This winter was not a good one in the constant war-on-fat-donkeys that I wage around here. There were extreme drought conditions over the whole region during the 2016 hay making season. Drought stresses the grass and the grass responds by making and storing more sugar. And sugar is bad for fat donkeys.
The sugar content of all the 2016 hay I had tested has been nearly double the previous year's. I tried to buy some local straw and even that had a high sugar content. Drought is bad for fat donkeys.
I have cut back the rations as far as it is safe to go and I do all I can to make them work for every bite. And yet, everybody has gained scary amounts of weight this winter. Even Ramsey, who has kept his youthful figure until now, has plumped up more than I am happy with.
I have already reduced the pasture access to a narrow strip around the field and now that the weather is warm, I am making everybody eat soaked hay. The greener the grass gets, the louder the complaints get.
Soaking is the only feasible way of lowering the sugar content of hay. It can be tricky to manage and is impossible in the winter, but it is effective as it leaches out water soluble sugars.
The trouble is, it also leaches out minerals, fiber and protein. The amount of minerals, fiber and protein that get leached out depends on how long you soak the hay and how warm the water is. If you have to feed soaked hay for a long period of time, mineral imbalances can be a problem.
Generally, the safest way to feed soaked hay is to only soak the hay for 1-2 hours before feeding it (assuming you are using cold water). This will remove about 80% of the water soluble carbs (WSC) without much effect on the anything else. Soaking for longer amounts of time will not greatly reduce the sugar, but will begin to leach everything else.
Unfortunately, soaked hay does not keep, especially in hot weather, and needs to be fed out and eaten quickly. Add this to the fact that enough soaked hay for four animals weighs a ton, is hard to move and uses lots of water (which cannot be reused) and soaking hay is a massive pain in the ass. But what else is there to do?
Given the difficulties inherent in soaking hay, working a job and needing to sleep occasionally, I have been feeding out the small amount of low carb hay that I have as half of the ration and feeding soggy hay the rest of the time. No one has lost any weight yet and with the grass growing like crazy, they probably won't, but I am hopping to forestall any more expansion.
It is a never ending battle.