Meet Moose, an incredibly rare — and incredibly adorable — Poitou donkey, born this summer at Davis Farmland in Sterling, Massachusetts.
“He’s a good, polite boy,” says Doug Davis, co-owner of the family farm and amusement spot.
So what’s this fuzzy guy’s pedigree? The Poitou (pronounced “PWA-too”) donkey originated in, yep, Poitou, a west-central province in France; lore holds that the Romans brought the donkey to the region during the Middle Ages.
The calling card of the equus asinus, besides its extra long ears, was its shaggy, corded coat, which the French call the “cadenette.” (Think of the Poitou as the Komondor of the donkey world.) The donkey with dreads was more a lover than a worker, used in mule breeding owing in part to its massive size: up to fifteen hands high, which translates to more than five feet tall. The Poitous are, needless to say, arresting as all git out.
And tres scarce indeed. The Northwest Poitou Donkey Institute in Whidbey, Washington estimates that there are between 400 to 600 pure and part-bred species in existence worldwide today, thankfully up from 44 purebreds in 1977 but still low enough to land the Poitou on the “critically endangered” list.
So how did Davis Farmland end up in the rare donkey business?
“He was the cutest thing ever. Everyone took total ownership right away.”
In fact, the farm’s animal zoo houses the largest number endangered livestock in North America, from highland cattle — another fuzzbucket — to San Clemente Island goats. (In 2000, Davis Farmland even donated farm animal tissue samples to the “Frozen Zoo” at San Diego Zoo, which preserves endangered animal DNA.) The owners had sheltered a fixed Poitou male for years, “and absolutely loved him,” say Davis. When their beloved passed on, the family sought out two non-fixed Poitous to breed, eventually located an elderly woman in Kansas who was willing to part with jack and jenny duo Duke and Duchess.
Donkeys don’t have the benefit of Tinder or booze (well, most of the time), so a love match was far from guaranteed. But thankfully, “when they showed up here, they were very much love at first sight,” Davis says. And they were good roommates, too, no guarantee in any species: “They’re a really good live-together couple.”
First came love, then came the baby, who gestated for a year and three days, much to the consternation of some female visitors. Davis’ son Ben discovered the new arrival, who soon became the apple of the farm’s collective eye. “He was the cutest thing ever, and everyone had been waiting on it,” says Davis. “Everyone took total ownership right away.”
Being born during the height of summer also meant that Moose had an instant fan base, with children and adult visitors alike enamored with the newborn’s oversized ears and endless, knobby legs. (The video will pretty much kill you.) The only thing he lacked? A name. After a worldwide contest that had suggestions pouring in from Australia and Finland, a winner was chosen at random: Moose. “That’s exactly what he looked like, a baby moose,” says Davis. Moose joins approximately 100 other pure bred Poitous in the world; with an estimated 44 million donkeys in the world, according to the New World Encyclopedia, that makes him 1 in 440,000.
Moose has spent the last six months — well, five months and three weeks — with his mom while Duke bides his time in another pasture (the separation is for safety’s sake). “He’s doing fantastic,” says Davis, describing Moose as very playful, with a strong sense of humor. He’s also decidedly an extrovert, to the appreciation of farm visitors: “He was the one who would come out from behind him mom to come and say hi,” Davis says. (Davis Farmland is currently closed for the season, which will likely only add to Moose’s mystique.)
Still nursing and “growing like a weed,” Moose is soon to move beyond his milk and hay diet. His hair is growing up and out, which means he’s only gotten fuzzier; the Davis family plans to keep his coat relatively short and groomed, so no dreads here. Meantime, he spends his days in his mom’s pasture, taking pauses from eating to socialize across the fences, Charlotte’s Web style; whether he’s more enamored of the mini donkeys and ponies on one side or the draft horses on the other has yet to be determined. Moose has also begun a training regimen to make sure he walks and otherwise behaves properly, especially if one day he himself heads to another farm for breeding purposes.
“He’s not being treated like a puppy dog, which he so wants to be,” says Davis.