Thursday, August 02, 2018

Notes on miniature donkey nutrition

Over the past few years I have had Rafer and Redford on the same balanced diet I feed the horses. They get a very small amount of Ontario Dehy Timothy Balance Cubes (these are totally balanced nutritionally and can be used as a complete feed if necessary) and I balance our hay to insure that copper and zinc are in correct proportion to iron. The diet has been really good for the horses, and the donkeys too look super healthy.

To this I have a custom formulated mix that adds in other things horses are known to need. My seniors get special supplements, as does the PSSM Quarter Horse.

All get loose salt, freshly ground flax, and vitamin E gelcaps added to their feed tubs.

Earlier this year I read a post on an equine nutrition group I’ve been part of since 2008. Someone’s very overweight miniature donkey had blood work done and they found that many of the levels of vitamins and minerals were too high. This donkey had been on a similarly balanced diet as my two.

The donkey’s human took him off all supplements with the intention of starting from a clean slate with blood work to guide her. The donkey lost weight and blood levels returned to normal.

This got me and a few other folks thinking. We know donkeys are extremely thrifty animals. They browse on more than just grass and hay, and sometimes it feels like they don’t need to be fed at all. Maybe we are overdoing it with them, treating them like horses, providing much more than what they really need.

So I put Rafer and Redford on a clean slate diet. Just their bit of soaked cubes AM and PM, and much less hay than what they were getting. We have decent pasture this time of year and they have 24/7 access to it. I decided to see what happened if they were in charge of foraging for almost all of their food.

Remarkably, Rafer (the heavier of the two, with some fat pads evident) lost weight quickly. He trimmed down to a very lovely shape. Redford is very muscular and not as prone to gaining weight as is Rafer, and he too trimmed down, just not as much. I felt awful that I’d been over-supplementing them. They just didn’t need it!

Meanwhile, midsummer, the outsides of their front legs got itchy and formed scabs. At first Redford, then Rafer, and we treated them daily for several weeks getting things under control. Then it occurred to me that the fresh ground flax, salt, and vitamin E were all things that might help the skin thing, so we put them back on those items, carefully measuring the small amount of flax they get each day. Legs cleared right up and we’re back on track.

I thought I was doing the very best for them, only to realize I was doing far too much. Lesson learned. I think it’s worthwhile to revisit what we’re doing diet-wise at least once a year. A friend in the nutrition group takes her horses off all supplements for a month each year in the fall and then carefully monitors to see which horse needs what before carefully adding only what they need back in to their diets. I think this is a good practice!


Grey Horse Matters said...

A good idea to monitor their intake of supplements. J. does this all the time and she's always conscience of who needs what. They all get flax and multivitamins, Vitamin E and cider vinegar and this time of year they get a garlic supplement to try and help with the flies. Sami does need his thyroid meds and Grady and Blue get a hoof supplement. Rosie gets a supplement for mares. Their needs constantly change, especially with the older guys.

billie said...

Yes, totally agree!