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Feed and Care

What to Feed Your Donkey

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Cordelia and Matilda

More about Cordella of The Trust and Matilda
in our Newsletters No's. 4 6

Donkeys in New Zealand can live outdoors all year round, but should have access to a shed for protection from wind, rain and sun. A lined cover is often provided for extra winter protection, but is not essential as long as your donkey has access to shelter.

Donkeys need clean water and a mineral block at all times. In most areas half an acre of pasture is enough for one or two donkeys, because a supplement of hay or straw should be provided throughout the year for roughage. It is very desirable to be able to divide up the available gazing so that part can be rested and allowed to recover and refresh the grass.

Electric fencing is ideal for this - also to protect your trees. Donkeys will demolish unprotected trees. If you have a small area for your donkey the dung should be collected, preferably every day, to reduce the worm burden on your land and also to avoid those clumps of rank, unpalatable grass which no donkey will eat that grow around the dung.

Donkeys like to browse and will enjoy walks with you along the roadside picking at broadleaf weeds and grass seed heads. On the whole, obesity is more of a problem than emaciation with New Zealand donkeys. You will almost certainly have to restrict your donkey's grazing to a degree that it will complain about, especially in the spring and autumn.

A dirt or concrete yard will be required if you don't have electric fencing. Tethering long-term is too restrictive and unkind. If you must tether on certain occasions, always run the tethering rope though a length of alkathene so that it cannot wrap itself round the donkey's leg (garden hose is too flexible.)

Watch carefully for signs of overweight — the thickening and tightening of the neck or the rolls of fat along each side of the spine or around the buttocks — as even when the donkey loses weight, these do not usually disappear.

Fences need to be secure. The stories of Houdini-type donkeys are legion and some are good at opening gates too — a catch on each side copes with that.



Ned here having his teeth filed, is featured in
Newsletters No's. 2 5 9 13

As with all equines, the teeth continue to grow throughout the life of the donkey. Over time teeth can become very uneven and sharp causing discomfort and even painful ulcers. The donkey will not be able to eat properly. Here Cordelia of the Trust and Matilda are happily eating hay from a safe container. Donkeys evolved in a desert environment with roughage in their diet which is hard to provide in New Zealand's soft pastures.

An equine dentist or competent vet used to dealing with horses can painlessly file the rough edges and remove any diseased or problem teeth. This should be done every year or so.


All donkeys, like horses, seem to carry worms and worming should be repeated every two months unless a faecal count shows that they are clear. Worming is normally done with a paste such as Eqvalan (this type is the easiest to administer and the most palatable) although once a year the paste should be swapped for another such as Paraminth which will clear up tapeworms as well.

Overseas literature associates donkeys with lungworms, but this does not seem a problem in New Zealand and in any case they are treated by the normal drench pastes. The worm build-up is greatly increased if the dung is not collected off the paddock. It can become a simple part of the daily routine to clean up the paddock every morning or evening. The piled dung becomes excellent compost and a tradable commodity and your paddock will remain much healthier, especially if you keep your donkey on a small holding with little chance to spell the pasture.


Clean fresh water must be available at all times, and provided in a container which the donkey cannot tip over.


Bare patches on donkey with lice

Most donkeys seem to develop a louse population during the winter and become quite itchy in the spring. Products for equines such as Lice N Simple will solve the problem. The lice do not transfer to humans but they can make your donkey so uncomfortable that he will rub himself raw.

Warnings on Feeding

Feed intended for other animals, e.g. cattle, pigs, poultry, can kill donkeys — do not feed them to your donkey, or have them stored where a donkey might find its way to them.

Some common plants such as ragwort, privet, yew, rhododendrons, deadly nightshade, labernum, lupin seeds and lawn clippings can be extremely harmful.

Donkeys should never be given meat products — you sometimes have to check what the sandwich filling is! Access to rich pasture often leads to laminitis, an extremely painful inflammation of the hooves.

Don't feed your donkey every time you visit — pats are pleasure enough for it and constant tidbits encourage cheeky behaviour and nipping.

Recommended Reading

The Donkey & Mule Society of New Zealand has an extensive library of books and videos available to members. A list of them is on the Society's web site.

The Donkey & Mule Society also sells some of the best books on donkey care and management at almost cost price:
The Definitive Donkey Betsy & Paul Hutchins and revised by Leah Patton. 305 pages of clear information on care and feeding, breeding and training a good companion to Donkey Business III
The Professional Handbook of the Donkey edited by Elizabeth Svendsden. 395 pages. Has excellent section on general care, breeding, showing and driving.
Donkey Foaling Manual by Bonnie Gross, 241 pages. Excellent comprehensive coverage of all aspects of breeding donkeys and the care of foals. Although written for miniatures it is applicable to all donkeys.

For cost - check the society's web site