Breeder of Registered Miniature
Donkeys, Quality Breeding Stock, and Lovable Pets
Care of the Miniature Donkey
CARE OF THE MINIATURE DONKEY
BY Carolyn Christian
The following are some tips and procedures we use
at Quarter Moon Ranch to care for our donkeys.
You will find that there is no singular approach to
the miniature donkey's health care and management.
We advise you to consult with your veterinarian in
order to develop a plan that will satisfy you both.
Your donkey should have access to good, clean water
24 hours a day at all times. You may find it easier to
install a float valve on your trough. Troughs should be
cleaned when needed especially in the summer when the
heat can cause bacteria and algae to grow faster than in
winter. Caution should be taken when foals are
around troughs. Do not use a trough so low to the ground
that a foal could fall in and drown.
A good quality horse hay should be fed to your donkey in
the winter or if your donkey is in a dry lot meaning
there is little to no grass available. If your pasture
is rich and of a good quality grass such as coastal
Bermuda (that's what we grow in this part of Texas), hay
isn't necessary during the summer. If your pasture
is native grass and sparse, you will need to feed hay.
Also, if you find your donkey getting fat after it has
reached maturity, discontinue or reduce its intake of
hay and/or grain while on pasture, but only in summer
months. Hay should be given at all times during
the winter when pasture is unavailable. Hay bales
of coastal Bermuda or another quality hay native to your
region is preferred over alfalfa because alfalfa hay is
too rich in protein. Many owners feed hay twice a
day if pasture is sparse or if the donkey is in a dry
lot. Feeding twice daily will control your
donkey's diet, keep him trim, and permit you to observe
your donkey frequently for illness or injury.
Twice a day feeding is, of course, more labor intensive
but has its merits. Because of the number of
donkeys at Quarter Moon Ranch, we free feed in the
winter, meaning we leave hay out continually so that
they may eat at will. We carefully observe our
donkeys to make sure they are not getting too fat or too
thin, in which case we will adjust their feeding and/or
supplemental feed program. Show donkeys are taken
off pasture or free fed hay to avoid their getting grass
or hay bellies prior to a show.
If you ask 10 donkey owners or breeders their views
on supplemental feeding, you will get 10 different
responses and all will, in all probability, work very
well for their animals. The key is to observe how
your graining (supplemental feeding) is effecting your
donkey's body condition. There are several types
of supplemental feeds. One grain that is used
frequently is crimped oats (must be “crimped"
whole oats). Crimped oats is usually 10% protein
with some crude fat. Donkeys do well with this grain,
because it's in a pure form. A second grain that's
widely used is called horse & mule feed or sweet feed.
This feed comes in 10, 12, and 14 percent protein
amounts. We stopped using horse and mule feed for
our MATURE donkeys because we found that it was putting
weight on our donkeys but not muscle, probably because
it contains “sweet"
additives such as molasses.
Another feed is regular horse pellets that you can get
in 10, 12, and 14 percent protein amounts. These
feeds can be used for your lactating jennets (gals that
are nursing foals) and for foals and yearlings.
The third type of supplemental feed comes in various
brand names, but are commonly referred to as a total or
balanced nutritional supplement. Products such as
Strategy, Omaline 100, 200, and 300 are examples of this
feed. All are by Purina. These products
contain protein, but also contain a good balance of
vitamins and minerals. Although more expensive
than other supplements, these are a complete nutritional
package for your donkey. We feed Omaline 200 to
our show donkeys, our weanlings, and any donkey in need
of weight gain. We find that it gets the
youngsters off to a good nutritional start.
crimped oats, we suggest feeding no more than a 1lb.
coffee can full per feeding, preferably 1/2 a coffee can
full. With horse and mule feed, the amount should
be reduced. With your total nutritional
supplements, follow the recommended amounts on the bag.
We feed a coffee can or half a coffee can per feeding
depending on the age and size of the donkey and whether
or not they are prone to overweight in which case we cut
the supplemental feed way back. As with all feeds,
you need to monitor the effectiveness of your feeding
program, then adjust the amount being fed, frequency of
your feeding, type of feed you are offering, or
eliminate supplemental feed completely depending on your
donkey's body condition. Just remember, foals,
yearlings, and nursing jennies require more protein and
supplemental feeding than do mature donkeys. Never
feed more than 14% protein. Also, do not let your
pregnant jennet become fat, because that can complicate
a pregnancy and delivery. That's why we either
eliminate completely or reduce the amount of
supplemental feed during the last trimester of
pregnancy. The foal is already developed and too
much feed will just add weight and size to the foal
thereby increasing the risk of complications at birth.
Historically, miniature donkeys are used to sparse food
supplies that were native in their ancestral homes of
Sicily and Sardinia. Don't over feed your donkey.
You will find them developing a fat roll or crest on the
top of their necks which does not go away if they are
eating too much or too rich a diet. If this
happens, cut down the supplemental feed by amount,
protein percentage, frequency, or eliminate entirely.
Sweet feeds and high protein feeds encourage milk
production which is good for the lactating jennet, but a
note of caution is appropriate here regarding mom and
the new foal. I don't give any feed to a new mom
for the first week after giving birth unless she is not
producing a good supply of milk, in which case, giving
her feed will encourage milk production. If given too
much supplemental feed after delivery, her bag may
become too large and the baby may not be able to keep up
with production. In some cases, that can create
mastitis which causes inflammation and an infection of
the udder and must be treated with antibiotics.
Don't be too quick to give feeds to your new mom. Take
a look at her bag after delivery and if you feel you
must feed her, give her very small amounts to begin with
and increase the amount over time. It will not
hurt her or the foal to be without supplemental feed
until the baby is nursing well. Conversely, feed
can help stimulate milk production to the under
producing jennet so you can begin feeding her after
deliver but in small amounts. Always look at the
nipples to make sure the foal is nursing both sides.
They should be pliable and not engorged if the foal is
A trace mineral supplement such as 12-12 should be
made available to your donkeys at all times. They will
eat it as needed. When purchasing your minerals,
be sure it is recommended for equine. 12-12 minerals for
equine are a different product than 12-12 minerals for
cattle. Cattle products can contain urea which is
toxic to donkeys. We use a product called Purina
Horse Minerals which comes in granular form rather than
the hard mineral blocks, although we keep the blocks out
for them as well. We think it is easier for the
donkey, especially foals, to eat the granular minerals.
Since a donkey does not have all of its permanent teeth
until age five, they may not be able to use the block
very well if teeth are missing. A salt block may
also be made available to them.
Donkeys should be wormed every two to three months
with an equine paste wormer. Until recently,
rotational worming with an ivermectin product then a
fenbendazole or other category of wormers was the
preferred worming technique. This is thought to
prevent the donkey from developing immunity to wormers.
It is still used quite often. Many vets now advise
staying with an ivermectin product throughout the year,
but using a fenbendazole or other non-ivermectin product
for one or two applications before you resume treatment
with the ivermectin. Whatever your worming
schedule, you must use an ivermectin product after the
first and last frost to prevent bots. Bot eggs can
survive cold. Consult your vet and follow his
recommendations on worming. We practice rotational
worming with an ivermectin (trade names Zimecterin,
Equimectrin or Equalan) and a fenbendazole (trade names
SafeGuard or Panacur). These can be found at feed
stores, co-ops, veterinary offices, vet supply
retailers, or mail order catalogs such as Jeffers and
Foals are wormed at two months with a product that
protects against roundworms which are more common in
foals and young animals. You will notice that your
young foal will eat mom's poop off the ground.
Don't panic. Although it can lead to worms, it's
primarily nature's way of immunizing him. Both
people and donkeys need some exposure to bacteria to
stimulate the immune system to perform. Wormers
are safe and effective as long as you follow the
instructions on the box and use the correct dosage.
Under dosing is as good as not worming at all and will
result in poor parasite control. Overdosing could
also be problematic. After placing the wormer in
the back of your donkey's mouth, give them a bite or two
of feed, grain, or cookie to make them swallow the paste
and not spit it out which some will do. I hold
their heads until I know they've swallowed it.
Don't give too much feed or they may choke. You
may also try spreading the wormer on a slice of bread
and giving them a "medicine sandwich". Some of
ours have gotten wise to that trick though!
We vaccinate all donkeys once a year (preferably
March or April) at the beginning of fly season. We
vaccinate for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis,
tetanus, and influenza. This shot is sometimes
called a 5-way. We also give a rabies shot once a year.
Pregnant jennies receive a rhinopneumonitis injection
(commonly Rhino-Pneumabort K) in the 5th, 7th, and 9th
months of pregnancy to prevent abortion. Our show
donkeys are given a Rhino-flu booster 3 weeks prior to
attending a show and are isolated from the rest of the
herd for at least 2 weeks following a show. This
is done to prevent them from becoming a carrier and
spreading any virus they may have picked up from the
show to the herd. We also vaccinate our jennets 30
days before foaling in order for her to be at peak
immunity and to trigger the immune system of the foal.
Consult your veterinarian as to his thoughts regarding
what vaccinations are appropriate for your area and your
breeding program. Foals should receive a tetanus
antitoxin injection at birth. Foals are given
their first vaccination at four months, a booster 30
days later, then a booster annually.
There is much discussion about the West Nile Virus
and whether or not to give that vaccination to donkeys.
From many discussions with several veterinarians in
private practice and at Texas A&M University, I've
discovered that the veterinary community endorses giving
the West Nile vaccine as opposed to not giving it.
The mortality rate for those animals that become
infected is 30% which is high. It is suggested
that you give this vaccination to jennets that are not
pregnant. If you must give it to a pregnant
jennet, do not give it in the 1st or last trimester of
her pregnancy in order to prevent abortion or other
complications. Consult with your veterinarian to
see if the West Nile vaccine is something he suggests
It is not difficult to learn how to give your own
injections. Have your vet instruct you, but be
sure you know where and how to give the injection before
attempting to administer your own shots. We use a
20 gauge, 1" needle for adults and a 20 gauge, 1/2"
needle for foals. Be very careful giving shots to
foals, especially in the neck. The area to receive
the injection is very small and located close to the
spinal cord on top and the jugular vein on bottom.
It's better to give a foal an injection in the muscle in
their rear. Seek instructions from your vet before
giving your own shots. Always let the vet administer an
injection in the vein, NEVER try that yourself.
keep an un-expired syringe of Epinephrine handy if you
give your own injections. Although extremely rare,
anaphylactic shock can occur after any type of injection
is administered. Anaphylactic shock is a severe
allergic reaction to some antigen introduced to the body
in an injection or bite. This is very dangerous
and will constrict the airway and cause death quite
quickly. If the donkey is going to go into
anaphylactic shock, it will occur within minutes of
giving the animal an injection, but can be reversed
immediately with Epinephrine. I never give an injection
then leave the animal. I stay with them for at
least 10 minutes then I check them again within the
first hour of giving any injection. Donkeys can
have reactions to injections up to an hour after
administering the injection. The good news is that
although frightening to the owner, reactions are not
Your donkey will need his hooves trimmed every two to
three months by a farrier. If you live in a rocky area,
trimming will be required less frequently. If it
has been exceptionally wet, you may want to clean your
donkeys hooves with a hoof pick regularly because
bacteria will breed in wet areas and invade the hoof if
left too long. Bacteria will die when exposed to
air, but should you want to insure that your donkey's
feet are perfectly clean, you can squirt a solution of 1
part Clorox to 4 parts water onto the sole of the hoof.
Be careful to not squirt it on any area that has hair.
It could cause an irritation.
There are a few plants that are toxic to all equine.
Consult your vet and/or county agent for those that you
may have in your area and seek their advice on the
subject. Mesquite pods are probably more toxic
than most. DO NOT panic if you have any toxic plants in
your pasture. If you are feeding properly, your
donkeys will have no need of eating a plant that is
toxic. If your donkeys are eating an abundance of
acorns in the fall, you may want to give them small
amounts of wheat bran to flush the bowels out during
acorn season as those can be a problem. Once
again, consult your veterinarian to help with your
health care program.
Donkeys need a three-sided loafing shed for
protection against the cold north winds of winter and
the hot sun of summer. Do not be surprised if your
donkey doesn't use it at times when you think he should.
He knows when to seek protection and when to just enjoy
Your donkey can be brushed and bathed although there
is nothing better to a donkey after a good bath than a
good roll in the dirt. A good dust bath keeps
flies off. There are many equine shampoos on the
market, and you can find grooming brushes at most feed
stores and mail order catalogs.
We like to trim our donkeys' manes close to their
necks in the summertime. It makes them look groomed and
cared for. Donkeys can also be body clipped to
remove winter's shaggy hair. Body clipping makes
it cooler for them in the summer, but exposes the skin
to flies. Also, spotted donkeys are more
susceptible to sunburn when body clipped. Do not
body clip late in the year as it takes several months to
grow out and winter winds may arrive before your
donkey's winter coat does. Brushing in the spring
will help to remove the longer hair of winter.
You may want to train your donkeys to lead, pull a
cart, etc. There are many good books on the
subject that can be obtained through the Hee Haw Book
Club of the American Donkey & Mule Society and other
sources. Judy Martens and I authored a driving
manual titled "Training Your Miniature Donkey To Drive".
It can be purchased from the National Miniature Donkey
Society for $12 from the Mini Mart on their website at
www.nmdaasset.com. It has lots of photos to
illustrate the techniques employed in driving. One
of the best things you can do is to train your donkeys
to lead. You may want to take them to county
fairs, church and school events, parties, or just out on
walks. Leading can be taught by first teaching
your donkey to stand quietly while tied and without
fighting the halter and lead rope. This not only
teaches him patience but teaches him that pulling on the
lead rope is uncomfortable while not resisting is
comfortable. That is a great aid when you are
leading him. NEVER leave a donkey unsupervised
while you have him standing tied. You need not be
within his view, in fact, for the first few times it is
advisable for you to move out of sight and let him
figure it out himself, but you need to be where you can
see him in case he gets his head wrapped around the lead
rope or has an emergency. Always tie him short so that
won't happen but not so short that it's uncomfortable or
his neck is in a bind. Learn how to tie a quick
release tie so that you can free him quickly if he gets
The first lessons should be short 15 minute ones.
Our donkeys have learned how to stand tied and be quiet
because we tie them all to post when the farrier comes.
When hooves are trimmed, they are left there while the
rest of the herd gets their hooves trimmed. This
teaches them patience. Some get to where they just
go to sleep tied to the fence. When training your
donkey to lead, after they master standing quietly,
untie them and take them for a walk. If they pull
a lot and resist, tie them back up for 15 more minutes
then try walking again. Keep doing this until they
decide they need to behave. Don't step out in
front of your donkey or get in front of his head.
That will engage him in a tug of war in which he will
win! It also teaches him to dig his heels in and
resist. If he won't lead for you, have someone
walk behind him while you are leading him. That
moves them forward. That person may also give him
a light tap on the rear or the hind legs with a stick or
buggy whip just to let them know he is
there. Sometimes, it's helpful to walk them along a
fence so that the only way they can move is to go
forward. There is a lot more to training than what
I have given you here. The thing to remember is to have
fun in whatever you do with your donkey. A well-behaved
donkey is so enjoyable, but one who can't lead and can
only love you every time he sees you is still a
If you want to teach your donkey to load easily in a
trailer, take your donkey the edge of the trailer and
keep constant pressure on the lead rope. He will
resist, but will give an inch or so at a time in order
to relieve the pressure. When he does, keep the
pressure on and just BE PATIENT. This may take you
a good long time, but donkeys are smart and they know
EXACTLY what you want them to do. They are just
cautious. He will eventually jump in when he
realizes you aren't going to let him go. When he
does, always give praise as a reward. If you're
having difficulty teaching your donkey to load, park the
trailer in their pasture and feed them grain in the back
half of the trailer.
the trailer with the trailer doors open in the pasture
for a week or so. Be sure the trailer doors won't close
and trap your donkey inside. Doing this causes the fear
of the trailer to go away and is replaced by jumping in
and out of the trailer like it is their toy. We
often hear hoofbeats on the trailer floor at night.
This is a very broad overview of how we care for our
donkeys. We recommend that you consult with your
veterinarian to establish your own management and health
maintenance plan. Please feel free to call us at
any time should you have a question or an emergency.
The well being of all donkeys, not just ours, is very
important to us.
When we first got our donkeys, we were afraid of
everything. Every bit of dust that tickled their
nose and made them cough became a rare disease that only
OUR donkeys had and we knew was INCURABLE. Relax.
Talk to other donkey owners, read, consult your
veterinarian, but mainly enjoy what you have purchased.
These are hardy animals and are very forgiving of our
mistakes with them. You have a lot of wonderfully
happy and loving years ahead for you both.