The Poitou Donkey or le Baudet de Poitou

The history of Poitou-Charentes' famous long, shaggy-haired donkeys and the hard working mule, the "Âne"...

The History

The Poitou donkey, known in France as Le Baudet de Poitou, is one of the most endangered species in the world today. In 1977 there were just 44 registered pure bred donkeys left in the world and even today there are fewer than 400 worldwide.

Most recognisable by its long shaggy coat which is always black or dark brown, the Poitou donkey has a massive bone structure and is known for its strength. The coat is such a strong breed trait that a donkey with only one eight pure Poitou breeding may resemble the Baudet.

Some historians believe that the Baudet existed in France during the Roman occupation in 54BC, certainly during the Middle Ages, owning one was a sign of prestige afforded only by the nobility.

The primary job of the Baudet was one of breeding. They were crossed with the Mulassière horse which was the horse of the Poitou and produced the Poitou Mule. In its heyday, it is said that the region produced 30,000 mules per year of very high quality and bred for France and the rest of Europe. These mules were prized as the finest working animal in the world.

Baudet were kept purely for blood stock, not being good riding animals and great care was taken to ensure that the donkeys were not crossed or sold out of the region. As a result, the breed was kept pure for hundreds of years.

The Decline

After World War II, when motorised vehicles took over in agriculture, demand for the mule dropped and as a result, the Poitou donkey became redundant.

Prior to that, France, ravished and hungry from two World Wars saw hundreds of Poitou donkeys sent to the slaughterhouse to provide meat for the starving nation and it was only the 1977 that showed the alarming fact of how few pure breed Poitou donkeys were left in the world.

Faced with the possible extinction of their beloved animal, breeders banded together to preserve it, although to date, there are still believed to be fewer than 400 Poitou donkeys worldwide.

A Brighter Future

In Australia, June 2001, the embryo of a Poitou Donkey was implanted into the womb of a standard mare. This embryo, created by artificial insemination was placed in the mare because the biological mother had joint problems and veterinarians were unsure that she could sustain this precious pregnancy. The foal, a female, was born healthy and strong and soon joined her parents in a group of only three pure bred Poitou donkeys in all Australia.

You can see these rare animals at La Maison du Baudet du Poitou at la Tillauderie in Dampierre sur Boutonne in Charente-Maritime and see the dedicated work of the team preserving these donkeys of the Poitou.

Further Information

Article by Kate Ramsdens of Cross Channel TV