The Donkey Sanctuary has begun a collaboration with a team led by Dr Michela Minero at the University of Milan to research donkey milk farming protocols. The study aims to look at ways to improve the lives of dairy donkeys by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farming practices.
Donkey milk farming is a growing sector, especially in parts of Continental Europe; this is raising many concerns for the welfare of the donkeys involved.
Andy Foxcroft, Director of Care and Welfare says: “To better understand the situation of donkeys used for milking, their offspring and the jacks used for breeding we are supporting a yearlong research project looking at welfare, legislation and safety issues of milk farming in Italy”.
The scientists involved are established researchers undertaking national and international projects on animal welfare, including a recent EU funded research project (Animal Welfare Indicators - AWIN) that has led to the development of indicators for donkey welfare assessment.
In order to achieve the goals of the project, the researchers 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 AWIN project, gather data about the husbandry of donkey stallions, both as studs and those surplus to breeding and to collect information regarding the donkeys’ final destination when leaving the milk farm.
The researchers accessed farms with very different management characteristics and saw many examples of ancient local breeds. All the farmers agreed to take part in the study on a voluntary basis. The research continues to progress in a bid to achieve goals set by the project.