The exact origins of the Poitou donkey are unknown, but the historical information available confirms that breeding has always been tightly controlled. This very unusual donkey has never been bred outside Poitou, in the Deux-Sèvres department.
It is the largest of the donkeys, measuring 1.50 metres at the withers and sometimes more. It has a long matted and irregular bay-brown coat, with no dorsal stripe. Its shaggy appearance is quite normal. The weight varies between 350 and 450 kg.
With its sluggish temperament and ungainly gait, this donkey is hardly ever used for work. Its value lies solely in its role as a sire for mules. The numbers of these donkeys, both male and female, have fallen very low.
The stud farm service of the French Agriculture Ministry has launched a attempt to preserve the Poitou donkey, starting a new breeding programme. A programme has been set up to identify all the animals, and an experimental donkey stud farm has been created. As part of these moves to preserve the species, the Wild Animal Reserve of the Domaine des Grottes de Han has acquired a few specimens of the breed.