The development of guidelines to improve dairy donkey management and welfare

Donkey milk is a valuable product for babies suffering from multiple-allergies and cosmetic production; therefore, new dairy donkey farms are opening around Europe. Little information is available for farmers on sustainable production of donkey milk, including animal welfare, milk production, and processing. Targeted dissemination of information on appropriate animal management would assist dairy donkey farmers in preventing welfare problems. This research project aims to develop guidelines on good practice principles for sustainable donkey milk production. Different steps were followed to develop the guidelines:

  1. Identification of key issues for dairy donkey welfare, analysing the results of previous project and the available scientific literature
  2. Systematic review research to select promising solutions for each issue included in the guidelines
  3. Stakeholder consultation, in order to increase scientific soundness and to enhance their acceptability throughout the sector
  4. Guidelines drafting and revisions by stakeholders
  5. Guidelines launch.

The guidelines ‘Dairy donkeys: good practice principles for sustainable donkey milk production’ were launched in December 2017. They include suggestions derived from scientific literature and/or reported by internationally recognised experts. The guidelines provide clear and helpful advice on good animal management practices for anyone interested in donkey milk production. They comprise the following chapters:

  • Responsibilities
  • Feed and water
  • Housing and management
  • Donkey health care
  • Humane killing
  • Appropriate behaviour
  • Milking procedures.

The guidelines, translated in different languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Greek and Chinese Mandarin) are freely available online.

The guidelines “Dairy donkeys: good practice principles for sustainable donkey milk production” are freely available online in six languages.

The guidelines provide clear and helpful advice on good animal management practices for anyone interested in donkey milk production.

The guidelines include suggestions derived from scientific literature and/or reported by internationally recognised experts.

Start page
End page
Publication date

Equine cyathostominae can develop to infective third-stage larvae on straw bedding


Domesticated grazing animals including horses and donkeys are frequently housed using deep litter bedding systems, where it is commonly presumed that there is no risk of infection from the nematodes that are associated with grazing at pasture. We use two different approaches to test whether equids could become infected with cyathostomines from the ingestion of deep litter straw bedding.


Two herbage plot studies were performed in horticultural incubators set up to simulate three straw bedding scenarios and one grass turf positive control. Faeces were placed on 16 plots, and larval recoveries performed on samples of straw/grass substrate over 2- to 3-week periods. Within each incubator, a thermostat was set to maintain an environmental temperature of approximately 10 °C to 20 °C. To provide further validation, 24 samples of straw bedding were collected over an 8-week period from six barns in which a large number of donkeys were housed in a deep litter straw bedding system. These samples were collected from the superficial bedding at 16 sites along a “W” route through each barn.


No infective larvae were recovered from any of the plots containing dry straw. However, infective cyathostomine larvae were first detected on day 8 from plots containing moist straw. In the straw bedding study, cyathostomine larvae were detected in 18 of the 24 samples. Additionally, in the two barns which were sampled serially, the level of larval infectivity generally increased from week to week, except when the straw bedding was removed and replaced.


We have demonstrated that equine cyathostomines can develop to infective larvae on moist straw bedding. It is therefore possible for a horse or donkey bedded in deep litter straw to become infected by ingesting the contaminated straw. This has implications for parasite control in stabled equids and potentially in housed ruminants, and further investigation is required in order to establish the relative infective pressure from pasture versus straw bedding.

Publication date

Effects of management practices on the welfare of dairy donkeys and risk factors associated with signs of hoof neglect

This Research Paper aimed to investigate donkey welfare in dairy husbandry systems and to identify the potential factors affecting it at animal level. In 2015, twelve dairy donkey farms (19–170 donkeys per farm, mean = 55 ± 48), distributed throughout Italy, were visited. On each farm, the Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) welfare assessment protocol for donkeys was used by two trained assessors to evaluate the welfare of animals for a total of 257 donkeys assessed. The protocol includes animal-based indicators that were entered in a digitalised system. Prevalence of different scores at individual, farm and category level were calculated. Farmers were asked to fill out a questionnaire including information regarding the management of donkeys and their final destination. Answers to the questionnaire were then considered as effects in the risk factor analysis whereas the scores of the animal-based indicators were considered as response variables. Most of the donkeys (80·2%) enjoyed a good nutritional status (BCS = 3). 18·7% of donkeys showed signs of hoof neglect such as overgrowth and/or incorrect trimming (Min = 0% Max = 54·5%). Belonging to a given farm or production group influenced many of the welfare indicators. The absence of pasture affected the likelihood of having skin lesions, alopecia, low BCS scores and a less positive emotional state. Lack of routine veterinary visits (P < 0·001) and having neglected hooves (P < 0·001) affected the likelihood of being thin (BCS < 3). Belonging to specific production groups, lack of access to pasture and showing an avoidance reaction to an approaching human (AD) resulted in risk factors associated with a higher prevalence of signs of hoof neglect. Our results support the idea that lack of knowledge of proper donkey care among owners was behind many welfare issues found.

Published online ahead of print.

Publication date

Monitoring herd health in donkeys using welfare assessment and clinical records

Alexandra K. Thiemann
Karen Rickards
Presentation date

Traditional herd health monitoring is based on veterinary morbidity/ mortality figures using historical data from computerised records. The Donkey Sanctuary has responsibility for a large number of rescue and rehomed donkeys on farms whose welfare is high priority. The Donkey Sanctuary has introduced a validated welfare assessment tool to be used four times a year, to monitor animal and resource based measures of welfare (AWIN). This allows information to captured in real time rather than retrospectively and adverse welfare can be identified. Using this tool allows evidence based management changes to be made.

The Donkey Sanctuary is an equine charity whose mission is to “transform the quality of life for donkeys, mules and the people that depend upon them worldwide”. In the UK, The Donkey Sanctuary cares for over 2000 donkeys on a number of farms varying in size from 250-580 animals. The farms aim to rehome up to 10% of their herd annually to guardian (private) homes or donkey assisted therapy centres. The farms also provide a show case for our work to visiting professionals and the public. Welfare of the donkeys on farms is critical to the credibility of The Donkey Sanctuary. Using welfare-based criteria alongside health records has enabled the teams to pro-actively monitor donkey welfare, refine management practices, re-direct budgets and track progress. Since 2017, The Donkey Sanctuary has been using the stage 1 AWIN (Animal Welfare Indicators), which are animal and resource based measures. AWIN is used on a quarterly basis on all farms to evaluate the following AWIN criteria: Appropriate nutrition (body condition score BCS), Absence of injuries (lameness, joint swelling, skin change, prolapse), Absence of disease (hair coat, faecal staining, ocular/nasal discharge, abnormal breathing, cheek teeth palpation), Absence of Pain (hoof neglect, lameness, hot branding), and Human-Animal Relationship (avoidance behaviours, tail tuck). The donkeys chosen are a random 10% at each visit using a named list of donkeys. This data is evaluated alongside information collected from a computer based Animal Management System, where vets input clinical conditions in pre-determined categories to monitor physical health - the main ones aligned are BCS, lameness, colic, hyperlipaemia, sarcoid, eye disease, and mortality rate. Over 1 year at 1 farm with 580 donkeys: AWIN showed (i) loss of weight control over summer with total animals BCS >4 (scale 1-5) increasing from 13% in January to 31% in September, (ii) lameness peaking on turnout (from 6-15% herd), (iii) skin disease (relating to lice burden) decreasing from 32% (winter) to 7 % summer, (iv) hoof neglect (thrush, abscesses) remaining high all year at >50%, (v) avoidance behaviours constant at about 12%- relating to new animals arriving and calm animals leaving. Data is recorded in Excel, and presented graphically and by written documentation. Quarterly meetings with the farm manager and staff enable timely feedback.

Welfare can be benchmarked across farms and improvements aimed for. AWIN is validated and straightforward to use.

Published as conference proceedings
Subscribe to management