Donkey Home Visit with Mark Kerr, Donkey Welfare Adviser
It’s February and there’s a gale blowing. I pass a fallen tree on the way. I’m meeting Mark at a garden centre in Horsham, West Sussex. We’ve managed to pick the day of Storm Doris. We navigate rows of plant pots and brightly coloured flowers and take refuge in the café.
Over coffee, Mark tells me about his job as Donkey Welfare Adviser for South East England. He delivers donkey care training to a wide range of clients and works with rescue donkeys, re-homed donkeys, working donkeys, semi-feral donkeys, relinquishments and welfare cases, covering the whole of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire and South London. This calls for superhuman powers of organisation.
The support he offers is as much for people as it is for donkeys. On any given day, he can be advising a new donkey owner, liaising with a beach donkey operator, helping a family through the heartbreak of parting with a donkey they can no longer care for or attending a serious neglect case. He needs plenty of patience, understanding and sensitivity. He also needs to know when to be ‘firm but fair’.
The reassurance and encouragement he gives to Donkey Guardians is as valuable as the practical help he provides and as the only Welfare Adviser in his area, he often visits families over many years. It’s an important relationship and clearly one he finds hugely rewarding.
Once we finish our coffees it’s time to visit a farm where four donkeys, rescued in 2013, are now living. As we drive down country lanes with the wind whipping around us, Mark says he’s got to know the area surprisingly well since starting the job back in 2003. Donkey people tend to live on out-of-the-way farms and in hidden, rural villages, so he’s discovered places he would never otherwise know about.
While we’re in the car, he takes a call. It’s an old client who’s having issues with the land his donkeys are on. He listens attentively and promises to be in touch soon. After a few more twists and turns, we head down a long, narrow road that leads to the farm. I can already spot some long ears over the fence.
Wendy Osborn and her husband have a smallholding in West Sussex. They took this on as a new venture a few years ago, after their children had left home. Not afraid of a challenge they then joined The Donkey Sanctuary’s re-homing scheme and became Donkey Guardians to Adem, Tarrant, Sam and Reef in November 2016.
Life could have turned out very differently for these four donkeys. In 2013, Adem and Tarrant were relinquished to the care of The Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland, from the pound. Sam and Reef were born at one of the Irish Sanctuary’s holding bases to mares that had been seized by the Gardai and WSPCA as part of a group of six. They had no food, shelter or water, very bad hooves and were in poor condition.
In October 2015, to avoid overstocking, they were all moved to Devon. On arrival, they completed a settling in period during which time they received lots of love and attention from the staff to help them feel at home, as well as thorough medical checks. For a year or so, they spent their days quietly roaming the fields and barns with their new group of friends at Paccombe farm, just outside of Sidmouth.
They were such good natured donkeys, it was felt they deserved a chance to join the Sanctuary’s rehoming scheme, where they would receive the one-to-one attention they enjoy. All four were moved to the training centre to receive extra individual handling and attention to prepare them for a new home.
The most common health issues for donkeys in the UK tend to be weight, hoof and dental problems. Regular monitoring helps ensure that any issues are spotted early and can be more easily dealt with. Mark carries out the checks and talks Wendy through each step…
Heart Girth Measurement
Mark passes the tape measure around the girth area of the donkey near the heart at the back of the front legs, to monitor the donkey’s weight. An increase or decrease in measurement of 1 cm equates to approximately 5 kilos of weight. An average donkey in the UK weighs about 180kg.
To pick your donkey’s hooves, run your hands gently down towards the hoof, to give him time to prepare to lift the hoof. Keep the leg you’re lifting level with and under the body to help the donkey balance. Pick out the dirt between the frog and the sole with a hoof pick, moving the pick from the top of the hoof down towards the middle. Remove any stones from the white line and use the brush part of the hoof pick to remove any remaining dirt.
A donkey’s hooves should be picked out daily and this is a good opportunity to check for signs of White Line Infection (Seedy Toe), Laminitis, Abscesses, Thrush and overgrown hooves.
Body Condition Check
Mark uses his hands to check the neck, sides, back and hindquarters for overall body condition. He is feeling for prominence of bones, muscle development, skin condition, irregular fatty deposits, sarcoids and any other unusual lumps and bumps which may require further investigation.
Mark stands at eye level with the donkey and gently parts his lips to check the front teeth, which should meet accurately in a horizontal line. He then gently pushes up the cheeks to check the back teeth using the palms of his hands. He checks for any missing teeth, uneven, long, sharp or overhanging teeth and any gaps in between adjoining teeth.
Signs of dental problems include weight loss, difficulty eating, poor digestion, bad breath, nasal discharge, food collecting around the teeth, head tilting, tooth grinding and changes in behaviour such as irritability or becoming withdrawn.
The donkeys all take turns and everyone passes with flying colours. Time for some rest and relaxation…
After a worrying start in life and few interesting stops along the way, Adem, Tarrant, Sam and Reef seem to finally be home. Wendy has given them all the security they need as well as plenty of love and attention. They even have their names written on the stable wall.
Monitoring Your Donkey’s Weight and Condition, The Donkey Sanctuary
Dental Care Information For Owners, The Donkey Sanctuary
Picking Out Your Donkey’s Feet – Video, The Donkey Sanctuary
Donkey Hoof Problems, Donkey Care Q&A, Donkey Time
Copyright 2017 Amy Swift