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Fanfare greets rare baby donkey

Purebred Poitou 1 of 100 in world

STERLING — The newborn at Davis Farmland has oversized ears and limbs that look too big for his body. He sleeps and eats all day. Sometimes he runs, but stopping is an adventure.

Although he has no name yet, he has many admirers here in Central Massachusetts and beyond. He is a purebred Poitou donkey, one of an estimated 100 worldwide, his owners said.

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“They’re just the goofiest animals,” said a smiling Larry Davis, co-owner of Davis Farmland. “Huge lips, big ears.”

Mark Meyers, executive director of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Texas, said he has seen more than 5,000 donkeys across 27 states in his 15 years in the business. He has never seen a purebred Poitou, though, and he said it might be worth a trip to Massachusetts to get a look at the newborn.

“That’s cooler than a unicorn in our business,” Meyers said.

The baby, born Saturday, has long, knobby legs like a llama. His skinny tail resembles that of a giant rat. His floppy ears are reminiscent of a kangaroo. Someday, when he’s older, long, matted dreadlocks will coat his sides, the signature hairstyle of his breed.

His mother, Duchess, was pregnant for a year and three days. She and the newborn’s father, Duke, came from Tennessee about a year ago, after the Farmland’s beloved Pete the Poitou died. The Davises put them together and hoped.

“They pretty much fell in love, actually as soon as they hit the farm,” said Larry’s brother, Doug.

The Davis family runs a sanctuary that features several rare breeds of farm animals for children to see and pet. Doug said the dual mission is to have fun and to protect the health of some dwindling species.

The story of the Poitou breed tracks the fate of most beasts of burden. Originally raised in west-central France and used heavily in agriculture, they were exported to other countries like the United States.

They grow large, up to 14 hands, or just shy of 5 feet from hoof to the crest of their backs. A standard race horse, the kind you would see at the Kentucky Derby, is about 16 hands, said Eric Davis, founder of Rural Area Veterinary Services and a specialist on donkey health.

But the Poitou was no match for the modern engine, and, by the 1960s, its numbers had decreased dramatically, Davis said.

“The advent of the combustion engine” was a near cataclysm for the breed, he said.

Like most other babies, the donkey’s arrival at Davis Farmland was marked by blue balloons and a pastel flag that says: “Welcome Baby.” His mother’s sonogram from when she was 2½ months pregnant was shown on a nearby sign with a laminated note: “It’s a boy!”

On Monday, children and parents cooed at the wooden fence that surrounds his pen. They watched as Duchess nursed and shielded her baby from visitors. Mothers scoffed at the thought of a year of pregnancy.

Doug Davis looked on proudly from inside the fence as the young donkey stared at a photographer’s camera, almost posing.

“He’s just as curious as any baby, finding out about the world,” he said.

The newborn has started mimicking his mother, Davis said. Sometimes he picks up hay in his mouth but doesn’t eat it. Solid food will come in about three weeks.

Ben Davis, Doug’s 17-year-old son, discovered the birth when he went to feed the donkeys early Saturday morning. He said he walked in and the baby was already standing with his mother.

“I ran out and yelled to my dad, who was all the way across the farm,” he said.

Ben is part of the seventh generation of Davises on the farm, so he said it was significant for him to discover the long-awaited Poitou.

“This being a very special animal; I was pumped,” he said.

Davis Farmland is having a naming contest for the baby. Whoever comes up with the best name gets a free season pass.

Some ideas were floated on Monday.

“Pickles,” said Kaelyn Steward, a gleeful 5-year-old from Bedford, N.H., who was visiting the farm.

“Jonathan,” said Giovanni Courtemansche, 4, of Milton.

“It has to be something cool, and probably in French,” said Meyers, the donkey rescue center director.

Larry Davis expects to get many more entries in the naming contest, but he has an early favorite: Jester, a perfect moniker for the gangly firstborn son of a Duke and a Duchess.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.
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