Artificial feeding system benefits foals at Donkey Sanctuary
13:56 July 20, 2022
The Donkey Sanctuary has developed a pioneering nursing system to help the natural development of the orphan foals in their care.
It is used to replace hand rearing, which can cause behavioral problems in young equids.
The idea came from a groom with farming experience who had seen an artificial suckling system used to raise newborn lambs.
The Donkey Sanctuary created a simple feeding mechanism with a plastic tube leading from an enclosed milk pail to a lamb’s bottle nipple attached to a stable door at an appropriate height.
It allows the foal to self-administer its food by reproducing its natural breeding behavior.
It was successfully tested on a male colt named Sam who was given bottles every three to four hours. The team caring for him noticed that he was developing behavioral issues and switched to the artificial system.
The system was adapted so successfully for Sam that The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland used it again to help raise a rejected foal called Bugsy. The Irish team further improved the system by building a structure to house the nursing equipment with space for the foal to enter and reach the teat.
Ben Hart, Senior Lead Behavior and Human Behavior Change at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “While rare, orphaned foals are one of the greatest challenges to equine care and welfare. Hand rearing is often the only option for equine sanctuaries when an orphan arrives. However, too much inappropriate human handling can lead to behavioral issues as the foal grows.
“The development of this artificial feeding system, which mimics the natural environment, is a great example of how team collaboration, academic excellence and lateral thinking can significantly improve not only health, the welfare and behavioral development of the donkeys in our care, but also of equines around the world who can learn from our pioneering work.
Meanwhile, The Donkey Sanctuary has introduced new activities to entertain visitors this summer. There is a new natural playground for children of all ages and a summer quiz course which takes people around the sanctuary to find quiz boards located around the grounds.