Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fat Farm or The Herbivores Dilemma

Seeing as how donkeys are such "easy keepers" and Tessa is as well, I was anticipating having to take some drastic measures to regulate just how much pasture they had access to during the grazing season.  Donkeys and horses have a fairly unique digestive system that is designed for very small amounts of high fiber, low protein feed to be consumed almost constantly combined with near constant exercise to find that food.  Their stomachs are extremely small and they produce stomach acid all the time, not just when they eat as most other animals and people do.

What this means is that, if they go for long periods (6-8 hours) of time without eating, they get ulcers.  They also get huge spikes in their insulin levels when they finally do get a meal.  Their insulin levels can spike as much as 800% higher than normal, which can lead to insulin resistance, founder, laminitis, etc.  Lush, green grass is about the worst thing to feed them aside from grains, which they really shouldn't get at all.

It's all a bit like telling a person that he or she can only eat ice cream, donuts and pizza and expecting that person to not gain weight.  On the other hand, I rely on my pasture to feed everybody during the summer months and I want to encourage as much exercise as possible.  It is a dilemma.

I needed a system that would limit their access to grass while simultaneously providing them with enough food and maximizing their exercise.  What I came up with is a variation of a Paddock Paradise setup, which is really just a track around the perimeter of the pasture.  I have not ever tried this before so it is a grand experiment for all of us.  So far it seems to be working well.  Ramsey's current weight is ideal.  Emma is a wee bit chubby, but not horribly so and I think it is probably the best we can do given the available feed stuff in the area.  Tessa is the real fatty right now and a grazing muzzle may be in her future.  As long as no one gains any more, we'll probably be OK with the hope that they will drop some pounds over the winter.

This is an aerial view of my farm taken before I built my house or barn, the tracks you can see all over it are ATV tracks as that is what the previous owners used it for..

This is the same view with the fences outlined...

and with the pasture paradise track in blue.  There is a small track inside the back pasture as well that I forgot to draw in.

It is about 1800 feet from the barn to the furthest corner of the lower pasture.  If they make 6-8 trips around the track in a day, I figure they're getting at least a couple miles in each day and with the occasional mad gallop around the whole course 2-3 times...well it's better than standing around doing nothing all day.  This setup also allows me to do strip grazing as I can move bits of the interior fence further inwards to give them more grass as needed.  It's also had the added bonus of providing a sanctuary for ground nesting birds.

With the portable fencing I use it was relatively easy and inexpensive to put together.

Do you see them way out there, in the midst of a wild gallop around the race track?  Tessa always wins.  In the land of small donkeys, the biggest horse is the fastest.


  1. More interesting facts I didn't know. Maybe this is why the wild horses in the West seem to do pretty well. Limited forage, much moving about.

  2. Looks absolutely wonderful!! We are trying a track system at the moment too.... I am struggling to get them to eat the track down enough to open it up though at the moment. Really interested to hear how you get on, oh the dilemma of donkeys, at least they're cheap to feed :-)

  3. Ooh, this is a really good idea! Had to read it a couple times to really get the point (it's early ;-), but I LIKE it!

  4. I'm glad to hear your tracks are working for your donkeys. I've had tracks for the horses in the past but Scout kept running through the interior fence into the lush grass in the middle so I gave up. I've been wanting to set up a track again now that I have the donkeys. Soon, I think. If I can get the posts into the dry ground.

  5. No wonder your animals love you so! I'm an apartment dweller with 1 cat, but I find your animal husbandry tales fascinating!

    Nancy in Iowa

  6. What a brilliant idea, i can think of a few kids summering in front of their televisions and grazing on junk foods who would do very well to have that track.. wonderful animals you have there.. c

  7. Our donkeys are easy keepers, they graze in the deeper forest and keep themselves slick and happy.

    I give Opal a small kid's cup of sweet feed each day so that she looks forward to seeing me. Times vary.
    Sometimes I'll ride her sometimes I won't. Sometimes I show up at the gate and she does to eager to ride.

    Tessa is gaited? If you have a super nice horse and a super nice calm Jack you can make a nice mule.
    But it takes many years of work to get to Fred or Opal stage.
    I'm currently doing my project of 6 yrs on Siera.
    No quick trip to a 30 day wonder trainer. She and I make a special bond.
    Just like I did with Badger.


  8. Nice. I really like this system. I've thought about doing paddock paradise for Josie and her turnout pals, but I'm too wary of my electric fencing abilities to try it your way. I can just imagine my fat appaloosa mare running up and down the road because I messed up the wiring. So I wait for solid boards...

  9. wow, lots of work! Where is pond in all of this? Di

  10. This is fascinating. First, the airiel photos of your farm. Where did those come from? And this method of keeping everyone exercised and fit is genius.

    I worry about Opal let loose in the meadow which she is in at the moment. And of course, she snarfing up as much grass as she wants. I am amazed at how resiliant she is.

    How tall is your portable fence? is it electric? The photo of Tessa, Emma and Ramsey looks like they're just in tall grass.

  11. What a great idea! I wonder where our aerial photo is... I put it away to keep it safe, Of course!!!