When owning a donkey you have to be prepared for the cold winter months, winter care is about helping your donkey to withstand the lower temperatures and to stay healthy, rather than shutting them in completely.
Getting prepared for the winter
It’s important to be prepared and plan ahead for the winter.
- Order your winter forage and bedding in plenty of time and always have an extra supply in case of bad weather.
- Make sure their vaccinations are up to date.
- Schedule a visit from the farrier to check their feet.
- Keep up to date with dental checks - the lack of moisture from eating hay and straw could make chewing uncomfortable for donkeys with poor teeth that you might not have noticed in the summer.
- Make sure you have a clean rug ready if your donkeys are likely to need them.
- Stock up on road salt for gritting areas of hardstanding to keep both you and your donkeys safe.
Do donkeys like rain?
A donkey’s coat is not waterproof, therefore a proper shelter is imperative for this once desert-dwelling animal.
Rainscald (also known as dermatophilosis) and mud fever is more prevalent during the winter months, particularly if your donkeys do not have access to shelter and hardstanding area. These conditions occur when the skin/hair is wet for a long period of time. Rainscald affects the shoulders, back and rump, while mud fever affects the lower limbs. These cause crusting of the skin and matting of your donkey's coat. If you suspect your donkey may have either of these conditions, contact your vet for advice.
Creating a waterproof shelter
A suitable donkey shelter should have at least three sides and a sloping roof, sited in a sheltered area, preferably with a concrete base. The shelter should have solid walls from the ground up, be free from draughts and waterproof.
It is important when choosing a location for your shelter that the opening side is out of prevailing winds. The floor of the shelter will need to be covered with fresh bedding. A fenced area of hardstanding next to your shelter or stable is also a necessary requirement for your donkeys, should you need to keep them off the wet, muddy or frosty ground.
Winter coats for donkeys
Young and healthy donkeys are unlikely to need a winter coat or rug as their coats will naturally thicken as we approach winter. If your donkeys are old or sick they will find it harder to maintain body heat so they may need a well-fitted donkey rug to keep warm. Elderly donkeys may also benefit from having a heat lamp in their stable for extra warmth.
Rugs should be removed daily and your donkey’s coat brushed before the rug is replaced. It is advisable to have a spare rug in case one gets particularly wet or damaged. On warm, dry winter days we recommend leaving your donkey’s rug off for an hour or two, but make sure they do not become cold or wet.
Keeping your donkeys’ feet healthy
It's important to pick out your donkey's feet to avoid problems like thrush. Bedding in stables and shelters should be kept clean and dry and donkeys should be kept off muddy fields. If your gateways become muddy during winter, but the paddocks are still suitable for grazing, then ordering some non- poisonous barkchip at the beginning of the winter months will ensure you have some to put in muddy gateways in order to keep the donkeys feet clean and dry.
Finally, remember not to groom your donkeys if they are wet, as brushing will push water and dirt down on to the skin causing them to become cold and risking a chill. However, even if they are too wet to brush you should still clean their eyes, nose and pick out their feet as normal.