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A functional approach to the body condition assessment of lactating donkeys as a tool for welfare evaluation.

  • Author(s): Valle, Emanuela
  • Raspa, Federica
  • Giribaldi, Marzia
  • Barbero, Raffaella
  • Bergagna, Stefania
  • Antoniazzi, Sara
  • Mc Lean, Amy K
  • Minero, Michela
  • Cavallarin, Laura
  • et al.
Abstract

Background

The breeding of lactating donkeys is increasing in Western Europe; with it the evaluation of body condition is growing in importance since it is considered a key principle for their welfare. However, assessment of body condition is a complex task, since several factors are involved. The aim of the present study is to investigate which animal-based indicators are the most reliable to describe the body condition of lactating donkeys. For this purpose, new animal-based indicators, which are easy to measure in field conditions (including body measurements, fatty neck score (FNS), dental score), are recorded and their relationship with BCS (a proxy measure for overall adiposity) was assessed. The ones that reveal an association with the BCS are included in an integrated principal component analysis to understand which are the most related to BCS.

Methods

Fifty-three healthy lactating donkeys of various breeds, including 7 Martina Franca, 10 Ragusano, 2 Romagnolo and 34 crossbreeds, were evaluated. The animal-based indicators that were recorded were: length (OP, olecranon tuber-pinbone and SH, shoulder-hip), heart girth (HG), abdominal circumference (AC), neck length (NL), neck height (NH) and neck thickness (NT) at 0.50 and neck circumference (NC) at 0.25, 0.50 and 0.75, body condition score (BCS) and fatty neck score (FNS). The owners' evaluation of the BCS was also considered. A dental assessment was performed and the month of lactation and age of each animal was recorded.

Results

No correlation was found between BCS and the other morphometric body measurements. On the contrary the FNS was correlated with the morphometric measurements of the neck (positive correlation to 0.50 NH and 0.50 NT, 0.50 NC, 0.75 mean NC, and negative correlation to the mean NC:NH and mean NC:NT, 0.50 NC:NT and 0.50 NC:NH ratios). A significant inverse relationship was identified between BCS and dental score. A Principal Component analysis (PCA) separated the BCS classes on the first principal component (PC1). PC1 revealed a meaningful positive correlation between the BCS and the neck measurements (NT, NH and FNS), with high positive loadings, while a negative correlation was found for dental abnormalities. The owners' evaluation of BCS was different from the expert evaluator' assessment, since they tended to give higher score that was slightly but significantly correlated to AC.

Discussion

A new scoring system, called Fatty Neck Score (FNS), has been proposed for the judgement of the adiposity status of donkey neck. The results suggest that caregivers might use the proposed animal based indicators (BCS, FNS and dental scores) together as a tool for the evaluation of the body condition of lactating donkeys. Our findings highlight that caregivers need to be trained in order to be able to properly record these indicators. Ultimately use of these indicators may help to improve the welfare of lactating donkeys.

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