Monday, August 27, 2018

Donkeys feel the cold

Donkeys are not well suited to cold wet environments and need extra protection in the winter, new research has found. The findings have been incorporated into an updated Defra Code of Practice.

The research was undertaken by Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University and Dr Leanne Proops, Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, both specialists in animal behaviour and cognition, in collaboration with international animal welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary.

The study found that donkeys, and to a lesser extent mules, are less able than horses to adapt to colder, wetter climates and therefore require additional protection in the winter to meet their welfare needs..

Researchers collected hair  samples from 18 donkeys (4 females, 14 males), 16 horses (6 females, 10 males) and eight mules (5 females, 3 males), in March, June, September and December. They measured weight, length and width of hair, as indicators of the insulation properties of the hair coat.

They found no significant difference in donkey’s  hair coats across the seasons. All three measures of the insulation properties of the hair samples showed that donkeys do not grow a winter coat.

The donkeys’ hair coat was significantly lighter, shorter and thinner than that of horses and mules in winter. In contrast, the  horses’ coats changed significantly between seasons, growing much thicker in winter.

The findings have been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

Lead author, Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Christ Church, said: “Despite their fluffy looks, donkeys are not as insulated as ponies. Although they are much hardier in other aspects, they need more access to water and windproof shelter.”

“It’s fantastic to see that our research has influenced national guidelines to improve animal welfare.”

Dr Faith Burden, Director of Research and Operational Support at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “For many years it has been the ‘common sense’ advice given by The Donkey Sanctuary to ensure that donkeys and mules are given the right protection from our cold winters.

“This study now provides us with scientific evidence to show why the welfare needs of donkeys and mules differ slightly to those of horses and ponies, and how we can act to give them better protection from the elements.”

For more details, see:

Hair coat properties of donkeys, mules and horses in a temperate climate
B. Osthaus  L. Proops  S. Long  N. Bell  K. Hayday  F. Burden
Equine Veterinary Journal (2017) Vol 50, Issue 3


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I cannot agree with the findings in this study i.e. that donkeys do not grow a winter coat. Was this study carried out in a warmer climate (New Zealand) than in the UK? When we lived in Queensland my Australian donkeys did not grow a winter coat but we are now living in the UK and my English donkeys certainly do grow a much thicker and longer coat during the UK winter. This is usually moulted 2 - 3 months later in the following year than the horses moult their coats. My donkeys can still have winter coats up to June, then have a lovely sleek coat for a month or so before they start growing the new winter coat in August.

Anonymous said...

Whatever coat donkeys may grow in the uk they clearly do not stand up to wet weather, particuarly if it is cold & windy. Most Thoroughbred horses are also less able to withstand adverse weather. Surely all competent animal owners are able to observe their animals & provide rugs, shelters & feed as necessary.

sue said...

I agree with Anonymous in that here in Ireland the donkeys definitely do grow a much thicker and longer coat which they don't moult until July/August before regrowing the next winter coat in September/October. I find they don't mind the cold on a bright crisp day but hate it when wet and windy too. They are certainly not waterproof and can suffer terrible rain scald if not given permanent access to dry and windproof shelter.