The simplest and straightforward answer to this question is, yes. Donkeys do eat thistles. The beautiful plant with a flower on top like a crown is considered invasive by many people. But if you notice your donkey around thistles, you will be surprised to see how they munch on these pretty weeds. The way they carefully pluck out the parts they want to consume makes it clear to us how much they love the plant.

Why Do Donkeys Eat Thistles?

To the question as to why donkeys eat thistles, one simple answer is that they simply love them. We also have our sets of favorite food items, so then why can’t your donkey have one for itself? Coming back to our point of discussion, we may find thistles as scary invaders with their prickly surface adorned with thorns. But donkeys, don’t care about the thorns as long as they get tasty food. For donkeys, thistles are one of those appetizing options in food. So why would you want to hinder your donkey from having what they love, when the benefits are twofold?

scotch thistle

There are varieties of thistles depending upon their place of origin. The common thistle that is said to be the favorite of donkeys is the Canadian thistle. Donkeys love to have the buds of these bull thistles which occur biannually. This variety is the real invader because of the difficulty involved in removing them. The long and deep roots it possesses make it a nightmare for farmers if they get into seeding. Apart from donkeys, goats also like to have this kind of thistle. Another prominent variety of thistles is the Scotch thistle, which even has an undisputable position in the history of Scotland itself. This kind is thorny and scary enough to prevent cows from munching on it.

Donkeys and Thistles; Stories from the Past

The Ass and the Thistle is a renowned Aesop fable, which supports the notion that living beings have their preferences and that no one can judge them because of that. The story is that of an ass who is hungry and exhausted carrying a heavy load of food items for his master on its back. And on its way, the donkey sees a large thistle and finds himself lucky, even more than his master and friends who has plenty of meals to choose from. The donkey enjoying the simple joys of his life is shown in the fable.

A more recent story involving donkey and thistles is from the cartoon Winnie the Pooh, where Winnie’s cute but grumpy friend donkey’s favorite food is thistles. The long association of donkeys with thistles and how much donkeys love to have them is pretty clear, right?

Thistles, the Horror Weed

By now it is pretty evident to us that donkeys love to eat thistles. Another long-drawn association of donkeys with thistles is the free translation of the word. You will be astonished to know that thistle translates to “thorny weed that donkeys eat”! Though donkeys are capable of consuming this prickly weed, there are varieties of thistles that other livestock cannot eat with their relatively sensitive mouths. And this very nature of thistles being pricky and thorny makes it difficult for us to remove those if unwanted. You are at a place of benefit if you have thistles spread over your farm where you rear your donkeys. You can get your farm cleaned up as well as be content with the fact that your donkeys are happy and satisfied. The biological nature of thistles not going away easily also helps in this scenario.

Benefits of Thistles

Thistles are a family of non-toxic weeds, which provides proteins when consumed. But there are proofs for thistles being used in natural medicines for a long time back. Though not given proper validation, thistles have been used in the past for curing cancers and ulcers, in ancient medicine. The various parts of it have properties that are beneficial for curing different ailments and diseases which have been properly used by our ancestors. And even now, thistles are consumed by humans in different parts of the world in different ways. And we humans won’t dare to meddle with these thorny pricks without any benefits, won’t we? And therefore, let’s be happy that our donkeys love to have these weeds which have amazing benefits.

Other Livestock that Consumes Thistles

Other than donkeys, horses are found to be fond of thistles. It is like horses to chew on such surfaces, and hence, the fondness. Goats and cows also consume thistles at times, though not all the varieties and not all goats and cows. With their soft mouths, they find it difficult to eat some kinds of thistles. If they are used to some kind of thistle then there won’t be any issue. Also, if the leaves of thistles are chopped up, the cows that cannot eat from the plant itself can have it easily.


Thistles got a place in the national symbols of Scotland. It stands for bravery and courage. In that case, how brave are our donkeys if they munch on these pretty thorny weeds with much satisfaction? We would suggest that you be happy knowing the fact that your donkeys are having a good time while you yourself are getting a farm safe from thorns.


  • Sameera R

    Sameera is particularly fond of farm animals and loves to write about them. Horses are her favorites and she wishes to own one someday.

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