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.