Can donkeys live with horses… in harmony?
Donkeys are often seen as companion animals to horses. But is this the best? Understanding the similarities and differences between horses and donkeys can help you decide if a donkey is a good fit for your lifestyle.
Donkeys and horses can make wonderful companions, if you take the right precautions. Understand what they have in common and how to mitigate their differences for a happy flock.
Horses and Donkeys: Similarities and Differences
Donkeys and horses are both members of the Equus subfamily. They differ on a species level – horses, mules, donkeys (and zebras!) are all different species.
Since horses and donkeys are both equines, they share many similarities – they are monogastric and single-hooved animals that evolved to graze plants.
- Both are herbivores and do best when fed small meals throughout the day for optimal gut health
- Require routine hoof care
- Similar behavior – for example, they are both herd animals and must be with other horses for companionship
Not so fast…
Despite all these similarities, horses and donkeys are two different species and their needs differ.
- Horses have evolved to graze on grasses, while donkeys have evolved to browse a greater variety of plant matter, including woody shrubs.
- The digestive system of a donkey is more efficient than that of a horse, which makes domestic donkeys prone to obesity
- The angles of donkeys’ hooves are different from those of horses, so you’ll need to find a farrier who understands this and can trim accordingly.
- In terms of behaviour, horses are animals that “fly” and run from danger. Donkeys are “fighting” animals and will generally stand on their territory and face danger, using hooves and teeth to defend themselves
Why do people think donkeys and horses can’t live together?
Donkeys bear a specific type of lungworm, Dictyocaulus arnfieldi, which is harmful to horses. Cross infection is a concern, but it can be easily relieved by testing and worming.
The best way is to test donkey droppings for the parasite before introducing new donkeys into the existing herd.
Consult your veterinarian for help in establishing the appropriate testing program for your herd and geographic area.
Both donkeys and horses follow complex social hierarchies; Fortunately, they are quite similar. Once the herd determines who is responsible, they can usually coexist peacefully. Some pairs of donkey and horse can form very close bonds with each other.
Always introduce new animals slowly and with supervision, to keep everyone safe!
The best way to introduce new horses is to use separate pastures that share a fence line. If you have the time and space, a two-day acclimatization is ideal. If everyone seems okay, then a moderated post together is the next step.
What do you need to know before adding a donkey to your horse herd?
Donkeys are not horses – although they are similar, they have different needs, such as feeding and shelter. Donkeys have more efficient digestive systems than horses, and if they are fed the same way they can easily become obese.
We have an excellent supplier of donkey feed here!
Donkeys are also less water-resistant than horses. Like horses that live in the desert, they do not need the waterproof oil produced by horses, which covers individual hairs for an overall waterproof coat. For this reason, they are more likely to catch cold in inclement weather. Make sure you have adequate shelter and consider covering it if your climate and weather conditions call for it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can donkeys live with other livestock?
Yes, donkeys can live with a variety of livestock, including cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, alpacas, and more. Donkeys can actually be good keepers of livestock, as they will defend their territories against wolves and other predators.
While donkeys and other livestock can live together peacefully, this doesn’t always mean they will – make sure you have plenty of space and resources before adding to your herd and always introduce new animals slowly, monitor interactions, and separate if necessary.
It should be noted that the best companion for a donkey is always another donkey!
Q: What animals are the best companions for donkeys?
A donkey’s best companion is always another donkey, but donkeys can get along with a variety of other animals, including horses and mules.
Q: Is it cheaper to get a donkey or another horse to be a horse companion?
Many people will choose to have a donkey rather than a second horse as a companion animal because donkeys are generally less expensive to feed and maintain.
Donkeys and horses share enough similarities for peaceful coexistence and can even form strong bonds. With a few simple adjustments to your existing horse management plan, you can easily add a donkey (preferably two!) to your barn.
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