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Donkeys are commonly used to run with bulls as they calm them down and often will charge into a group of fighting bulls and sort them all out.

This is good news for the farmer, who has fewer injuries to his stock and it also saves damage to pasture, fences and gates, so in short saving the farmer a lot of money.

The problem is that few farmers look after their donkeys, which results in the animals becoming neglected, often becoming a welfare issue.

It is such a widespread problem that the Donkey & Mule Society of NZ and Donkey and Mule Protection Trust NZ do not support donkeys running with bulls.

Andrea Thomson, President of the Donkey & Mule Society of New Zealand, says most of the society's rescue cases are bull donkeys and they are usually in a pitiful state. She says donkeys running with bulls are a welfare issue as the conditions and/or lack of proper care mean the donkeys are liable to founder among other problems.

"Donkeys are desert animals and their feed needs are completely opposite from that which bulls being fattened need. Lush grass is not what donkeys should be eating. They are liable to founder," she says.

"Donkeys should ideally eat dry grass, or at the best short grass, branches, bark, thistles, rough hay, straw and not lush green grass.

"In addition, donkeys are social animals and they are like alpacas and need the company of their own kind to be happy, donkeys should not be without equine company. Running donkeys is good for the bulls and bull owner as it saves him money, but it is bad news for the donkey.

Andrea, who is also a trustee of the Donkey and Mule Protection Trust NZ, says that in general, farmers do not look after the donkeys.

"They do not seem to realize that their feet need trimming and they need worming," she says.

The photos in this article are typical of a rescued bull donkey so you can see what the consequences can be. (Photos supplied by Andrea Thomson.) The animal is in poor health, with very overgrown foundered hooves. This is extremely painful for the animal as the overgrown horn pulls the hoof wall away from the soft tissue surrounding the bone inside the hoof. It is like pulling off a fingernail except the animal has no choice but to put its full weight on such damaged hooves.

"Of course this can happen in other cases too," Andrea says, "But bull donkeys often have a sad future, as in addition, donkey's coats are not waterproof - being desert animals they did not need to evolve to shed water. They do not have waterproof oils like horses and the lay of their coat is different so when it rains it goes straight to the skin.

"Donkeys can get pneumonia but in general are miserable when it rains. If rain threatens a donkey will straight away head for the shed while the horse will continue to graze unconcerned. 

Donkeys save farmers a lot of money and grief by having a donkey among the bulls. However, it is important for the donkey's welfare that farmers learn to look after donkeys, just as they look after any animal on the farm. Even basic care such as providing shelter, trimming hooves monthly and worming as necessary will not cost a lot or take a lot of time, but will ensure that the donkey is kept healthy and pain-free.

Teresa Ramsey, Strasser Hoofcare Professional, Natural Hoof.

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