Updated: Aug 18
Bringing home donkeys for the first time can feel daunting. But we're here to give you all the info you need on bringing home your first pair of long ears to ensure that it's a good experience for you and your donkeys too!
1. Preparing Your Property and Doing Your Research
Making sure you are prepared to adopt donkeys and ensuring your property is set up for long eared equids is the first step. Here are the first and foremost basics you need to get established on your property.
Shelter. Donkeys require access to shelter whenever they need and want it. We don't recommend typical horse stall set ups as donkeys and mules do not usually like to be locked in stalls. You can train them to enjoy their time in a stall however. For miniature and standard donkeys we recommend at least one three sided 12x12 stall or run in shelter. There is a little bit of wiggle room with these measurements depending on the size of the donkeys. Draft mules, mammoth donkeys and larger equine over 1000 lbs. require larger shelters depending on their size. The typical rule of thumb is for one 1,000 pound equid they should have at minimum one 12x12 stall. Sometimes equines prefer to share stalls and sometimes they prefer their own stalls/ run in shelters, as long as they have the freedom to come and go, they are happy campers. Close knit donkey herds sometimes like to pack into one stall like a can of sardines. Just like humans, donkeys too have personal preferences. Stalls should have a deep bed of shavings (especially in the winter months) or straw. We like to use pine shavings, as they're absorbent and easy to clean. You can find these in bales at your local feed store. The bigger the equine the deeper the shavings or straw bed should be.
Fencing. This is personal preference. Most of our donkeys and mules that come from us are trained to know what electric fences are. But there are many different options out there to explore. Do your research on what will work best for you and your property. If you have small livestock such as goats, sheep, chickens or dogs, we recommend a fence type that will keep them out of the donkeys space. Donkeys can seriously injure or even kill small animals which is due to their very strong instinct of self preservation. Not to be confused with the common misconception that donkeys make good livestock guardians. Because they do not.
Dry lot and Correct Footing is also very important. Donkeys are a desert species and do best on hard packed dry turf. We love sand, stone dust, sure-pack and pea gravel for our donkeys footing. Having a sandy area for your donkey is also very important as that's how they clean themselves. Donkeys don't do well on pasture for long periods of time and should be kept on a dry lot area for at least a portion of the time. In your dry lot you should double check to make sure that their space is free from toxic plants, and sharp objects such as nails. You can check the dry lot using a metal detector or a rolling magnet is a great way to check for nails or sharp metal objects.
We encourage people to do their own research before applying to adopt a donkey or mule from reliable sources. The donkey sanctuary's website that's based in the UK is a wealth of endless knowledge that all donkey owner should know about. Even if you have experience with horses, donkeys are a completely different species and need different care, feed and environment than that of a horse. We also highly recommend all first time donkey owners read the book 'The Donkey Companion.' I love this book and have read it a few times, I still reference it when I need and keep a copy in the barn.
2. Applying To Adopt
The first step in our adoption process at Save Your Ass is to read our adoption page. Then fill out the adoption application, making sure to answer all the questions to the best of your abilities. If you have equines already we will ask for your vet and farrier references. This is the biggest mistake people make- you need to contact your vet ahead of time to give them permission to speak to us. After we've heard back from your references and you've been approved we will reach out to you to come visit and meet some donkeys and mules! This is the fun part and where we hope a love match will happen. Please keep in mind that when you come to visit some of the donkeys may already have homes lined up or have applications in on them. We process our applications in the order we receive them, so the sooner you get your application to us, and the more prepared you are, the greater the odds that you'll have first right of refusal of the donkeys or mules of your choice. We like adopters to let us know a few days after a visit if they've made a decision on if they'd like to adopt a specific animal or not.
3. Time To Go Shopping
Now for the fun part! Here are some of the basics you'll need before bringing home new long eared BFF's.
A Water Trough. One that is appropriate for the size of donkey or mule you are adopting.
A Quality Mineral Supplement. For our New England area we recommend Vermont Blend, and or California Trace as a daily loose mineral supplement. As opposed to the mineral supplements you can get from generic feed companies that have a lot of extra fillers in them that are not good for donkeys and mules.
A Salt Block And Loose Salt. Donkeys need salt daily, they can not get a sufficient amount from a traditional white salt block so we recommend also having out a dish of loose table salt out for them to snack on when they need it. You can also add it to their daily grain/ mineral supplement. A 1000 lb. equine needs a tablespoon of loose salt daily.
Find A Hay Supplier. This is a very important step as finding good hay can be difficult. Donkeys and mules need 1st cut hay. Preferably hay that is cut late in the season after the grass has gone to seed. This usually makes it so that the hay is lower in sugar and higher in fiber which is what you want for donkeys and mules. It is usually the opposite for horses, but donkeys are very efficient digesters and can get all the nutrients out of fibrous hay.
Barley Straw. This is optional, and can be hard to find now as it is in high demand for donkey owners especially, and usually sells out pretty quickly once it is discovered. We have a very hard time finding any ourselves for the rescue donkeys and mules. Barley straw works great for donkeys as a digestible fibrous snack in between hay meals. It is also great for donkeys who need to loose a few lbs. When we do find it we keep it in large holed hay nets for the donkeys to snack on whenever they'd like.
Pine Shavings/Pitch Fork. Both of these things are inevitable in your future of owning donkeys. Shavings will need to go in the run in shelter/stall. The pitchfork you'll inevitably be using at least once a day to pick up manure from the shavings and dry lot. We recommend cleaning stalls and paddocks twice a day for parasite control.
First Aid Kit. Having a first aid kit for humans and equines in your barn area is very important. Talk to your vet about what you should carry in your equine first aid kit
Finding A Farrier and A Veterinarian. These two should be done before you fill out an adoption application. You may need to call around to see what vets and farriers are willing to take you on as a client. You will be seeing both of these people annually and should establish a good relationship with them. Your donkeys health, or a big part of it is in their hands!
Feed Dishes. Your donkey will need something to eat their mineral supplements out of. We use small plastic dishes that we get from our local feed store. They are shallow, easy to clean and work great for donkeys.
Treats/ Timothy Pellets. We don't recommend using treats very often with donkeys or mules, as they are high in sugar and starches which are not healthy for a donkey. Carrots, apples, celery, watermelon, bananas and pears are all okay for donkeys in moderation. A handful of pieces a day in the spring and winter to encourage appetite is recommended by The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK. We also recommend using timothy pellets as treats or in case you need to feed it with the mineral supplement to encourage them to eat it.
Slow Feeder Hay Nets. If donkeys are given access to free choice hay all the time they can become over weight which can lead to hardened fat pads on their body, or a broken crest, which never goes away. Slow feeder hay nets make it easy to weigh hay, cause less hay waste and mimic the donkeys natural browsing instinct. We highly recommend Hay Chix Nets which last a very long time and are soft on a donkeys front incisors. We use the 1"extreme slow feed size for donkeys.
Brushes. Donkeys have different fur than horses and may require a few extra goodies in their grooming box, especially during the winter months when they have long fluffy coats. A slicker brush that is typically used on long haired dogs is great for getting down to your donkeys skin and making sure their skin can breathe.
Blankets. In case of nasty weather which is bound to happen if you live on the east coast, we highly recommend finding a few different wardrobes for your donkey, especially if they're older or immune compromised. Donkeys do not have water proof coats like horses do, and need some extra protection during cold wet days.
4. Bringing Your Donkeys Home
It's the big day, you've signed the adoption papers and you're bringing your donkeys home, congratulations!
Your Donkeys Suitcase
Your adoptee's will be going home with a folder of paper work which includes;
-A signed and completed copy of your adoption contract.
-A chart of what your donkeys have been eating and any meds they get regularly/ dosages.This chart will also include any information about them we think will be helpful to the adopter.
-If you're out of state your equines will need negative Coggins papers and a Certificate of Veterinary inspection. Both of these cost about $30-55 each, it is not mandatory to pay for these but we always welcome donations to help with that cost.
-A few days worth of any supplements and minerals and or medications they've been getting.
-A halter and lead rope that fits them correctly.
-We give adopters the option to purchase a bale of our hay, if the adopter is worried about transitioning them onto their own hay.
-We also highly recommend adopters purchase a donkey weight tape to keep track of their weight, we import these from the Donkey Sanctuary in the UK and they can be found on our online website shop.
Getting Settled In
Your donkeys will need time to settle into their new digs without too much human interference. It can be really hard not to go in and brush and love on them right away. But for the first few days at the very least they need to decompress and get used to the new home's sounds, sights and the new routine. Sometimes this can take a long time for donkeys who have been through a lot and who tend to be shy. It's very important to keep an eye on their behavior to make sure they're still eating and drinking regularly. If you notice your donkey is acting dull and has not been eating, drinking or passing manure you should call your veterinarian immediately. By the time a donkey looks sick, they are usually very ill and need immediate intervention. Which leads me to writing #5.
5. Preventing Colic
The dreaded 'C Word.' Colic is a generic word equine owners use for upset stomach. To you or I having a stomach ache does not sound like a big deal, but to an equine it can be a death sentence. A good thing to have on hand in your grain room is equine electrolytes, which can be found at your local grain store. When we get in new animals and notice they're not drinking as much as wed like to see them drink, we will make the water more enticing. You can do this by adding some yummy flavored electrolytes, adding a small amount of molasses to a bucket of water, or throwing some thin slices of apples on top of a bucket of water. I like to experiment to figure out what our donkeys like, and lay out a buffet of water flavors for them. If you do this just make sure they still have access to fresh clean water in addition to all of the flavors. Donkeys also usually prefer to drink warm water, especially in the colder months.
Another way you can increase water consumption is by soaking hay or soaking some timothy pellets with their mineral supplements. Hay should be soaked for at least 45 minutes. You can always ask to buy a tube of Banamine paste from your vet to have on hand in your first aid kit too. This is an equine pain medication and can sometimes help them through discomfort, enough for them to want to drink or pass manure. If you ever need to administer it, its best to check with your vet first or let them know how much you gave them and when.
6. Now Enjoy Your Donkey Kids!
Phew! There's a lot to worry about, and a lot do initially in preparation for bringing your new long eared babies home. I hope this article has helped you to feel a little more prepared and empowered to tackle being a donkey parent. Now that we got all of that out of the way, sit back, relax with your donkeys to enjoy their company and endless entertainment, you've earned it!