Donkey milk farming is a growing sector, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe where donkey milk is used as a cow’s milk substitute for allergic infants and is prized as a cosmetic ingredient.
Whilst some donkeys involved in the rapidly expanding dairy industry are well looked after, The Donkey Sanctuary has been repeatedly alerted to farms with poor welfare and hygiene standards.
Donkey milk farming has expanded so rapidly in the 21st century that it has been difficult for our teams throughout Europe to monitor and target welfare standards.
To better understand the situation of donkeys used for milking, their offspring and the jacks used for breeding The Donkey Sanctuary is supporting a year-long research project looking at welfare, legislation and safety issues of milk farming in Italy.
Italy has the highest number of donkey milk farms in Europe; estimates of 200 farms producing donkey milk products which are commonplace in local communities.
In March 2015 The Donkey Sanctuary began a research collaboration with a team led by Dr Michela Minero at the University of Milan.
The study aims to improve the welfare of dairy donkeys by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farming practices. To begin this process the team is working with milk farmers and The Donkey Sanctuary to establish facts upon which change and future legislation may be based.
In order to achieve the goals of the project, the researchers started to visit dairy donkey farms throughout Italy in June.
They have so far visited eight different farms to:
- understand the key requirements of donkey milk and its demand on a demographic basis;
- conduct donkey welfare assessments using donkey-based indicators developed within the European Union’s Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) project;
- gather data about the husbandry of donkey stallions, both as studs and those surplus to breeding;
- collect information regarding the donkeys’ final destination when leaving the milk farm (pet, work, meat production).
The researchers accessed farms with very different management characteristics and saw many examples of ancient local breeds; the attached photos show the local Ragusana breed. All the farmers agreed to take part in the study on a voluntary basis.
The research continues and we will try to keep you updated with progress.