The Provence donkey is a unique breed of donkey originating from the Basse-Provence, Haute-Provence and Dauphine regions of France. The breed was developed by shepherds in that region to aid them in their sheep tending duties and seasonal migrations between grazing areas.
The breed is also known as the 'Migration donkey', the 'Aries donkey', the 'Crau donkey' and the 'Savoie donkey'.
Since the invention of automobiles and trains, this breed has declined at an alarming rate. At the end of the 19th century, a census in the Provençal departments recorded 13,000 donkeys. But by 1956 they were down to around 2000 donkeys. In 1993 there were only 330 recorded Provence donkeys left.
Provence donkeys are noted for their solid build, strong bone structure, and calm and patient temperament. Their feet are quite large for a donkey, aiding them in being very sure footed, even on rough terrain. These characteristics make them ideal for use by the shepherds who breed them.
They are gray in color - ranging from very light gray to dark gray, sometimes with pinkish hues. They must have a dark, well defined cross on their back and shoulders, and often have leg garters as well. They typically also have white around their eyes and on their muzzle, and their ears almost always have a red or brown tint.
Males stand 120 cm to 135 cm (47 1/4 to 53") tall and females stand 117 cm to 130 cm (46 to 51") tall by the time they are 3 years old.
Donkeys have played an important role in the lives of shepherds in the Provence region of France. The oldest written record of these donkeys dates back to the 15th century. Through selective breeding these shepherds developed a breed of donkeys specially suited for their needs. The Provence donkeys played an important role in the seasonal movement of the sheep herds. They carried food, supplies, salt for the sheep, young lambs that were born along the journey, and any other materials the shepherds needed. They were selected for their solid bone structure for carrying heavy loads, their docile temperament and good legs to carry them along the shepherds' migratory paths.
The Provence Donkey Association was formed on December 22, 1992 by breeders and enthusiasts who wanted to promote knowledge and use of the Provence donkey, and preserve this unique breed.
On December 18, 1995 the French National Stud added the Provence donkey breed to its list of recognized breeds.