“Donkeys go wild in Devon”: Natural grazing trial for equine herd

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A herd of 40 donkeys are going natural in a new grazing trial.
A herd of 40 donkeys are going natural in a new grazing trial. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A group of lucky donkeys is getting the chance to go free range and explore a wild valley for several weeks — but they can return to their cosy barn whenever they please.

The trial will give 40 donkeys from The Donkey Sanctuary the chance to go natural for six weeks, after their grazing enclosure in Sidmouth, Devon was temporarily extended.

In the “autumn adventure”, the herd will be allowed to roam freely across part of the site, in an area that includes hillside, woods and fields. It is hoped that by grazing the field in a more natural way they may help to increase the biodiversity of the grassland.

This, in turn, helps the donkeys by giving them a varied diet, an enriching environment to explore, exercise, and freedom to discover new areas of land. The vegetation in the new areas consists of mixed native species of grasses and flowering plants which are relatively low in sugars, high in fibre, and more suitable to a donkey’s low energy requirements.

The new area starts with a track which runs through woodland, and then out into open pasture down the valley.

Maxine Carter, Slade House Farm Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary said the donkeys from New Barn at Slade House Farm will have the choice to explore the fields further down the valley.

“The donkeys will have access to fields with a variety of grasses, with shade and shelter provided by the trees and hedge line. They can choose what they wish to eat, roaming and grazing as they meander down the valley, and will have access to their barn at all times, where fresh water and straw will be available.

“The donkeys will be health checked, weighed and assessed, to make sure they are fit enough to undertake the steep hills they will be grazing. Our teams will be on hand every day to monitor our donkeys, watch them graze and make sure they are all happy in their new environment.”

The Freedom to Roam trial is the second in a project that first took place in the spring, and staff at the charity will closely monitor the donkeys to see how they respond to this new opportunity.

Visitors will still have a good chance of seeing the donkeys by following a designated viewing track and have the opportunity to spot them showing more natural behaviour.

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