THE POITOU DONKEY.
Have you heard of this rare and endangered breed of donkey? You may have seen the photos. They are really big (14′ – 16′) with strong joints, large feet/legs and really long hair for a donkey. But, not only is the hair long for a donkey, it is also very soft which leads to dreadlocks if they aren’t groomed. The coat is black or brown with a grey underbelly, a white nose, white eye rings and no cross on his shoulders. The head is quite large and long, as well as his back, set on a strong neck and low wither. The ears are often so large that they fall sideways. Hee.
No one really knows how this breed started, but they do know where they were bred. It was the Poitou region in France, hence the name. Breeding records go back to 1717.
The idea behind this massive donkey was to create an even better mule through a hybrid cross with the Mulassier horse. And, they were right because this mule became the mule to have and a phenomenal success for farm work. This very large and very manageable mule hybrid became very, very popular. So popular that records indicate thatt 30,000 of these mules were sold per year! Wow.
(The sad part is that not
only are the Poitou donkey and the Mulassier horse extremely rare and endangered, but I could only find two photos of this hybrid mule. And, the name of the mule is in dispute as well. I think it is Poitevin Mule, but not sure… )
Anyway, this very popular mule was big, strong, easy to manage, hearty, sure-footed and did I say, BIG… The creation of this mule was quite a boost to the economy of the Poitou area of France.
Unfortunately, like with all previous uses of working equines, the engine came along so subsequently the demand for the Poitevin mule
declined. And, to add insult to injury, then came a few wars and the French started eating their Poitevin mules, Poitou donkeys and Mulassier horses. I guess you can figure out what happened.
Yup, in 1977, there were only 44 Poitou Donkeys in existence anywhere. There were even less Mulassier horses and I’m not sure if there were any of the hybrid mules.
Luckily, some wonderful folks decided to save the Poitou donkey from extinction! Man taketh away, man giveth back. And actually, there are now several preservation societies out there. One of the main goals of the preservation societies is to keep the genetics honest. So, the French have created two genetic books. A and B (simple enough). The A Livre (means “book” in French, again simple…) has purebred Poitou donkeys and Poitou donkey sires. The B book is open only to part-bred females who are the offspring of a pure-bred (inscribed Livre A) male and a female of unknown or Livre B status. Partbred males are not allowed to breed female Poitous of any percentage.
So… only the purebred males can breed. They are really trying to keep the genetics true.
SAVE THE POITOU
Up sprung an agency called SABAUD (Save the Baudet which means save the curls…) with a program designed to save the breed from extinction. This group was joined by THE DONKEY SANCTUARY in the UK who brought aboard artificial insemination and modern advancements in genetics to help boost the levels or reproduction.
The Donkey Sanctuary group of Poitous are doing quite well. In fact, you can read all about them and also you can view them on their Poitou webcam. Cool! I wish the webcam was closer but maybe they eat right below the camera. I didn’t watch it for that long… But, I do think it is really wonderful that we can watch animals that are facing extinction. Nice.
There is also a private breeder in the UK that had four foals last year! That is remarkable! I’ve attached a few photos of the adorable babies.
IN THE UNITED STATES
In the US, there is a breeder in the Northwest. I’m not sure if they sell any yet, but they are very serious about breeding. It is called, The Northwest Poitou Donkey Institute. I contacted them to ask questions about my very shaggy donkey, Norma, and Maryon was very kind. So, if you wanted to learn more or help with the Institute, you could contact her at this link.
What I found really interesting is that on the East Coast, there is a reproductive agency called, HAMILTON RARE BREED FOUNDATION who has some Poitous for sale! I’m guessing that since they specialize in artificial insemination, they must have a jenny and they must produce babies. Anyway, here is their sales link. They specialize in rare breeds like the Dales Pony, Choctaw Mustang, American Creme Draft (sounds like a light beer…) and the Poiou.
I think it is humorous that they have a Poitou gelding named, Nuisance, for sale… Geez, not much of a chance of getting adopted with that name, eh? But, this guy is Livre A which means he is purebred. However, being a gelding, he cannot reproduce.
There is a group in the US that helps donkeys in the US get their French registration. A Poitou Donkey cannot be called a Poitou unless it has its French registration. So, if you have a Poitou in need of registration, the Franco-American Baudet Breeders Association (FABBA), in conjunction with the American Donkey and Mule Society (ADMS) is the official breeders liaison between the French Studbook and the American and Canadian breeders of Poitou Donkeys.
HOW MANY NOW?
The official French count is 800. But, there appear to be maybe around 2000 if you include all those that are not registered. Several zoos are now housing Poitous including Boston and Philly.
Oh, and the Poitous have a FaceBook page, imagine that…
So, all in all, the almost totally devastated Poitou Donkey is doing much better… Yay for the good guys!
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