Where Can I Find Barley Straw to Feed My Donkey?

While experts recommend barley straw as donkey forage, its availability is limited in the United States. Our equine nutritionist offers alternatives.
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Where Can I Find Barley Straw to Feed My Donkey?
While feeding barley hay to your donkey might be ideal, other options also work well. Just remember that while nutritional value needs to be low, the hay needs to be clean and good-quality. | Photo: iStock

Q.​ I read your article about feeding donkeys, in which you said barley straw is safer for lower crude proteins and calories. I can’t find any other than what is sold for cleaning ponds. Is this safe for donkeys?

A. Donkeys originate from arid environments where forage is sparse and of very low nutritional value. In their native environments donkeys predominantly eat browse (the tips of woody shrubs and trees as well as some other broad-leaved plants) or forbs (flowering plants). Donkeys have developed several adaptations to survive successfully on these fibrous, low-nutrition foods. Therefore, experts typically recommend feeding donkeys forages with high fiber content and low nutritional value. Straw typically fills these criteria.

The Donkey Sanctuary is globally recognized as the authority in donkey care and management. It manages approximately a thousand donkeys at any given time and has experimented extensively in how best to feed them. Barley straw is the Donkey Sanctuary’s main recommendation, followed by wheat and then oat straw. Barley straw is favored because of its low nutritional value and because it’s easier to eat than wheat straw, which is more fibrous. Barley straw also doesn’t seem to cause the same weight gain that can occur with oat straw, which is more digestible

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

3 Responses

  1. Not an expert by far but if you have found barley straw with the grain still attached, you may try to remove the seed by shaking or thrashing it before you feed it. It is a pain but it might help. I know they say not to feed the grain to the little rascals because it has all of the things that you are trying to keep away from them.

  2. I NEED HELP!!! I have three very obese donkeys. I have found a source for barley h ay but it has the grain still on it can I feed to my donkeys and if so ghouls I reduce the amount because of the nutritional value of the grain???

  3. I live in the Pacific Northwest. I have adopted 3 mini rescue donkeys from a sanctuary. The sanctuary feeds their donkeys 1:1 1st cutting Orchard hay (taste, sugar/carb better than 2nd cutting) and pasture hay. I can’t find barley straw in my area. The Orchard hay is 3x more expensive than local pasture hay ($30 per bale vs. $6-10).

    With my 3 minis, I started weaning them off the orchard hay and am feeding them 2:1 local pasture hay (in hay nets) and wheat straw. They seem to like the straw. Their teeth are in good condition. Ages 25, 21, 11. I would say on a weight scale the older 2 might be just a touch overweight, displaying a slight neck crest (probably from past owners, unsure what they fed them). I want to maintain them at an ideal weight. What do you recommend?

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