originates from the Poitou region
of France, and they are most likely related to the Poitevin horses. It is
thought that they were introduced in France by the Romans and may have been a wealth
status symbol for French Nobility. They were also regarded as the finest and
strongest donkeys in France, since they were as tall as large mules with legs
and joints as large as most carriage horses.
Poitou donkeys are dark brown or black. They also have a
white underbelly, nose, and rings around their eyes. They are well known for their
distinctive coat that hangs in long cords. Their shaggy coat is called acadanette
, and is actually long soft hair that tangles and
mats easily. Breeders originally prized the cadanettes, but today most breeders
or owners of Poitou Donkeys shear them, because it is difficult to keep their
long locks clean.
The Poitou breed is thought to have been established in
France in 1884 when a studbook for the breed was established. In the 19th and
early 20th centuries the Poitou were also used to help create other donkey
breeds in America such as the American Mammoth Jack.
During the mechanization of farms in the 19th
centuries, donkeys declined in number and popularity and by
1977 reached an all-time low population.
In 1996, the Hamilton Rare
Breeds Foundation was founded in Vermont. There Poitou donkeys were bred and as
of 2004, 26 purebred and 14 partbred Poitous were recorded, making this
foundation the largest Poitou population in the United States, and the second
largest in the world next to France’s government sponsored efforts to preserve
the Poitou breed. Conservation efforts continue today and techniques for using cryopreservation to develop asperm bankfor Poitou donkeys has been developed to help restore
the Poitou breed.