IN THE (NOT SO) BLEAK MIDWINTER
If January happens to be a very cold month, donkeys lay low and conserve their energy, much like most creatures in these parts of the world do in wintertime.
However, here at the Donkey Valley in Bulgaria, so far, the weather this year has been exceptionally mild so our friends have been out and about, appreciating some blissful rays of sunshine.
Usually, in wintertime, our donkeys get a special treat in the morning: a more nourishing breakfast with barley and oats. No matter how atypical the season is, the temperatures are still low across the Valley and the boost of protein rich foods means a boost of protection against the cold. Nights see some frost form over the ground so we keep the donkeys away from pasture until it melts. Grazing on frosty land might make for a bad case of colic in many donkeys. The humans who look after our four-legged friends tour the grounds and make sure donkeys go to pasture only over grounds that pose no threat to their digestive system.
But this year, there’s been little frost. What frost there is melts away pretty quickly so our friends are out mid-morning, roaming the familiar grounds and grazing on fresh tufts of grass. Lush grass is not such a common treat in winter, but this year it is available courtesy of humidity, warm air, and sunlight. 25% to 50% of a donkey’s diet consists of hay and grass; hay is available all year round but grass isn’t, so this January has been a happy exception for our Valley friends.
Younger donkeys and those that are more fit spend the warmer part of the day exploring wider territories as usual. We keep our older or recovering inhabitants closer to the stables. This winter is milder and brings less snow, but the sudden winds can often be stinging. We don’t want to risk it and make sure we’re quick to bring our donkeys to shelter.
The end of January promises real winter cold and February is often even colder in Bulgaria so every day the donkeys spend out and about in winter is a blessing. But even when temperatures are too low, even when there is rain or snow, we know our friends are comfortable. They huddle close together in the stables and they are provided with everything necessary for an appropriate diet. The stables in the Valley are spacious enough for them to move around and very suitable as a shelter against the elements
Donkeys are very social animals and form strong bonds, so huddling together with their friends guarantees their comfort. Seeing the Valley workers all the time makes for calm and happy donkeys, too, so let the cold wave come if it must – at the Donkey Valley, we are ready.