Feeding mules and donkeys is quite different from the way we learned to feed horses. Donkeys are desert animals and require much less than horses to stay healthy. The mule, being half donkey, also does not need as much to stay healthy. For this reason, it is best to contain your longears (and even horses) in a smaller area with shelter overnight for the night and morning feedings. Then you can monitor their feed intake and the time they are turned out for weight control to avoid the incidence of colic and founder. Many mules and donkeys can be seen with a roll at the crest of the neck and sometimes “fat rolls” on the flank and croup. This is not healthy and is a red flag that the equine needs to be contained and monitored for weight control.
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Change Feeding In Cold Weather?
Question: Would one pound a day still be the same for a mule in extreme cold weather? I am weaning my mule over to crimped oats from 12% sweet feed. He looks great and not hyper with the sweet feed but I found out from you and other mule people sweet feed is not the best.
I do use the corn oil plus Vitamin E and selenium. I was giving 13 oz coffee can twice a day. My mule and donkey’s have timothy hay constant and do not over eat. Real cold here in upstate NY this winter.
Answer: The ration of 1½-2 cups of oats that I describe is for an average size mule. Miniature should receive half as much and draft mules twice as much, but they should never need more of the oats mix, just more grass hay or pasture. More grain will make them grow too fast and break down earlier in life than they would otherwise.
We get cold here in Colorado as well, but as long as they have free choice grass hay and the prescribed grain mixture, they will do well. If you feed beyond what I have suggested, you could put your animal at risk for colic and founder as well. As far as extra vitamins and selenium are concerned, you would need to establish the fact that the animal actually has a deficiency before giving it to them. Otherwise, you could cause problems of toxicity.
Effects of Sweet Feed?
Question: Just came back from the states; am always happy when I catch your show on RFD TV. In the program you mentioned that mules don’t do well on sweet feed. In what regard do they not “do well”? I feed a mix cut with crimped oats, living in a hot climate I don’t feel too much sweet feed is good for the mares or the mules.
Two months ago I brought my 6 yearlings home for a little extra handling before sending them to the sierra for the summer. The Mexicans stop by frequently just to see them. It is a whole new idea to them to see animals gentled with no resistance training.
Mules are as common here as cars for transportation. So folks have a real interest in the animals. Thanks for any thoughts and for helping the world understand our long ears.
Answer: Sweet feeds and other high protein products can cause hypertension in mules and donkeys that will result in short attention spans and stress to organs. They can cause severe colic and founder that could ultimately result in death.
Some of the more mild problems can be accelerated growth that results in weakness in the bones, muscles and tendons which will later manifest itself as splints, ringbone and other such maladies.
Question: Do you have some good advice, maybe an article about feeding donkeys? It is always a talking point, when donkey-people meet.
One of the big problems is too much food. I think many donkeys die of too much and wrong food – in any case in Denmark, but I think many people forget the most important thing – straw. Thank you!
Answer: You are so right! Many people are overfeeding donkeys…and mules, too. These animals only need the bare minimum of essential vitamins and minerals. Just for the record, straw has no nutritional value at all, so it isn’t good for much except bedding.
I have not done scientific studies in a laboratory, but my advice comes from the practical experience of feeding over 30 mules and donkeys for nearly 40 years. Through trial and error, we have discovered the best feeding program for our equine athletes (horses included) and they are all doing well.
We do have a section on feeds and nutrition in DVD #8 (available in PAL) of our resistance free training series, Equine Management & Donkey Training and in Equus Revisited that are translated into French, German and Spanish. We recommend 1 lb. (2 cups) crimped oats mixed with 1 ounce of a vitamin supplement such as Clovite or Sho-Glo, and 1 ounce of Mazola corn oil (for a shiny coat and digestive tract regularity). This is for an average size animal.
For the smaller mules and donkeys, we only give a handful of oats (roughly half of what we give the average sized animals, just enough to mix with the oil and supplement.
Average animals get two flakes grass hay morning and evening. Smaller mules get one flake or less morning and evening. When we increase the work, they are rewarded while working with addition oats, so the oats are not increased at feeding time. We will increase hay at feeding time relative to the work they are doing. Monitoring their weight is done visually on a day to day basis. You learn to watch the crest of the neck and over the croup for fat development and feed accordingly to keep those fat deposits from forming .A certain amount of exercise is critical, but it doesn’t have to be a lot.
We believe that the first order of training is to consider all aspects of the animal’s well being, emotionally, physically and mentally. These things need to be in balance for the best results.
Fruit & Vegetable Salad?
Question: I know this might not have everything to do with mules and donkeys, but I could think of no one else to ask. My friend told me about a woman at her barn that gives her horse fruit and vegetable salad. I’d like to start doing this occasionally as a little treat for my horse.
I just need it plain and simple, what fruit/veggies can it feed and what can’t or shouldn’t I? Thank you so much!
Answer: Treats such as you describe can actually cause problems. The treats of crimped oats that we use to reward animals for positive behaviors are what the animal should be eating in their diet anyway and serves as a supplement for extra work. The treats are only dispersed for positive behaviors and the rest of the time, the animal is expected to behave.
When treats are not done in direct response to a positive behavior, the animal can become aggressive and disrespectful in search of the treats and can become dangerous.
An herbivore’s diet is supposed to be grasses and plants such as this. They are not prone to go after fruits and vegetables unless there is nothing else present. Fruits and vegetables are simply not as healthy for them as grass and oats.
Question: I have had a mule for 5 years and he is now 13. My question is about mules and eating grass. I have a 13 year old and have had him for 5 years. Could grass affect him mentally- like make him more high strung and jumpy? I cannot tell if it is the grass or the bear that are up and moving about again. I live in Virginia and for the past month he and his horse mates have been getting turned out to pasture from 4-6 hours a day. He received a small scoop of fat and fiber feed 2x day and has a round bale that he can eat on all day. He is not fat and maintains approximately the same weight all the time-no matter how much he has access to or not. I ride hime approx 3-4x a week.
I am specifically interested in the effects of grass. I have not been able to find any info about this. I have a friend who has 4 mules and they live in a pasture all the time without the increased jumpyness that happens to my mule in the spring.
Answer: Being on pasture twenty-four seven is not healthy for mules. They can build up fatty deposits and develop a pre-founder condition, and because of the wide open spaces, they don’t get the regular close engagement with the handler to really develop a good relationship with the handler. The grass will not cause any mental problems in mules, but they should not be on free feed either, as they can often overeat and have the same reaction as being on pasture. The healthiest thing for them is a routine and monitored feeding program and the right kinds of exercise. Many animals are built up muscularly over a weak core which can give the impression of being in good shape until they are really tested. Also, just the wrong kind of feeding, lack of routine and a good exercise program can produce anxiety behaviors. The mule that is well adjusted with an engaged relationship with the handler through predictable routine and the right kind of training will spook, but come to the handler for support. The one without, will spook at everything, including the handler when he feels anxious. Here is some information that might help you to get on the right track with your mule. I hope this helps. Please feel free to ask any more questions you may have after reading this.
Your equine’s pasture time should be monitored to avoid the risk of colic, or founder. Your equine should be kept in a small area for evening feedings, overnight and for morning feedings. This has several benefits: 1) Each animal can be checked every day for any injuries or anomalies, 2) He will not have to fight for his food, he can sleep uninterrupted and be more calm and fresh each day, 3) You will then be able to turn him out at specific times for grazing during the day and bring him back in each night. This way you can monitor his grazing intake so he will not be able to overgraze and colic, or founder, 4) the smaller area affords you a confined space for beginning training so there is no need to chase him, or be interrupted by other animals. It is almost impossible to begin groundwork training as described in DVD #1 and DVD #2 without working in a more confined space, and 5) having this definite routine lets your animal know what to expect and lessens adverse behaviors. You should always begin with DVD #1 and #8 and take the training in sequence. If you do things out of order, the techniques will not work as well.
What your animal is eating can have a direct impact on his response to training. Many feeds can cause hypertension in Longears and an inability to focus for any length of time. Mules and donkeys require a lot less feed than horses because they are half donkey and donkeys are desert animals. Too much feed or the wrong kind of feed and they can run the risk of colic, or founder. We feed an oats mix to our average sized mules of 1-2 cups of crimped oats, 1 oz. of Sho Glo vitamins (by Manna Pro) and 1 oz. Mazola corn oil (for hooves, coat and digestive tract regularity) . The oats must be broken open in some way (crimped, steamed, rolled, etc.) as equines cannot digest whole oats. We feed this once a day in the evenings, grass hay twice a day and we monitor weight gain with the hay and pasture intake. Miniatures get one fourth as much of the oats mix and grass hay, and a draft animal needs twice as much. Do not alter or modify this in any way for the best results. Also, make sure they have access to a trace mineral salt block for their salt and mineral needs. We worm our equines with Ivermectin in January, March, May, July and September and then break the cycle with Strongid in November. We vaccinate in the spring and fall. You should never feed Longears (donkeys, or mules) any pre-mixed sweet feeds, or alfalfa products.
We feed the oats mix in the evenings for two reasons. First, in the spring you should only let your equine out to a grass pasture for one hour a day for the first week and then increase the pasture time by one hour per week in the weeks to follow. If your equine is getting oats in the evening, he will be more than happy to come in off the grass for the oats after such a short grazing time. Without the oats to look forward to, he probably won’t come back in until he feels like it which could be never. Secondly, if your equine is getting nothing but grass hay in the mornings, he will be more apt to comply with your wishes to get extra oats during training lessons. Pasture time at its maximum should not exceed five hours on any given day.
For those animals who are older and haven’t the teeth to chew their feed, we add grass hay cubes to their crimped oats mix. We mix the oats, vitamin concentrate and corn oil in a blender and add this to a bucket of hay cubes (amount will vary from animal to animal) that have been soaked in water. This produces a mix that is not too soupy, so they have no problems eating it. They can have this mixture two, or three times a day in the morning, sometimes midday, and evening, depending on the needs of the individual animal.
The other thing we do is give grass hay for them to chew on during the day to prevent nervous behaviors that can arise from a lack of grazing time as long as it does not negatively affect their weight gain, or loss. With compromised teeth, they will generally chew it into a ball and spit it out. Also, pregnant mares and jennets can have the oats mix until they are six weeks out from foaling. Then they should only have grass hay until six weeks after foaling, after which you can then resume the grain mix. For more details, look on our website in the “Ask Meredith” section, in DVD #8 of our resistance-free video training series and in my books A Guide to Raising & Showing Mules and Equus Revisited.
Hazelnut Poisonous to Equines?
I have donkeys on our Big 40. My mom wants to plant some hazelnut in the Big 40. My question: Is hazelnut poisonous to donkeys?
There is nothing definitive about hazelnut being toxic to equines, however it has been discovered (fairly recently) that black walnut is toxic to equines for sure and the other “nut” trees have not really been tested. The other thing is that equines, and especially mules and donkeys, are hazardous to the health of your trees. They will gnaw on them and strip off the bark, which will eventually kill the trees. They can co-exist with full grown trees, but still need to be watched, and often the trees need to be wrapped in chicken wire to keep the chewing down. So, if your mom wants to plant hazelnut in the Big 40, I would suggest creating a smaller place for your donkeys. They should not be left out on pasture for more than 5 hours a day anyway to prevent colic or founder.
Hinny Chewing/Eating Wood
Question: My hinny has gnawed on wood in his stall, picked up twigs from branches as thick as my fingers and would start to eat them til I could get them out of his mouth, and this morning ate my sewing yard stick that I used to support a flap of buttle rubber to go across the bottom of his stall door in the winter (because he doesn’t like the draft coming in at the bottom of his door). He ate 4 inches and then some of the yard stick. Is this normal behavior or boredom/nervousness, or is he missing something? He has a mineral block as well as regular salt block. Can you help me with this?
Answer: Mules and donkeys like to chew on trees and other woods no matter what you may try to do. This does not necessarily mean there is a deficiency in their feeding program. It is more of a behavioral thing that they sometimes do out of boredom or natural anxiety. It is much like people who like to smoke or chew gum. The best thing to do is to loosely wrap your trees in chicken wire so your animals do not kill the trees. You can also use chicken wire to line the walls of wooden barns and around posts to discourage chewing. If you have a wooden fence, the best thing to do is to line the inside of a fence with one or two rows of hotwire to keep them from chewing the fences down. It is my experience that there is no product on the market that can be “painted” on to really solve this problem easily. Your mule just needs to have his living quarters adequately protected from the chewing, and he needs a regular routine of exercise (every other day or at least a couple of times a week) so he has activity that he can count on. A well-rounded and healthy lifestyle is the best medicine!
How Much Grain for 7 mo. Old?
Question: We have purchased two of your books and they are very helpful; however two things are still unclear to us. Our donkey is now 7 months old, and we are not sure how much grain he should receive a day.
We are having fairly good luck with him following with a halter and a lead rope, but your pictures are not clear. We purchased a halter for horses from our local farm and ranch store, as there was nothing specific for donkeys. Is this correct? And when training to follow, is the lead rope attached at the side of the halter or under the chin?
Answer: If you have purchased the book, Donkey Training, it has most of what you will need to know, however the DVD’s that go with the book are a lot clearer since you can see everything that is happening. You should feed your 7-month-old donkey no more than 2 cups of crimped oats mixed with an ounce of Mazola corn oil and about an ounce of a low protein vitamin supplement such as Sho Glo or Clovite once a day. Feed and monitor weight gain with grass hay and pasture time. These things are covered in DVD #8 of our video series.
The lead rope should be attached under the chin. When you begin showmanship training, you will attach your lead shank differently than you would a lead rope. This is covered in DVD #1, #8 and #9. Actually, our DVD series is the detailed version of the books. The first 7 DVD’s are designed for both mules and donkeys´ basic training. They are to be taken in sequence beginning with DVD #1 whether your mule is a foal or older animal that needs better training. DVD #8 is on management, fitting, grooming and advanced showmanship. DVD’s #9 and #10 deal specifically with the differences in training donkeys.
Old Mule Care Questions
Question: I just bought (saved) a 20 yr old john mule. He stole my heart; I saw him working every time I went to the saddle shop. He is very boney and looks like the old mule in the Disney comics. The Amish have been using him to haul logs out of the woods.
He rides and drives and has a BIG heart. He is not an easy keeper though. They say he eats 15 lbs of grain a day and can munch down a 1/2 bale of hay. He will enter the semi-retirement he deserves at our place. Do you have any suggestions on improving his out look? Do you own any old mules?
My husband was really against this purchase, but I felt sorry for the poor guy. I plan on having his teeth floated-if he has any, and worm him.
Answer: Fifteen pounds of grain is too much and may even hinder weight gain. He can eat free choice hay as long as it is grass hay, but no alfalfa, or broad leaf hays. They can cause colic or founder. We feed a grain mix to our average sized mules of 1-2 cups of crimped oats, 1oz. of a vitamin concentrate such as Sho Glo or Clovite and 1 oz. Mazola corn oil (for hooves, coat & digestive tract regularity) fed once a day in the evenings and grass hay twice a day. We monitor weight with the hay intake and pasture time. Miniatures should get 1/2 as much of the grain mix and grass hay and drafts twice as much..
When we train, we use the same crimped oats as a reward since it gives them the extra energy they will need during training. Crimped oats are also a treat that they will never tire of and will continue to work for. Carrots and other treats will not work the same way and will not yield the same results. Crimped oats may have more fat, but I have not had any serious medical problems since I began using this program over 15 years ago and my equines have remained in remarkably good shape. We have had the broodmares on the same program and colic has ceased to be a problem.
We feed the same amount to foals that are growing as we do the animals that are older and have average use. Mules are generally easy keepers and the 2 cups of oats is primarily for animals who live in a colder and harsher climate and who tend to lose weight in the winter. Those who live in more moderate climates will do fine on a 1-1½ cup mixture of oats, vitamin concentrate and Mazola corn oil throughout the winter months.
Some mules that are just easier keepers and maintain their weight just fine on the 1-1½ cup mixture. Generally, we try to monitor weight gain or loss with the grass hay consumption before increasing, or decreasing the mixture of oats.
As they get over twenty years of age, some mules can develop problems with their teeth. Chewing and digesting the hay and oats mixture can become a problem and they may need to have their oats, vitamins and corn oil mixed in a blender with grass hay cubes each feeding. If they are anemic, you might need to add Red Cell. This is very rarely a problem with younger animals.
Exercise plays an important role in the weight gain of an animal even at twenty. Muscles need to be maintained in good condition for an animal to carry his true weight properly. As the muscles are toned, he will pick up more weight simply through this conditioning process and his body will take on a more proper shape.
Older Mule With No Teeth
Question: I have a john mule approximately 25 years old. We have noticed that he does not eat much hay. Lighting does not have the teeth he needs to chew hay. He just seems to gum it. I know he needs hay in he’s diet. But if he can’t chew the hay, should we add a supplement to maintain he’s weight and health.
Answer: I agree your mule needs to be able to consume enough of the right kinds of things for him to continue to stay healthy. As they get over twenty years of age, some mules can develop problems with their teeth. Chewing and digesting the hay and oats mixture can become a problem and they may need to have their oats, vitamins and corn oil mixed in a blender with grass hay cubes each feeding. If they are anemic, you might need to add Red Cell. He should also have free choice grass hay, or timothy just to have something to keep him busy even if he spits it out.
It is also important to have your vet check what teeth he does have left and make sure they are floated to avoid sharp edges which may compromise eating.
Steamed Crimped Oats?
Question: In a recent newsletter you mentioned a feeding maintenance for mules. I am unable to find crimped oats in my area – would steamed crimped oats be the same????
I’ve been feeding a small amount of sweet feed, but would like to make the change you mentioned and feed crimped oats, Clovite, and Mazola Oil….
Answer: The “steamed” oats are basically the same as crimped oats, as are any oats that have been broken open. Whole oats cannot be fully digested by equines and therefore, have no nutritional value. When the oats are steamed, crimped, cracked or rolled, they are broken open and the equine can then get the full nutritional value of the oats.
My mule is about 22 years old and he has been trail ridden in the Mtns. all his life. I have always fed him a mixed grain feed that has minerals, vitamins and all the good stuff, about 3-6 lbs per day depending on how he is ridden and how cold it is, plus he is in a dry lot and has always gotten plenty of Bermuda hay, about 10 to 20 lbs per day. This year I noticed his back bone has not filled up as usual. He is not sway backed, but the top of the rib part around the backbone is like a teepee drops about 3″ before his big ole belly starts. I have wormed him several times, but can only use Safeguard because he has an allergic reaction to any Zymectrin products. What can I do for the poor ole fella? We still ride in the mountains and he seems to tire this year also, never has before. Please help!
Your mule has never had any core strength development, as is indicated by the atrophied musculature along the supraspinous ligament that runs from head to tail over the top of the spine (the “teepee” effect). If you feed as I describe below (most of today’s feeds are just too “hot” for equines in general), and then do the leading exercises-paying special attention to your own posture, being consistent with the moves and his posture and straightness (and gradual arcs, not abrupt turns) while leading, asking him to square up every time he stops, etc.-things should improve. Start by only leading with the halter for a few weeks. Then you can add a bridle and surcingle with our “elbow pull” rigging, and continue to do your leading lessons through the hourglass pattern with that in place. With each change of the arc through the pattern, stop and have him square up and then you need to change sides so you are always leading from the inside of the arc and always asking him to plant his feet four square with every halt from now forward, not just during lessons. Do the pattern with three full rotations in each direction through the entire pattern, and then come up centerline and halt for each lesson. Be sure to measure your steps with his and maintain your own good posture throughout. You will soon see him regain his shape.
At Lucky Three Ranch, we do leading training for a full year to not only get our mules to learn to lead, but also to develop good posture and core muscle strength in preparation for the rider. Even an older equine with previous training would still need this for optimum performance and longevity. The time together during leading training and going forward builds a good, solid relationship with your equine and fosters their confidence and trust in you.
What your animal is eating can have a direct impact on his response to training. Many feeds can cause hypertension in longears and an inability to focus for any length of time. Mules and donkeys require a lot less feed than horses because they are half donkey and donkeys are desert animals. Too much feed or the wrong kind of feed and they can run the risk of colic or founder. For our average-sized mules, we feed an oats mix of 1-2 cups of crimped oats, 1 oz. of Sho Glo vitamins (by Manna Pro) and 1 oz. Mazola corn oil (for hooves, coat and digestive tract regularity). The oats must be “broken open” (crimped, steamed, rolled, etc.), as equines cannot digest whole oats. We feed this formula once a day in the evening, and grass hay twice a day, and we monitor weight gain with the hay and pasture intake. Miniatures get one fourth as much of the oats mix and grass hay, and a draft animal needs twice as much. For best results, do not alter or modify this procedure in any way. Also, make sure your equines have access to a trace mineral salt block for their salt and mineral needs. We worm our equines with Ivermectin in January, March, May, July and September, and then break the cycle with Strongid in November. We vaccinate in the spring and fall. You should never feed longears (donkeys or mules) any premixed sweet feeds or alfalfa products.
We feed the oats mix in the evenings for two reasons. First, in the spring, you should only let your equine out to a grass pasture for one hour a day for the first week, and then increase the pasture time by one hour per week in the weeks that follow. If your equine is getting oats in the evening, he will be more than happy to come in off the grass for the oats after such a short grazing time. Without the oats to look forward to, he probably won’t come back in until he feels like it, which could be never. Second, if your equine is getting nothing but grass hay in the mornings, he will be more likely to comply with your wishes to get extra oats during training lessons. Pasture time at its maximum should not exceed five hours on any given day.