Updated October 1 2020
Like many animals, donkeys are happiest with ample safe outdoor space to roam and graze on, as well as an indoor shelter to keep them out of the elements when necessary, though what their living space ends up exactly looking like could vary quite a bit depending on your resources and geography!
If you are bringing new donkeys into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe!
Indoor Living Spaces For Donkeys
People have employed many different materials and structures for housing donkeys, but we believe it’s best that donkeys have access to a fully enclosed pole barn with adequate ventilation. Not only are pole barns less affected by bad weather, water, and drafts, but they are also easier to get into and clean, which is very important for the health of any animal. The exception to this rule is for sanctuaries in warmer environments, where you can house donkeys in a three-sided structure that faces away from the prevailing winds if absolutely necessary. When it comes to sizing a donkey’s indoor living space, you should allow for at least 40 square feet of space for each donkey. Dirt-covered flooring or another slip-resistant material is important for donkey living spaces since slips and falls could lead to torn ligaments and joint damage. If the living space floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats if necessary (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are not acceptable for donkeys.
Ideally, you should provide a lot of dry and clean straw in a donkey’s indoor living space. Donkeys like to use straw as bedding, and it’s important to give them extra bedding material in much colder weather. Barley straw makes great bedding. Any straw residents don’t finish during the day can be used as bedding. Donkeys with respiratory conditions shouldn’t use straw however as it can exacerbate their symptoms. You must remove and replace all moist and soiled straw every day to prevent serious health risks to donkeys. There are products you can spread on wet areas such as hydrated lime alternatives like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry to keep the living space free of moisture. If you cannot provide straw, you can use other clean and replaceable materials such as wood shavings, but straw is best for donkeys! If it’s your only option, you can provide a thick layer of (naturally-sourced only) sand, but it’s important to keep this material clean and dry as much as you can because waste doesn’t tend to absorb in sand like it does in organic material. Exhaust fans with locking shutters are very effective at keeping barns well-ventilated and dry.
A donkey’s indoor living space needs to be waterproof and free of drafts, in both warm and cold conditions. Very high standing temperatures (especially combined with high humidity) can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, and dangerous side effects in donkeys. Therefore, you need to make sure that they can stay cool in the summer with ample access to clean water. If it gets too hot for them to be comfortable, you can provide a pool, hose off the donkey, or use indoor water misting fans (keeping their power cables out of reach from donkeys!), but you have to make absolutely sure you aren’t getting their indoor living space or bedding too moist. Even basic circulating fans can be kept on automatic thermometers to keep residents comfortable, but you must ensure that all cables are safely secured! You should provide plenty of shade options for residents to get out of the sun and you may consider clipping residents with heavier coats. Just be aware that sunburn can be an issue if sensitive skin is exposed.
In the winter, you have to make sure that the barn is ventilated, because humidity can quickly build up in a warm barn and cause dangerous pneumonia and bronchitis outbreaks in a herd. If your barn is properly insulated from drafts, a donkey’s body (especially a herd of donkeys in an appropriately-sized space) will provide a good deal of warmth. Healthy donkeys are typically quite resilient in the wintertime, assuming you’re feeding them an appropriate amount of food to make up for the cold and assuming their winter coat grows in properly. If you feel the need to heat a donkey’s living space, you should keep it no warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent excess moisture buildup.
An oversized indoor living space is not ideal in the winter as they will have a harder time keeping warm in it. If necessary (such as housing a very young, very old, or infirm donkey), you can use heat lamps, but you must make sure to keep electrical cords out of reach from curious residents and make triple sure to keep heating elements clean and dust free! Barn fires are tragically common occurrences. If you must use extra heat, use ceramic heaters, or if you have ample funding, radiant floor heating covered in dirt is the most ideal and safe heating solution for animals in barns. Unlike most horses, donkeys come from an arid environment and may require a coat or ear covering in cold climates, especially as they get older or if they are infirm.
Determine if and at what temperature the indoor water supply may freeze in the winter. Be prepared to empty waterers at night and provide fresh warm water for overnight access. Automated waterers with heaters on thermostats can be very helpful for keeping residents safely hydrated all season long.
Ensure that there is no risk of snow or ice falling off of structures and striking residents.
Outdoor Living Spaces For Donkeys
Donkeys need a safely enclosed outdoor space to spend time and exercise in throughout the day (and a pasture to graze on if your land can nutritionally support a donkey). The area must be fenced in with materials that can’t be easily knocked or jumped over by a donkey. There are a variety of different fence materials suitable for donkeys, including wood, woven wire, pipe fencing, or a combination. We do not recommend using barbed wire as it can injure residents. A donkey’s fence should be stretched tightly if wire, at least four feet high in height regardless of material, and secured to posts every ten feet or so. If using no-climb fence, the bottom of the fence should be about a foot off the ground so donkeys can’t get their hooves trapped in the wire. You should keep fence posts on the outside of the donkey’s outdoor living space to help avoid donkeys from running into them. Wood also needs to be inspected regularly to ensure that there are no damaged pieces or protruding parts that could injure a donkey.
It’s very important that you know what kind of plants are in a donkey’s pasture. Certain plants are toxic to donkeys, and you need to ensure that any dangerous plants are removed from the pasture before a donkey is allowed to roam there. A local governmental agricultural department should be able to tell you what regional plants you need to protect donkeys from. You also should not let a healthy adult donkey graze primarily on an alfalfa pasture; alfalfa is very high in protein and calcium, an excessive amount for most donkeys. Donkeys have unique nutritional needs separate from horses that must be considered. Take your time introducing a new donkey to your pasture as they need to acclimate to the new food source over a period of a few weeks. Otherwise, the donkey is at risk of developing colic and other gastrointestinal problems.
It is crucial that each donkey in your care has enough space to walk around and run freely when they choose. This is critical for their physical and mental health, and as we do not advocate for the riding of any animals, it is important that all donkeys in sanctuaries are given the opportunity to exercise where they reside.
Ideally, the outdoor space should consist of donkey-safe grazing pasture, and you should have at least half an acre of land per donkey, with a little more or less needed depending on the quality of pasture, season, and whether you’re primarily feeding them with straw (barley straw is ideal!), supplemented with hay or if they’re getting all their food by grazing (This may be too much and you may have to limit their time on particularly lush pastures). Donkeys with dental issues are able to better ingest chop (Chop is forage that has been chopped small. It is available commercially but can be prepared by caregivers as well.) instead of straight straw and hay. It is also an option for donkeys with respiratory illnesses. If a donkey’s pasture is consistently muddy, make sure to provide ample space for the donkeys to keep their feet dry. Chronically dirty feet can lead to foot infections. You should also have a shady area in their outdoor enclosure that they can access on the hotter days of the year, and a place for them to escape the rain as they have much less natural waterproofing than other animals. Clean water should be easily accessible wherever donkeys prefer to spend their time!
If you are caring for a number of donkeys getting their primary nutrition from pasture, you should have multiple pastures for donkeys, so you can let unused portions of your pasture regenerate while one is in use. Rotating pastures can also help reduce internal parasite prevalence in donkeys.
Equine Winter Care | University of Minnesota (Non-Compassionate Source)
Safe Fencing For Horses | Illinois University (Non-Compassionate Source)
Housing For Horses | University of Massachusetts (Non-Compassionate Source)