Sunday, August 16, 2015

Keeping Hay Away From the Mini Donkey

One challenge raised by keeping minis as companion animals to horses is maintaining the minis at a healthy weight. Many of them simply cannot handle as much turnout and hay as horses can. This is especially true of mini donkeys, who evolved as desert animals. This post discusses the methods I tried to allow the horses access to the hay they require without overfeeding the donkey.

Dominick the Donkey dominates my 2-year-old horse (Little R) by sheer force of personality, tiny flying hooves, and long grumpy ears. (This despite R outweighing him by probably 900 lbs and almost being tall enough to step over him...) Therefore, if he wants Little R's hay, he will take it, and R will stand there and watch him eat it. I keep hoping the poor baby horse will learn to stand up for himself a little, but no luck so far. In the meantime, I have tried a number of things to keep the hay out of reach of Dom and in reach of the sweet, spineless horse.

1.  Hanging hay out of reach

This is the most obvious solution, because of the height difference (duh). The first thing I tried was hanging R's NibbleNet out of Dom's reach. This worked to stymy the donkey, but I wasn't happy with how it forced R to invert his neck in order to eat. Also, if you have a taller mini or a shorter horse, you may have to hang the hay so high that hay dust will fall into the horse's eyes. After a while R started leaving hay in the net every day when he used to clean it out, and I wondered if the angle was making it difficult for him to eat, so I decided to try some other options.

High-hung NibbleNet.

2. Physical barriers

My second idea was to try to block Dom's approach to the hay somehow, so that he couldn't get close enough to eat it. My main concern with this was doing it in a manner that would be safe for R, who can be a little klutzy. So, I first tried mounting a corner feeder underneath a small hole hay net:

Corner feeder as donkey shield.
Not big or wide enough, drat!
One physical barrier that I didn't try is a homemade corner feeder. The idea behind this, pictured below, is to make it tall enough for the horse, but not the mini, to reach down into. I decided not to try this because Little R has a habit of pawing at his food and I was afraid he would hook a leg inside the feeder, but it seems like a neat option.

If you want to try this one, you can find instructions about a quarter of the way down this page from PATH International (CTRL + F "corner hay feeder" to find it quickly). It looks very easy to build and does not require many materials.

Corner hay feeder, photo from PATH website.
3. Extra tall Slow Grazer

This option is the winner so far. Over the winter I put together a Slow Grazer box with extra-tall sides (I used a wider pressure-treated board for the base to increase the height). This allows the horses to eat while keeping Dominick out of the buffet. I resisted putting the box in R's stall at first because he likes to nap and, like I said, he can be klutzy. Outside the stall wasn't a good option in the summer heat and humidity, because R would have to stand out in the sun all day and rain/humidity would cause the hay to get moldy. So, I eventually decided to try it in the stall and so far so good!

The extra tall Slow Grazer thwarts Dom and for some reason empowers R to pin his ears and drive Dom away if he gets too pushy.

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