In recent years, there has been an increasing interest on donkey milk production, on its characteristics, and also on breeding techniques. Donkey milk is characterized by high economic value, although the productive level of jennies is poor. During the milking process, foals are usually separated from their dams, allowing the milk collection in the mammary gland of jennies before milking session. This takes 8 h per day of fastening period for lactating donkey foals. During this period, it could be possible to apply a partial artificial suckling system (artificial suckling during daytime and natural suckling during the night). The aim of the work is the evaluation of the effect of this innovative technique on in vivo performances and on meat production traits of Martina Franca donkey foals. Forty Martina Franca jennies with their foals were used for the trial. After colostrum assumption, 20 foals were partially artificially suckled (AS) during each day, and 20 foals were naturally suckled (NS). From 8.00 to 20.00, both groups were separated from their mothers in order to allow the milking procedures of the jennies. The AS group was in a stall equipped with an automatic calf-suckling machine. For each group, 10 foals were slaughtered at 12 months and 10 foals at 18 months. Artificial suckling system positively affected the growth rate of donkey foals, particularly in the first 6 months from birth, with higher weekly weight gain (P < 0.01), higher final live weight (P < 0.001), and carcass weight (P < 0.01), but no effects were observed on carcass dressing percentage (P > 0.05). Artificial suckling system permitted to extend the time of foal separation from their mothers increasing milk collection time per day, awarding fastening periods in foals.
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The authors want to thank Dr. Calzaretti Giovanna, Mr. D’Onghia Francesco, and Mr. Capurso Angelo for their skilled help.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Statement of animal rights
This study was approved by the Ethics Committee for animal testing–CESA (process number 58337-X/10).
Pasquale De Palo and Aristide Maggiolino contributed equally to this work.
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De Palo, P., Maggiolino, A., Milella, P. et al. Artificial suckling in Martina Franca donkey foals: effect on in vivo performances and carcass composition. Trop Anim Health Prod 48, 167–173 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11250-015-0940-2
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