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

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.

Start page
End page
Publication date

Ensuring the welfare of the farmed donkey for the production of milk: an analysis of the legislation

Donkey’s milk is a valuable product for paediatric patients with allergy to cow milk proteins. As the donkey milk qualifies as a product intended primarily for consumers with special needs, it should be of good quality and therefore the donkeys must enjoy good health and welfare.

To better understand how dairy donkeys’ welfare is assured around Europe, an analysis of EU, Italian and Regional Legislation about welfare of donkeys used to produce milk was conducted. According to 98/58/EC Directive, donkeys kept for milk/meat production should be considered as farm animals. This Directive, without being species-specific, lays down minimum standards for the protection of animals bred or kept for farming purposes.

European Regulation 37/2010 and Italian Dlgs 193/2006 report the rules on the use of veterinary drugs. A veterinarian must prescribe pharmacologically active substances and commend an appropriate withdrawal period to ensure that food derived from treated animals does not contain residues harmful to consumers. No specific information regarding drugs for dairy donkeys is reported and it is unclear what happens in reality when a lactating jenny needs treatment.

Three Italian Regions (Piemonte, Emilia Romagna and Veneto) have specific regulations about donkey milk production. The “D.D. 461 17/06/2013”, “Circolare 17 05/10/2005” and “ALLEGATO A Dgr 513 03/04/2012” report requirements for milk production to guarantee adequate food safety and generically suggest that donkeys should be kept in good welfare conditions.

In addition, Italian guidelines “Codice per la Tutela e la Gestione degli Equidi” provides essential criteria for proper management of equines, according to good practices and ethical behaviour; they give suggestions about nutrition and water provision, stable management, training, identification documents, transport, euthanasia, education of farmers.

Our work highlights that protecting welfare of donkeys used to produce milk may be affected by a lack of specific legislation. As a first step, the development of specific guidelines would help to improve their welfare.

End page
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

Italian donkey milk farms: a snapshot of welfare conditions

Presentation date

Donkey milk is precious for paediatric patients suffering from multiple-allergies and this research aims to investigate welfare of donkeys used to produce milk in Italy.

Twelve farms were visited between June and September 2015 by two female assessors, aged 23 - 31 years. The welfare assessment was conducted on a representative sample of animals, using the AWIN welfare assessment protocol for donkeys, comprising 22 animal based indicators. A total of 257 donkeys (females = 131; pregnant females = 73 gelding = 1; stallions = 52) of different breeds, aged between one and 360 months (mean = 65.70 ± 61.92) were assessed. Data was collected using ODK application and analysed with IBM SPSS Statistic 23. The proportion of donkeys with different scores for each welfare indicator was calculated.

On the average, the assessed donkeys enjoyed good welfare status. Most of the donkeys (80.2%) showed a good nutritional status (BCS = 3); the others tended to be thin (12.8% with BCS = 2) rather than fat (6.2% with BCS = 4). The main issue highlighted was hoof care: 18.7% of the donkeys showed signs of neglect. All the donkeys could express normal behaviour and interact with conspecifics. Most of the donkeys showed positive reactions to human-animal relationship tests; 20.9% donkeys were not used to be restrained with a head-collar, thus it was not possible to assess them.

Even though no major welfare issues were found, some management practices require consideration. Education of farmers could prove useful to improve dairy donkey welfare.

Subscribe to milk