What Do Miniature Donkeys Eat?

Mini Donkeys will eat almost anything they are given, which included parts of my barn (until I learned how and why)!  When I searched online, every single article I researched had a different opinion of what was best for my donkey’s health.  Some said grass, some said hay, some said grain…with so many options, I wondered what foods were best for my mini donkey to eat?  We consulted our veterinarian and finally got answers to my question:

What Do Miniature Donkeys Eat?

Donkeys are healthiest overall when they are on a diet of high-fiber but low-protein grass. Donkeys, much like deer and goats, are by nature browsing animals.  Their diet feeding and grazing areas will need to be restricted to prevent overgrazing – which will lead quickly to weight gain and eventually an overweight animal.  While donkeys tend to operate best when fed grass, there are several other food options for your mini donkey that may have specific needs:

  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Minerals and Vitamins
  • Short chop chaff products
  • High Fibre Pellets
  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Dried Sugar Beet Pulp
  • Don’t forget – Your donkey needs plenty of fresh water!

In winter months, when it is cold and the grass is either sparse or covered with snow, you will need to feed your donkeys good quality hay.  Be sure to create a solid relationship with the hay supplier and make sure they are able to supply you with the same quality hay all winter season.

If the pasture area you have set up for the donkeys to graze from has quality grass in abundance, there should be no need to feed hay during summer months.

One of the most commonly seen issues with mini donkeys is dealing with their weight.  It is considered a form of abuse to allow these animals to get overweight, as it can because to a variety of different physical health issues.

Every donkey may have a different nutritional balance that needs to be followed, if this is the case, you will notice the donkey will either lose or gain weight.  If this is the case, you need to contact a veterinarian and learn what may be causing the fluctuation and what can be done to counter it.

When Grass Isn’t Enough

Sometimes it may be necessary to supplement your miniature donkey’s food with other nutrition.  Cases where donkey’s are either over or underweight as well as age and sickness may require a special diet. As always, refer to your veterinarian before making any changes to the animal’s diet.


Grass may not be available for foraging during winter months.  When it is cold and the grass is either sparse or covered with snow, you will need to feed your donkeys good quality hay.  Be sure to create a solid relationship with the hay supplier and make sure they are able to supply you with the same quality hay all winter season. It is very important to inspect any hay that you feed to your donkeys – never feed your donkeys moldy hay, it is possible that the donkey may have a potentially fatal allergy to the mold.

If you plan to feed hay to your donkeys, it is important to know what type of hay you are purchasing and feeding.

Meadow Hay is a natural mix of grasses made from grass and often contains other plants (sometimes even sticks, pebbles, leaves or any garbage that may have floated in) grown on old pasture and is suitable OK for feeding to donkeys.  Meadow hay is a generic mix with no exact content; however, it would be most unlikely for meadow hay to contain anything that would be at all toxic to your donkey

Seed Hay is also good for donkeys. Seed hay is made from specific grasses, such as rye or Timothy.  The farmer makes hay from the stems remaining after the grain has been taken.  Hay produced from a cow pasture usually will have a higher energy level and may be less suitable if fed on its own; however, it can be mixed with a higher ratio of straw.

We have had EXCELLENT luck planting hay and pasture mix seed from Millborn Seeds. This mix is the top of the line pasture option for producers seeking the highest yield and forage quality from their grass. It is a diverse blend of the most productive cool-season grasses on the market and we use improved varieties to keep performance at the highest level possible. This blend will respond well to fertile soils and is highly suitable for grazing or multi-cut haying systems.  If you’d like to learn more about their products or have any questions, they’ve been very helpful whenever we’ve needed to contact them.


Barley straw is very high in fiber and also low in sugar – perfect for mini donkeys because it mimics what the donkey would most likely seek to eat in the wild. Constant access to straw will allow your miniature donkey to eat its fill of food without consuming too many excess calories.

Alternatively, a type of straw known as “oat straw” can be fed to underweight (as well as older) donkeys because it is usually higher in nutrients.  Keep in mind, this will result in more caloric intake than with barley straw.

Young donkeys with strong teeth may be fed wheat straw, which, compared to the above-listed types of straw, is very fibrous and tough to chew.  It also provides lower energy level values.

Unless it has been boiled, it is best to avoid linseed straw.  Linseed seeds contain a chemical that is poisonous to mini donkeys, and it is very difficult to be sure that the seed has not been left in the straw.

Minerals and Vitamins

If your donkeys are only allowed to roam and hunt for food, it is possible that foraging may not supply them with enough of the minerals and vitamins that the animals require.  A lot of this will depend on the soil and area the grazing takes place.  In addition to the grass, hay or straw that the donkeys are eating, they will benefit from adding a vitamin and mineral supplement.  You may choose to feed mineral balancer pellets, which is a concentrated and economical pellet shaped feed that provides the donkey with daily minerals that it needs but also balances the ratio of minerals which are needed for most diets.

Short Chop Chaff Products

Consider feeding your donkey chaff as a great addition to your mini donkey diet. Chaff or chopped straw is commonly fed to mini donkeys to bulk out their concentrated feed and will prevent a donkey from eating too fast. Chaff is formed from forage cut in small pieces, as opposed to long grass stems and stalks in the hay.  Chaff doesn’t just provide forage (which should be the foundation of any mini’s diet) but chaff also encourages the donkeys chewing. There are many types of chaff on the market. Varieties of chaff contain different amounts of chopped rye, timothy or alfalfa grasses and oat straw. Some brands of chaff will have added oil, molasses, minerals, herbs or even hoof growth supplements. Make sure your chaff is high fiber and molasses free. Select a chaff product for animals susceptible to laminitis as a good product for your donkey that has trouble eating straw or hay.  You will always want to make sure that the chaff product you feed is ‘laminitic safe’ and has a sugar content of less than 8%.

High Fiber Pellets

Got an underweight donkey? High fiber pellets work great to add additional weight on an underweight mini donkey if hay and grass aren’t working. There are a lot of different pellets on the market, manufactured by a lot of different companies.  Your best bet is to buy a high fiber pellet that is made for equines prone to laminitis, as these are usually high in fiber and generally don’t have a lot of sugar.

Be sure to watch your mini donkey does not eat the pellets too quickly because it can cause colic.  Adding water or mixing pellets with low sugar chaff can help avoid any problems the first time you feed the pellets.

If your donkey is older or has poor teeth, you can create a mash with high fiber pellets by soaking them in water.

We’ve seen some equine pellets that have added cereal grains, which you’ll want to avoid using for your mini donkeys.  Also, avoid any of the pellets that are referred to as “mixes” as these will generally have cereal grain added also.

Fruits & Vegetables

In small amounts, miniature donkeys can be fed different fruits and vegetables.  Feed your donkey no more than two fruit a day (for a donkey with healthy weight) to provide variety, vitamins and will also encourage a healthy appetite.  Vegetables are a welcome variety to the donkey’s normal food, especially when the grass is sparse.  DO NOT feed starchy potatoes, leeks, anything from the brassica family, onions, garlic, pitted fruits and NOTHING that has any mold or has fermented which will be toxic to a mini donkey.

Our donkeys all love carrots, bananas, apples, pears, and turnips – which are all safe and usually very popular with donkeys. Be careful to cut fruit or vegetables in a size that allows the donkey to safely eat them and prevent any choking hazard.

Dried Beet Pulp

Mini donkey won’t eat?  Often times an elderly or sickly donkey can be coaxed into eating with a bit of beet pulp enticement.  Used sparingly, beet pulp can be a source of tasty yet nutritious and digestible fiber and quite tempting to donkeys when it is added to their food.  Beet pulp is the fibrous material remaining from when the sugar is extracted from sugar beets. Beet pulp can be found in flake form or it can be compressed into a pellet. When pellet form is fed to mini donkeys be sure to soak them in water first, getting rid of any left over after 24 hours.

If you need to feed dried beet pulp, be sure the pellet is unmolassed. Unmolassed sugar beet will aid in the prevention of weight gain and potential laminitis.

Plenty of FRESH Water

Clean, fresh water must be supplied to the donkey at all times. In winter, be sure that the supply is always thawed and drinkable.  In summer months, be sure that the water supply has not gotten too hot to drink.  The importance of fresh clean water cannot be overstated.

Fitting your donkey’s water trough or large drinking dish with a top-off valve will save you a lot of grief.  Be sure to still check the trough to make sure there is a proper flow of water and that it is clean.  You will need to clean the trough frequently.  Bacteria and algae will both grow in the water (faster in warmer months).

Research has shown that elderly donkeys (or sometimes sick donkeys) will not drink ice cold water.  It may be necessary to provide warm water in the winter months.

What Should Mini Donkeys NOT Eat?

Red Maple Leaves: Red Maple Leaves are toxic to mini donkeys; however, typically worry only needs to surround maple leaves that are wilting or dried.  It seems that red maple leaves that are attached to the tree and in a growth start do not harm animals.  Typically, donkey’s will get access to wilted leaves after a storm, where a tree may lose a branch, or in the fall, when the wind will blow leaves into the donkey’s pasture. Wilted or Dry Red Maple leaves contain toxins that can cause the donkey’s red blood cells to break down, hampering the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.  Potentially, the donkey’s liver, kidneys, and other organs may also be damaged.  Be sure to understand that only a pound of these leaves can be fatal to the mini donkey. Use care to make sure your donkeys are not able to ingest any plants that are considered toxic to horses or other equines.  Please also note that there has been some research that points to the leaves of sugar and silver maples containing the same toxic chemicals as red maple leaves; however, that chemical is less toxic in these leaves.

Bracken fern: Bracken fern plants have been known to contain a chemical called “thiaminase.” Thiaminase will inhibit the absorption of thiamin, which is vitamin B1. The amount of the chemical is low in fern leaves and your donkey would need to eat quite a bit of the plant to show any signs of an issue, it is worth noting because thiamin is necessary for proper nerve function. Thiamin deficiencies may eventually lead to neurological impairment.

Hemlock: Most animals will avoid hemlock; however, it is worth being aware of what the plant looks like because a small dose of this plant can be potentially lethal to your miniature donkey. Hemlock is a multi-stemmed perennial weed with barbed, fernlike leaves and tight bunches of tiny white or cream colored flowers. Hemlock stems will have purple markings on them, most of the plants will have more purple towards the base rather than on the areas of newer growth.  If your miniature donkey has eaten any of this plant, the warning signs may appear within an hour but for sure within two hours of consumption. You will notice the donkey’s demeanor change – starting with added nervousness, tremors, and incoordination, and then progressing to depression and a diminished heart and respiratory rate.  You may see possible colic. Death will result from respiratory failure.

Silage:  Silage should be avoided as much as possible for your donkey’s health and well being.  Silage has a high moisture level as well as a low PH level. Silage is known for being low in fiber and high in protein.
Sweet Treats or Sweet Grain:

Ragwort in Hay: Ragwort in your donkey’s hay is very poisonous, in fact, it can be potentially fatal.  Ragwort will blend in with other plants once it has dried, making it very difficult to tell apart from the rest of the hay.  You will want to be sure and discuss ragwort with the person who supplies your hay.

Disadvantages of a Hay Only Diet

Offering a diet consisting of only hay has some disadvantages. Our veterinarian suggests considering the following if the situation calls for only feeding hay:

  • Your miniature donkey will need to have a salt block available next to the always clean and fresh water.  Without a source for salt in the diet, the donkey can develop behavior issues and possible health problems like pica (an eating disorder where the miniature donkey will eat things that aren’t food like dirt, fur, barns…)
  • Lack of phosphorus can also create eating behavior problems such as chewing on trees, fences, etc. If the behavior persists after offering salt-free choice, you may want to offer a good equine or multi-species non-medicated mineral.
  • Be sure to keep an eye on the condition of your mini donkey’s hoof quality, muscle mass and any issues with their coat.  If you witness any of these, be sure to consult your veterinarian; your miniature donkey may not be getting its proper amount of essential amino acids.  This can generally be countered with a good quality diet balancer, but a veterinarian will rule out any other possible issues, such as worms etc…Uneaten hay or straw is a great home for bacteria and mold, which can cause serious issues in mini donkeys, be sure that you clean up any that was not eaten.

Noteworthy Things I Learned While Researching

  • Always make sure your feed quality is as high as possible.
  • Spoiled feed carries traces of toxins that ALL mini donkeys are sensitive too.
  • Always check to make sure that the donkeys feed does not have any mold growing on it.
  • If a change in diet is needed, be sure to make gradual changes spanning over the course of 7-14 days, as slowly as possible to resist shock to the donkey’s system.
  • Mini donkeys prefer to browse for their bulk and fiber throughout the day.
  • Miniature donkeys prefer to eat in small amounts, quite often.
  • Be sure that you aren’t overfeeding your miniature donkeys – perform and record the donkey’s stats and body condition frequently.
  • Mini donkeys will do best on low sugar diets.
  • If in any doubt about the calorie count, sugar level or the quality of any feed, be sure and ask the manufacturer or seller for exact levels.
  • Make sure your mini is getting all of it’s much-needed minerals: provide a suitable balancer or mineral lick.
  • 24/7 access to clean water is vital to a mini donkey’s health.
  • Never feed grass clippings, which can lead to colic.  Be sure that everyone in your family and neighbors understand the importance of this.

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