What Do Donkeys Eat?

Last Updated on February 24, 2022 by Allison Price

Although donkeys are considered low-maintenance farm animals, many donkey owners find they have to modify their feeding schedule. Many farmers discover that donkeys are not able to eat the same foods as horses and other farm animals.

What do donkeys eat?

Donkeys require a balanced diet that includes straw, grass, and hay. As treats, they can also enjoy a variety fruits and vegetables.

It may surprise you to know that the diet of a donkey should be mostly made up of straw. Yes, straw!

Donkeys require a balanced diet that includes straw and grass, as well as hay or grass. Too much or too little straw can lead to digestive and physical problems that you might not be able to manage.

What Do Donkeys Eat

It is important to understand what your donkeys eat in order to keep them happy and healthy.

Many donkey owners mistakenly assume that donkeys can be left alone in a pasture with other animals.

This is not always true. It is important to understand the nutritional needs of donkeys before making this mistake in judgment.

What do donkeys eat?

The digestive system of a donkey is different from that of horses. A donkey’s digestive system works a little differently to that of horses.

They can use less nutritious foods than horses ( source).

In the Wild

Over the centuries, wild donkeys have evolved in a way that allows for them to survive in deserted areas and low-quality food.

Their digestive system has evolved to deal with fibrous plant food more efficiently than any other animal.

Donkeys can survive primarily on grass, shrubs, and other plants in the desert or where they call home ( Source).

In Captivity

Domesticated donkeys are able to forage small quantities throughout the day and eat fibrous plants just like wild counterparts.

Some donkey owners claim that their donkeys can eat almost anything. However, this is an exception and not the rule.

Like horses, donkeys in captivity need to be fed hay and grass, but donkeys need straw, unlike horses.

Donkeys should eat little grass, but a lot of oat straw or barley straw. Source

Common Forage for Donkeys

To survive, donkeys require forage. Donkeys need forage to survive.

It should also contain between 7 to 9 kilograms of digestible energy (source).


Straw should be the main part of your donkey’s daily food. Straw consumption allows donkeys the freedom to graze all day without having to consume large quantities of calories.

This allows them to avoid excess weight gain or laminitis (a debilitating condition that can cause lameness).

Because it fulfills their ideal forage requirements, barley straw is often a good choice for donkeys. It is high in fiber and low in sugar.

Oat straw can also be used, but is not recommended for elderly or malnourished donkeys. This straw has more nutrients and calories than barley straw.

Wheat straw is an alternative, but it can be difficult to chew so it is best for young donkeys.


Donkeys may eat grass but only in small quantities.

Their bodies are unable to handle large amounts of rich grass every day.

High-quality grass can have high levels of sugar and other nutrients, which can cause havoc in a donkey’s metabolism.


Hay can be used to replace or supplement the grass in a donkey’s diet.

Hay can be substituted for grass during winter months or drought.

Hay is not meant to be used as a straw supplement. All types of hay that can be fed to donkeys are acceptable, including Bermuda, Bermuda, and timothy.

Hay should be horse-quality, which means it should be kept indoors in bad weather. It should also not be dry or moldy once it is cut open.

However, it doesn’t have to be high in nutrients. A donkey’s digestion system can use it either way.

Do not feed donkeys freshly-cut hay. Instead, wait until three months after the initial cut.

Are Donkeys Require Grain?

If they are fed enough straw and grass, donkeys will not require regular grains.

Keep basic horse grain to a minimum. It has been known that it can cause gastric ulcers in some horses.

Donkey-specific feeds in pellet or grain form that are horse-quality or donkey-specific feeds contain hay-replacing food. If necessary, complete feeds such as this can be used in place of regular donkey food.

Complete feeds can be a great option for seniors horses who have trouble eating regular donkey-safe forage.

How Much Grass should Donkeys Eat?

Donkeys shouldn’t have access to a lot of grassy pastures

Donkeys that are left alone on rich grass pastures can develop laminitis, which could lead to them becoming disabled. They are also more likely than other animals to be overweight and have hoof-related problems ( source).

Donkey owners restrict grass access to a minimum of half an hour every day or every other day. In the summer, grass is plentiful.

In the winter, they may let them free range for longer periods of time since grass is more scarce (source).

Do Donkeys need a mineral supplement?

Donkeys should have access to a high-quality horse-quality salt block and a horse-quality mineral lick.

Minerals that are made for farm animals might not be safe for donkeys. Mineral licks should include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur (source).

Can Donkeys Eat Alfalfa

Alfalfa is more than a different kind of grass. It is a legume which means it is a flowering, rather than grass. It is more nutritious than grass, as it contains higher levels of protein. This is a problem for donkeys who consume a lot of it.

Donkeys can eat alfalfa if it is not available in large quantities. Provided that information is given, choose the alfalfa that has the least amount of protein.

Alfalfa hay is beneficial for donkeys that need to gain weight for any reason (source).

How much should you feed your donkey?

Donkeys should eat between 1.75% to 2.25% of daily body weight in dry forage, including straw and hay.https://4bd670db3dba7a12557372d12ddaab8c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Additional food may be required if a donkey becomes pregnant, young, nursing or very active during the day.

Although there is no one right answer, these numbers will help you to get an idea of how much you should feed your donkey.

Start with that and continue to monitor your donkey’s progress ( source).

How to Feed Donkeys

  • Straw should not be given in large quantities. Straw should be available in unlimited quantities to donkeys.
  • Hay should, just like grass access, be restricted throughout the day. Donkeys will be happier if they have hay or grass access only a few times per day than if they have unlimited access to the whole pasture.
  • If your pet is experiencing weight gain or loss, consult your veterinarian.

Donkey Safe Treats

Donkeys should not be given treats in large quantities. Treats should not be given to farm animals as a substitute for their regular diet. To avoid choke incidents, treats should be broken up ( source).


Even if vegetables are nutritious, donkeys should only have one or two vegetable treats per day. Turnips and carrots are great treats for donkeys.


Limiting the number of fruits consumed each day to just one or two should be the norm. Apples, bananas, and pears all make safe treats for donkeys.

What should not be fed to donkeys?

Donkeys should not be given certain foods. Donkeys should not be fed potatoes, onions, garlic, and leeks.

Silage and ragwort hay should also be avoided, the latter is extremely poisonous to donkeys and horses (source).

Water Access

Donkeys require 24-hour access to clean, fresh water. Donkeys can be picky about the water they drink and will refuse to drink water that is unsafe.

Water is vital for a donkey’s digestive system because they consume high quantities of dry food daily (source).

Can Donkeys Eat Beet Pulp

Yes, donkeys are allowed to eat beet pulp. Sugar beets produce beet pulp and beet pellets. It is fed to cows, horses, and other farm animals to aid in weight gain.

To make it easier to eat, beet pulp must be prepared dry. Donkeys that are malnourished or unable to chew large amounts of forage can benefit from eating beet pulp (source).

Last Thoughts

Some donkeys can be fine in grassy pastures with horses but most will experience the side effects of grass overeating. Straw should be the main part of a donkey’s daily food.

The rest should be compensated with hay or grass. Donkeys can be given certain treats, minerals, or supplemental food as required. Donkeys should be monitored for signs of distress such as weight gain and digestive problems.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!