Management practices and milk production in dairy donkey farms distributed over the Italian territory
Limited information is available about the actual management characteristics of dairy donkeys in Southern Europe. The aim of the present study is to describe animal management of dairy donkey farms in Italy. Twelve farmers were asked to answer a questionnaire on the management of their animals and their farms distributed over the Italian territory. Six farms grouped their animals in paddocks according to the production characteristics (e.g. lactating, dry, stallions); three farms housed the stallions in single boxes. Most of the visited farms were family run and the number of animals cared for by a single person varied from five to 103 animals. All the farms but one performed mechanical milking with a modified goat milkmaid.Vaccinations were regularly performed only on two farms. All the foals received colostrum and suckled from their own mothers. Foals were nursed by their mother until 6-12 months old. During the separation period before milking, foals were usually (83%) housed in paddocks near their mothers with the possibility of visual and/or tactile contact, however such separations could be for up to 12 hours (17%). Even though the assessed sample was small, considerable differences were seen between farms, likely due to lack of uniform information available for the farmers. The adoption of scientific based procedures is suggested in order to improve both animal welfare and milk quality.