Donkeys’ Unique Nutritional Needs
A: Just like in horses, forage needs to be the foundation of a donkey’s diet. However, their specific forage needs are a little different than those of your horse. To avoid getting in to trouble it’s important to understand these differences. Without careful management, donkeys are prone to obesity, metabolic issues, and laminitis.
Forage in the arid regions from which donkeys originate is sparse and of very low nutritional value. As a result donkeys have a number of unique adaptations that allow them to survive in such areas. The first adaptation is that feed passes through their digestive systems as a slower rate than it would through the tract of a horse or pony. This allows for greater digestion and absorption of nutrients, because feed is in contact with digestive enzymes and hindgut bacteria for a longer period of time. It’s a good thing if you’re consuming feeds of very low nutritional value but becomes a management challenge for owners when higher quality forages are fed.
As a result of this adaptation, donkeys show higher percentage-digestibility for protein and various fiber fractions of feeds than ponies. As the nutritional value of the tested feeds decreases the relative digestibility of these feeds when consumed by donkeys increases as compared to ponies. With an understanding of some of the donkey’s key survival adaptations, it becomes clear why these loveable animals can pose such a management challenge in developed areas where feed quality is high and readily
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