We are all familiar with those lovely little donkeys that take holiday makers for rides along the beach in the summer time, and just about everyone knows Donkey in the film Shrek. But did you know there's a breed of donkey that stands at around 16 hands tall and sometimes even taller? This enormous donkey also has an amazing looking coat with long hair that if not groomed looks like dread-locks. The breed is the Poitou Donkey otherwise known as the Baudet du Poitou, and it's native to France where it has been bred for centuries!
Although the origins of the Poitou donkey are a little vague, many people believe it was the Romans who first starting breeding from them in Poitou region of France. Using this native breed of donkey, the Poitou and a horse known as a Mulassier the Romans began breeding mules of exceptional quality and strength that they used in many ways whether to farm the land or pull heavy carts for soldiers.
However, nobody is really sure when the French people in the region started choosing the Poitou donkey as the sire for mules that became famous over time. However, there is some evidence of the breed being pretty well established in the 18th century with on of the King of France's advisers describing the donkeys as being “donkeys as tall as mules, covered in long hair and with legs and joints of a large carriage horse”.
The Poitou donkey played an important role in life right up until the second world war. Before the war the breed was used to sired many mules with the “Mulassiere” as the mother. The region supplied many of the offspring to French industries as well as the farming communities all over Europe. This soon earned them the reputation of producing the “finest working” mules in the entire world. At one time the region of Poitou was producing something like 30,000 mules every year, all of which were sired by the Poitou donkeys and the “Mulassieres” horses.
When the second world war ended, the region saw a drop in the numbers of mules being bred using the strong and tall Poitou donkeys. Then of course, tractors and cars had started to appear on the scene, replacing the draft animals everyone had relied on and which had been used in many industries as well as farming right up until that time. This naturally led to a decline in the need for mules and as such the breeding program all but came to a stop in France.
By the end of the seventies there were only 44 pure bred Poitou donkeys to be found in France and the rest of the world. But luckily fans of the breed raised the alarm to save this beautiful and extraordinary breed of donkey and as such a breeding program was set in place to save the Poitou. Today, there are around 180 pure bred Poitou donkeys in the world which although is not a safe number – the figure is on the up which is a very positive sign the breed will not die out.
This incredible breed of large donkey, however is not alone because the Andalucian ass is another very tall breed of donkey too, although they are not as impressive looking as their French counterpart. Poitou donkeys are huge animals with exceptionally big ears which are sometimes so large, they donkey carries them horizontally – they are splendid beasts that when young are absolutely adorable looking.
The average size of the Poitou sees them standing at anything between 1.35m to 1.50m at the wither. Their coats are black or sometimes brown with a grey belly. The breed has lovely pale muzzles and pale rings around their eyes which makes them look like teddy bears. All pure bred Poitous must not have a cross on their shoulders or back as do other donkeys, and their heads are really big, long and set on an extremely strong neck that can pull tremendous weights!
As with most breeds of donkeys, the Poitou's withers are low and they have long, flat backs. The breed has nice round haunches and a short croup. However, it's the legs on the breed that are amazing, they are strong with extremely large joints which allows the donkey to move freely. Naturally, for such a large animal the feet too are rather larger than any other breed of donkey and they are covered with long hairs that grows on their legs – making it hard to see their feet at all.
The Poitou has massive ears that are covered in long hair as is the rest of the donkey's body. One other very noticeable difference is their coats are a lot softer to the touch than the coat of a smaller donkey. This long hair, if not regularly groomed, forms dread-locks. In the past a Poitou donkey with long dread-locks was highly prized and would sell for a lot more money. These tangles are called “cadenettes” and resemble dread-locks, but today because of the hygiene issues, owners do wash and groom their Poitou donkeys to make sure they stay healthy and in good shape.
Today the Poitou donkeys of the world are allowed to “shed” their fabulous coats although, there are still a few of them around which have amazingly long, dread-lock coats and they are still highly prized donkeys in France.
These days, breeders all over the world are making sure this fabulous breed of donkey never dies out. There are even breeders in the UK who take the breeding program very seriously with each donkey used at stud having to be approved by an expert panel of judges. Only if a jack donkey has been approved as being a true Poitou donkey can they be used to breed and produce more of these gorgeous, huge and very impressive donkeys! If your looking for donkey's for sale in the UK, please visit our donkey section on Pets4Homes.