by Holly Subia
It is no surprise, and well known, that people used mules to haul heavy loads long before they had large tucks. And the “Mac Truck” of mules came from France.
The Poitou mule came from two distinct parents. The sire was the Poitou jack, the largest donkey breed in the world. The Poitou donkeys are known for their long dreadlock like coats and their large size. They can get up to 16 hands in height. The dam is a Poitevin mare. Poitevin horses are a large, heavy draft horse used throughout France in agriculture and other draught work. The Poitou mule was sought after the world over, known for it’s strength and gentle nature. The mules were often 17 hands heigh. The demand for these mules was so high a Poitevin mare would usually have one horse foal and then all other foals would be mules. The mules were used in agriculture, freighting and in the military. But after World War II and the industrial age, all three breeds where no longer in such demand and saw a huge reductions in population. The Poitevin region of France once produced around 19,000 mules a year. The annual average of Poitou mules born now is 20 a year.
All three breeds, Poitevin horse, donkey and mule are considered endangered breeds. There has been a process but in place to evaluate Poitou donkeys that are not pure bred. If the donkey passed the evaluation it will be included into a breeding program to increase the population of Poitiu donkeys. Today, Poitevin mares will often only have one mule foal in a lifetime. Mares are in a 4 year breeding rotation with stallions. This is to reduce inbreeding and have foals that are not related. These foals will produce the Poiteven foals in the future. The Poitou mule might have to be in decline for a while to assure strong foundation stock for the future. Mules are lucky creatures; they can go extinct but as long as we have horses and donkeys we can make more mules.