What you need to know:
- The number of animals has been declining steadily, worsened by their low breeding rate and increased slaughter.
- Goldox Farm showcases how the beast of burden, which has extremely low reproduction rate, can be bred and reared to avert their extinction.
- Donkey milk is good for children and the elderly while the skin is used as part of bedding.
- Often referred to as beast of burden, many believe the animals are not affected by elements like heat stress.
The distinctive braying can be heard from a distance as one approaches the farm in Mogotio, Baringo County. The heehaws become almost musical as we enter the farm named Goldox.
The six-acre establishment is dedicated to breeding the animals and is run by Goldox Kenya Ltd, a Chinese firm that slaughters the animals to feed the export market.
The abattoir was closed following a government ban after concerns were raised on the dwindling number of donkeys, with experts warning that the animal was facing extinction.
Agriculture CS Peter Munya placed an embargo on slaughter and exportation of donkeys and their products early this year.
He also revoked licences of four slaughterhouses. Goldox was one of them. The others are Star Brilliant Abattoir in Maraigushu, Nakuru, Fuhai Trading Company Limited in Machakos and Silzha Limited in Turkana.
Focus has, therefore, shifted to breeding the animals to increase their numbers.
The Seeds of Gold visited Goldox Farm to get first-hand information on donkey breeding as research shows the animals are difficult breeders because of their behavioural characteristics.
Tens of colts (young uncastrated males), foal (young donkeys) and fillies (young females) graze on the farm as the adults feed on hay inside well-constructed sheds.
“If donkeys are well-taken care of, they become excited when they see you. Each donkey has a personality which you notice when you spend more time with them,” says Boniface Kiplagat, the farm supervisor who leads a team of eight workers.
Their 205 animals are kept in a semi-intensive system, where they feed on hay while in their shed and also graze in the field and are given concentrates.
“We graze them during the day and in the evening, we take them to the sheds where we offer them hay, salts and the concentrate,” says Kiplagat of the farm started in 2018 with 30 animals.
Breeding has many challenges
Each animal has an identification number displayed on the ear tag for easy tracing and breeding.
“The numbers help us in keeping birth, weight, disease, mortality and vaccination records. Donkeys are not prone to diseases but we vaccinate them against diseases like tetanus to ensure they stay healthy.”
The farm has eight jacks and 160 jennies and the rest are foals. The animals are of Maasai, Somali wild and Abyssinian breeds.
To breed them, Kiplagat explains that they have a separate shed where they keep the jack to serve the jennies.
“Once we notice a jenny trying to mount other animals, it is immediately taken to the mating shed. It stays there until the pregnancy is visible and then moved to maternity shed,” he explains, adding the animal calves in about 10 months.
Jing Lu, the farm owner, acknowledges that donkey breeding has many challenges, which makes the number of animals to remain low.
For instance, farms have to rely on natural breeding because artificial insemination services are lacking.
A young donkey goes for between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000 and a mature one from Sh12,000 to Sh14,000. Hides go for Sh3,000 or more .
Donkeys are used for carrying heavy loads at home, on the farm and market centres for transport.
They are also reared for meat and fat, which is highly regarded as medicinal.
In China, donkey hides are boiled to produce ejiao, the gelatin used in traditional medicine.
A clean environment
In other parts of the world, there are donkey parks where the animals offer comfort to visitors in therapy programmes.
Donkey milk is good for children and the elderly while the skin is used as part of bedding.
As the number of donkeys on the farm rises, it is working on a plan to give out residents a jack and a jenny to breed them.
“Mature animals would be sold to us later,” says Kiplagat.
Juliana Opiyo, a livestock production specialist from Nakuru County, says donkeys should be fed mainly on dry grass and concentrates.
“Breeders should control the ratio of male to female as they fight a lot during mating. To avoid this fierce fighting, choose a dominant male to serve them and castrate the rest,” she says.
Baringo sub-county director of veterinary services Gideon Marusoi advises that the animals should be dewormed, especially those meant for breeding
“Donkeys don’t suffer from contagious diseases such as foot and mouth but a strict deworming regime and vaccination against African horse sickness should be followed,” he says, adding the animals should be kept in a clean environment.
Often referred to as beast of burden, many believe the animals are not affected by elements like heat stress.
“The stress can result in higher abortion rates and lead to conditions such as hyperlipaemia, which makes them to stop eating,” says Marusoi.
“This results in negative energy balance and too much stored fat being released into the bloodstream. The condition could lead to high mortality rates,” he adds.
1. Donkeys have a low production rate due to spontaneous abortion, foal loss rates and low fertility rates.
2. Fillies can take up to two years to be ready to be served while a jenny produces a foal only every second year.
3. For good fertility, each female donkey needs some 25 to 35 litres of fresh water per day.
4. A male donkey (jack) can be crossed with a female horse to produce a mule. A male horse can be crossed with a female donkey (jenny) to produce a hinny.