FAQ Horse Care Riding Tips

Safety First: How Much Can a Donkey Carry?

Donkey at sunset
Written by Susanna W.

Small Yet Mighty

Have you ever wondered how much weight a donkey can carry? Known as a “beast of burden,” donkeys can safely carry 20-30% of their body weight. Safely is the key word here–never overload an animal. Donkeys have been doing manual labor for thousands of years. For certain tasks, donkeys are preferred over horses due to their strength and temperament.

Donkeys are strong animals capable of carrying up to 20-30% of their body weight. Because of their smaller overall size, they are more frequently used as pack animals than for riding. Even today, the donkey can perform many jobs in addition to making a great companion animal.

Donkey racing

Donkeys: An Overview

Donkeys are used for labor for a variety of reasons, including:

  • They are strong and have a good work ethic
  • They are intelligent and less likely to spook compared with a horse
  • They may be more disease-resistant than horses
  • They have a long lifespan
  • They are more heat-resistant and require less water than horses

Donkeys are particularly valuable when used for carrying goods over rough, hilly terrain where carts or vehicles can’t maneuver well.

Plus, did you know there’s such a thing as a “Beverage Burro” for parties and events?

Donkey Capacity

A good rule of thumb for most animals is that they can carry approximately 20% of their body weight. This even includes humans! (Think of backpackers-—weight recommendations follow the same percentages.)

Dogs, pack goats, horses, and mules all adhere to the same percentage range.

Donkeys are known to be stronger (per pound) than horses and hypothetically can carry more weight as a percentage of their total body weight.

Regardless, consider a few factors before loading up your donkey:

  • A healthy donkey can safely carry more weight than an overweight donkey
  • A physically fit donkey can safely carry more than an animal that doesn’t get much exercise
  • Poor quality hooves will negatively affect carrying capacity
  • Age can play a factor; a younger animal will be stronger than an older donkey. Also, consider when animals are full-grown. Standard-size donkeys usually aren’t finished growing until about four years old. You don’t want to overwork a young animal
  • The load itself matters—donkeys can carry more weight when it is well-balanced vs. unbalanced

Donkey weight infographic

How do you calculate donkey capacity?

First, you need to know your donkey’s weight. Since most owners won’t have access to that size scale, you can do this using a soft measuring tape and some math. While this guide is for measuring horses, it is a good starting point for estimating an equine’s weight.

As an example, a 500 lb donkey that is fit and healthy should be able to carry 20% of its body weight, or 100 lbs.

What should you know about packing a donkey?

Donkeys can carry more weight when the load is well-balanced. If you want to use a donkey as a pack animal, you’ll need a pack saddle. This is a special saddle designed for carrying loads. A good quality one isn’t cheap! You will also need a saddle pad, sized to fit your donkey, and rigging to secure everything.

Unlike a horse saddle, a pack saddle requires two cinches, a breast collar, and breeching (think of this as a breast collar for their butt). It takes time and practice to adjust this whole setup properly. Be sure to get help if you are new to ensure you are adjusting everything correctly!

Curious about pack saddles? Check out this video!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are donkeys used for today?

Donkeys are still used for labor around the world. In the US, donkeys are often utilized for packing. This could include multi-day backpacking trips, carrying loads into wilderness areas where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed, or hunting trips.

They can also be used as companion animals, to pull loads, and even for racing. Pack burro racing is the official summer heritage sport of Colorado. While a niche, it is worth checking out!

Q: Can donkeys carry more than horses?

Donkeys are known to be stronger per pound than horses. The “per pound” adjusts for the fact that an average horse is roughly twice the size/weight of a standard donkey.

Q: Can you ride a donkey?

Yes, donkeys can be ridden, however rider size should be based on what the donkey can safely carry. Most mini donkeys could only carry a small child (best case scenario). Standard donkeys may be able to carry up to 125 lbs. But keep in mind, this includes tack! So a large child or even a small adult may be able to ride them. Mammoth donkeys can carry an adult.

Q: How much can a donkey lift?

Donkeys can pull weight and carry weight, but aren’t really known for their lifting abilities. There is a company in the United States that manufactures a forklift under the brand “Donkey.” It can lift quite a bit more than an actual donkey—3,000-5,000 lbs depending on the model.

Q: Can a donkey pull more than it can carry?

Most animals can pull more weight than they can carry. On average, a donkey should be able to pull approximately twice its body weight across level ground.

Q. Do they use donkeys in the Grand Canyon?

Donkeys are not used for packing in the Grand Canyon, only mules.

Parting Thoughts

A healthy, well-conditioned donkey can safely carry between 20% and 30% of their body weight. Be sure to weigh (or accurately estimate) your donkey’s body weight to correctly calculate their potential maximum load.

Enlist the help of a professional if you are new to packing with a donkey, as there is a learning curve to properly adjusting a pack saddle and rigging. And remember–a balanced load is key!

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to: 


https://donkeylistener.com/can-you-ride-a-donkey/ *includes shareable donkey weight calculator image



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About the author


Susanna W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!