The Strange Shaggy Poitou Donkey
Donkeys are often thought of in negative ways, as lazy or stubborn. Those who keep donkeys will tell you they are extremely intelligent, and like to “think” before they “do”. Donkeys are also very friendly and when treated well will follow their owner much like a dog follows its owner.
One of the rarest, and most unique looking donkeys is the Baudet de Poitou from France, in fact the numbers of purebred animals is estimated at less than 200.
Equus asinus, or donkeys, are members of the equine family but have many striking differences from horses. The first being the big, long, ears. The tail is noticeably different, having only long hairs at the bottom. They are longer in proportion to their height than horses are. Their withers quite a bit smaller, adding to their over all flat top line. Donkeys have hair that is is coarser than a horse. The hooves of a donkey are smaller and more upright than a horse, and their voice is a loud bray, rather than a neigh.
The Baudet de Poitou is a relatively large donkey, standing 13 to 15 hands high. The most recognizable feature is their long hair, known as “cadenette” which hangs down like dreadlocks. In color they are always dark brown or black, but with a white tummy and nose, as well as lighter hairs around the eyes. They lack the dark dorsal stripe seen in most other breeds. Their hair is a dominant trait and crossbred animals will have this feature as well.
Origin of the Baudet de Poitou Donkey
The origin of these animals is unclear although they were eventually bred in the Poitou region of France where they may have been a status symbol through the Middle Ages.
One of the most common uses for donkeys are as "beasts of burden" used to carry things through mountainous or difficult trails. However the long hairs of this breed make placing packs, or saddles, on their backs rather awkward (some are clipped). Instead Baudet de Poitou Donkeys are used primarily for show and breeding.
At one time 30,000 Mules came from the Poitou region yearly, as animals of this cross were in such high demand as superior mules. This fell as mules were replaced with tractors, to the point that in 1977 there were only 77 animals of this breed worldwide.
Purebred Baudet de Poitou Donkeys are very expensive and nearly impossible to find, but crosses with other donkey breeds, or as mules are often sold to others, although still due to rareness they may be high priced and hard to find.
Generally donkeys are easier to care for than horses, and require far less feed. They can live off of pasture or hay. They rarely, if ever, require oats or grain, and if given such they are prone to foot problems (founder) and getting fat. When donkeys get fat they do not show it like a horse, rather their fat accumulates in the crest of their neck, which will get so fat and heavy it falls over, much like a camels hump.
In climate extremes they should be given shelter. Many people who are not showing their Poitou Donkey will clip the long hairs off to help give them a relief from the heat, and to stop tangles from forming.
Donkeys are very smart creatures who enjoy routine. If their owner is a tad late with the feedings, the donkey often bray for food and attention. They do not do well with rough handling and can kick without notice or warning.
As with most donkeys, the Poitou Donkey generally dislikes dogs.
Three shaggy donkeys grazing, photo source.
Jack - An unaltered male donkey.
Jenny or Jennet - A female donkey.
Hand - A unit of measurement for horses and donkeys. One hand is 4 inches, or 10 centimeters.
Bray - The very loud raspy sound donkeys communicate with.
Gelding - Castrated male donkey.
Foal - Young donkey under 1 year of age.
Note the strong thick legs, showing why this breed was used to breed mules for draft work. Photo source.