestive system of these animals’ inactive time must be constantly at work. So that the diet is not meager, dilute it with treats or fresh hay. For older individuals without teeth and lactating donkeys, adding chaff to the diet is a good option.
  • The hay must be fresh, without completely dried stems and mold, the best sign of good hay will be its light floral scent. It is recommended to stock up on late harvest hay, it contains the most vitamins, fiber, and also less sugar and harmful elements. You should not use alfalfa hay, it is too nutritious and will be really useful only for weakened or pregnant individuals.
  • All donkey breeds are prone to obesity in one way or another, which is why you should watch your portions closely. The ancestors of donkeys used to eat in limited quantities on grass-poor pastures. Their bodies are adapted to a small amount of food and can get enough fiber and vitamins from even the most scarce food. It is worth paying close attention to the amount of fresh grass in the pastures. To control this process, you can get mobile pens for animals.
  • Donkeys are among those pets for which 3 meals a day are not enough, these should be small, but frequent and regular doses of food. During breaks, the animal must have access to hay and straw.
  • Treats and treats shouldn’t be part of your entire diet. These should be rare handouts as a reward for good work or some trick. Also, treats are good in the winter season of a lack of vitamins and minerals. You should give no more than 1 handful of any vegetables or fruits at a time. Most often it is an apple, a carrot, bananas are great (you do not need to peel off the skin). You should not give potatoes, any types of cabbage, and vegetables with high acidity – onions, garlic. Do not try to give the animal any elements of purely human food – pickled, salted, boiled, and fried foods.
  • Donkeys, like horses, are absolute vegetarians. The diet should include only plant foods, no meat or fish additives.
  • Weakened, pregnant and young animals may be in dire need of certain vitamin supplements. Before adding them to the diet, you should contact your veterinarian to confirm the need for such feeding.

The most common vitamin and mineral supplements are salt stones (without molasses), special fiber cubes (specifically for donkeys), frozen-dried grass (dried mint leaves look especially good here), protein granules. All these elements are added to the feed-in limited quantities and are designed to improve the health of the individual, prepare for the winter, or simply quickly gain muscle mass.

When choosing these supplements, make sure they are specifically for donkeys, the same supplements for other animals have a completely different composition and will do more harm than good.

Some of the feed acceptable for donkey nutrition has already been indicated in the material above, the information below only summarizes all the information about the food for these animals. When choosing food, be guided by the fact that these animals can only eat plant food, it is the main diet in their natural environment.

List of recommended products: cereals are allowed in limited quantities, fresh grass (without admixtures of harmful and poisonous for the animal herbs such as horseradish, henbane, dope, buttercup, celandine, hemp, wolf’s eye), good hay, fresh straw, vegetables and fruits (apples, carrots), shrub twigs, leaves of some trees.

List of harmful products: foods with a high sugar content (cakes, pastries, sweets, cookies), dairy products (cheeses, cottage cheese), meat and fish products, fruits and vegetables with high acidity (citrus fruits, garlic, onions, radishes), foods with high in starch (potatoes, corn), human food (pickled, salted and fried foods), cabbage type vegetables, any other foods with a lot of preservatives and dyes.

Donkey Breeding

Like any other domestic animal, donkeys are raised by many breeders and for the production of young animals. The breeding features of donkeys will be indicated below.

  • Rapid puberty, unlike horses. By the age of 2, males and females are ready to mate and produce new individuals. However, it is recommended to wait up to 3 years, as up to this age the body of donkeys may not be strong enough to carry a colt.
  • For breeding, you should choose an active, powerful, and strong female with a good appetite, as well as an active male. When mating, you should resort to the selective mating method, and not release the female in heat into the same pen with other animals (including males). Then you can control the situation and make sure that the animals do not harm each other.
  • Pregnancy lasts long enough (up to 1 year or more), the first signs can be noticed only after a couple of months. Typical signs are udder enlargement, decreased activity, mild aggression, restless behavior.
  • Approximately a few weeks before giving birth, the female should be placed in a separate warm room and fed only with fresh and nutritious food in double volume.
  • Childbirth usually proceeds without problems, the help of the owner is not required. As a rule, the litter contains 1 colt, in rare cases up to two individuals.
  • The lactation period, that is, feeding, lasts up to 9 months, however, it is worth starting to transfer donkeys to fresh grass after a month of age. From about this age, donkeys can be taken out into fresh air, if the weather permits.
  • Full maturity occurs by the age of 4, at this age the donkeys are already ready for power loads and help with the household.


As a rule, donkeys are distinguished by good health, endurance, and resistance to many colds and infectious diseases. If you notice signs of fatigue, depression, lameness, coughing, and abscesses behind your donkey, you should immediately seek help from your veterinarian. Self-medication should be abandoned if you do not want to further harm the health of the animal. Some diseases typical of donkeys will be discussed below.

To save the donkey from colds in the winter season, it is recommended to buy a special blanket. It will protect the animal from sudden drops in temperature, drafts, and frost. The blanket should be checked regularly – donkeys are not used to clothes and can try to remove them on their own by rubbing against the walls of the corral or house. This may cause pus or scabs. There are a number of preventive animal care measures that can help avoid most of the possible diseases in the animal.

  • Much in the health of a donkey depends on the condition of its coat. In a neglected and unkempt coat, parasites can start, which can not only harm your donkey but also make him nervous and aggressive. The best solution is to buy a special brush and regularly comb and clean the coat from dirt, lumps, and thorns. The procedure should be carried out regularly, at least once every few days. It is not recommended to douse the animal with water before cleaning. In addition to the fact that the donkey can just get scared, such baths can chill him.
  • Donkey hooves are an equally important element in prevention. Just like human nails, donkeys’ hooves grow and need to be trimmed and cleaned. Otherwise, they can interfere with the walking of the animal itself, and dirty and uncleaned hooves can cause infections. With the necessary experience, cleaning can be carried out independently, however, it is best to entrust this procedure to a blacksmith with extensive experience. Cleaning should be done approximately every 2-2.5 months.
  • Overgrown, uneven, or sharp teeth are another common problem for inexperienced owners. Just like hooves, donkeys’ teeth are constantly growing and need to be ground down. Usually, solid food or regular fresh grass works well for grinding. Experienced breeders recommend contacting an equestrian dentist at least once a year – because of the large jaw box, it will be impossible to conduct a high-quality examination of the animal’s teeth with your own hands. The dentist will determine the current condition of the teeth, the need to add calcium and vitamins to the diet, and will also give recommendations for food.

This problem especially concerns the elderly and young individuals with fragile or old teeth – it is best for them to give them mixtures or feeds that do not need to be chewed too much.

  • Vaccinations are another preventive measure that, unfortunately, not all breeders use. The most common diseases that can be avoided with this method are flu, tetanus, and distemper. In specific conditions of detention, vaccinations against rabies and encephalitis may be required.
  • Worms are almost the main scourge of all breeders in horse breeding. Parasites weaken the animal, reduce appetite, can affect the quality and taste of milk, the activity of the animal during walking. There are a large number of anthelmintic drugs on the market, however, only a few of them really help. It is not worth experimenting – it is better to immediately contact the veterinarian, taking the results of the analysis of donkey feces in advance. Only then can I prescribe you a comprehensive treatment with a change in diet and the addition of certain vitamins.

After some time, you should undergo another check to ensure the results of the treatment.

  • Donkeys are often bothered by insects such as midges, lice, or fleas. Symptoms are easy to spot – usually infected animals rub against walls in affected areas. It will be difficult to get rid of both insects – long hair will be a salvation from midges. At the same time, the longer the coat, the more difficult it will be to expel lice.

The secret of treatment here is very simple – regularly monitor the condition of the donkey’s fur, use special combs and herbal lotions for lice.

Common diseases among donkeys are:

  • Rickets – impaired calcium-phosphorus metabolism in the body. It usually occurs in young individuals due to improper primary nutrition and a small amount of milk in a donkey.
  • Polyavitaminosis – occurs in winter with a prolonged lack of nutrients, fresh grass, and vitamins.
  • Bronchopneumonia is a common inflammation of the lungs or bronchi. It occurs due to improper conditions of detention in dampness and frost, with drafts.
  • Acute expansion of the stomach – arises from overeating or the frequent formation of gas in the stomach due to fermentation of foods.
Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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