"Bray!" for Steamed Hay Says Elderly Donkey Near Death No More
Flicka Foundation's favourite senior citizen donkey brought back to health with help from Haygain Steamed Hay.
By Kim Miller | Equestrian Writer
"We heard this massive wheeze," recalls Charlie Main, equine manager at the Flicka Foundation Donkey Sanctuary. It was the last thing the team wanted to hear from Marla, the 20-plus-ish donkey who'd undergone a succession of life-threatening illnesses after being rescued from a likely route to slaughter. With ample evidence of having lived a very hard life, Marla arrived at the sanctuary in the United Kingdom's West Cornwall with her daughter Peaches.
Marla & Fiona
Marla was just gaining weight after dental surgery for issues that had made it hard to eat. That was followed by an infestation of red worms. "She had two or three stints in hospital critical care and we thought we were going to lose her," explains Charlie. "She's had many miracles in her favour." Hearing an on-the-mend Marla suddenly struggling to breathe was equal parts worrisome and disappointing. She was rushed back to the veterinary hospital, where an endoscopic exam revealed inflammation of the respiratory tract.
Asthma was the clear diagnosis. The condition is not good in any equid, and especially an elderly one who'd already been through the ringer with previous health problems.
Marla was put on medication to control the inflammation and steps were taken to reduce dust in her environment. Knowing that even good quality hay is a main source of the respirable dust that causes inflammation, the Flicka team began soaking Marla's hay.
Soaking does reduce dust, but it can also increase mold and bacteria in hay. Plus, its soggy texture can be unappealing. Throughout her earlier illnesses, Marla had lost weight to the point of being anorexic, Charlie explains. "It can be hard to build their appetite back up after that."
Marla before arriving at The Flicka Foundation.
Contacted by a Flicka Foundation team member, Haygain was happy to help by sending Marla an HG One high-temperature hay steamer. The smallest of three models, it steams enough hay for one or two feedings for a horse, and a day's worth for a donkey.
Marla took to the fresh steamed hay immediately. In fact, her appetite has improved so much that she is actually on a diet now, Charlie relays. After many months of "feeding her literally everything we could to keep weight on," it's a relief to see her appetite so much improved. "She calls for her steamed hay and is always ready and waiting for it."
Haygain high-temperature steaming eliminates up to 99% of the dust, mold, bacteria and other allergens found even in hay of good nutritional quality. Along with improving appetite, steamed hay has three times the moisture content of dry hay: it's great for hydration and digestive health.
Marla enjoying a summer day.
The Flicka Foundation Donkey Sanctuary is grateful for the help of Haygain and many other generous supporters, individuals and companies. Started by Mary Berryman 26 years ago, the non-profit is home to 100-plus equids today: 92 donkeys and about 20 horses and ponies.
An increase in pet adoptions has been one happy result of the pandemic. However, worries that new owners might not grasp the responsibilities of ownership are becoming a reality. "We've taken in quite a few donkeys throughout lockdown," confirms Charlie. "I think people have not known what they'd taken on or maybe they kind of bought it as a toy for the family."
Even in "normal" times, the Sanctuary's residents typically arrive with heartbreaking back stories. "A lot come from meat markets. Some are overworked 'beach' donkeys and some were abandoned--at an airport, at a home for two weeks after the family moved out."
Because volunteers can't come help out during lockdown, the Sanctuary's small staff has been in overdrive caring for their charges. It's happy work, however, Charlie states. "It is special to be part of their life and to show them that life doesn't have to be the way it was before. They enjoy lots of fuss and cuddles and, especially, ginger biscuits. They play tug-of-war with our Wellington boots, and they really like to be with other donkeys and to bond with their people." Working donkeys are usually past their prime in their 20s, but, if well cared for, they can live into their 50s. As Marla's good health attests, "well-cared for" is an understatement when it comes to life at the Flicka Foundation.
For more information or to donate to the Flicka Foundation, visit www.flickafoundation.org.uk.
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