A farmer hawks cabbage on donkeys in Mt. Elgon area in Bungoma County [Chrispen Sechere, Standard]

The donkey is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, there were 1.17 million donkeys in 2019, while in 2009 they were 1.8 million.

The “beasts of burden” are mostly used in transport: they pull ploughs and carts, deliver goods to market, carry water for home use and for construction, transport people and in waste collection thereby earning their owners’ livelihoods.

Some good practices to adopt when rearing working donkeys.

Feed your donkey right

Donkeys are known to take good care of themselves by using the feed efficiently for maintaining their own body, but perform even better when we feed them well. Donkeys that are well fed are healthier, more productive and cost less to maintain. 

Donkeys’ tough digestive system is somehow less prone to colic/abdominal pain than that of horses. A donkey in a good body condition is less susceptible to injuries and skin damages than a skinny one. A donkey eats very little and is able to work for long hours.

In return, you need to feed the donkey well so that the animal maintains the same body weight even in periods of hard work or when they are pregnant.

 As a rule of thumb, feed your donkey on a well constituted diet with sufficient amounts of good quality carbohydrates, proteins, fats and minerals.

Donkeys should have access to fresh water at all times, or at least in the morning and evening. Donkeys don’t overdrink. Lack of water can cause colic, a fatal condition. When deprived of water for extended periods, a donkey will suffer muscle fatigue and, in severe cases, death will result.

Avoid feeding your donkey with mouldy feed and garbage, as this is detrimental to their health.

Maintain the health of your donkey

If your donkey is not eating well and looks dull or sick, seek advice from a vet as soon as possible. As the owner, you are responsible for its health and wellbeing.

If your donkey is grazing in the same field all year round, it could be infected with internal parasites. Practice rotational grazing to solve this problem. De-worm your donkey if it is infected.

De-worming with appropriate dewormers is most effective at the end of the dry season, or before seasonal rains. Wounds should be treated promptly.

The most common disease in donkeys include: tetanus, tick fever, African Horse Sickness, pneumonia and rabies. Proper biosecurity measures keeps diseases at bay.

Always Use well-fitting harnesses

Proper harnessing is crucial for your donkey to work better and prevent it from getting injuries and wounds.

Avoid having harnesses such as timber or metal bars over the donkey’s back as this may cause wounds.

It is very easy to cover your harness and ropes in sheep skin, with the hair side against the donkey’s skin (especially on their shoulders, backs and under their tails). Use carts that do not cause pain, injuries and sores to the donkey.

Train your donkey well

Training should precede working sessions. Keep harnesses and equipment around where your donkey rests so that the animal becomes familiar with them.

Talk to your donkey as you give instructions. You’ll be amazed at how fast they learn. This will allow you to work cordially with your donkey for many years.

Allow your donkey to rest

Have an off-day for your donkey every week. This allows time for recharging and reducing muscle fatigue so that the animal can pick on work well the following week. Donkeys are sensitive to how humans treat them. If you treat it well, it will be healthier, feel better, live longer and will serve you better. A donkey that is well taken care of can serve you for at least 15 years.

[Dr Paul Kangethe, PKangethe@standardmedia.co.ke]