The only thing larger than the hairy ears you will spot in some of the paddocks around St Vincent Lespinasse (82400) is the heart of the lady in charge of these wonderful donkeys. Donkeys that are the key ingredient in Cécile Boudon’s artisanal business.
Cécile started her business in 2009 fuelled by a love of animals and donkeys in particular. I think many of us can imagine the potential problems trying to register a business which aims to raise donkeys for milk to then use in the production of soaps and cosmetics. When I met Cécile in January, this year, she explained that she had spent many-a-month being passed between different ‘administrative’ departments as nowhere seemed willing to admit to being the responsible office. Not put off by the challenges and 8 years later-on and she’s happily surrounded by her wonderful donkey friends.
There are worse ways to spend a freezing afternoon than surrounded by inquisitive and very friendly donkeys with steamy breath and each vying for its own, over-sized, ears to be tickled next. The little herd of 10 included a mixture of sizes, colours and ages and who could resist the young donkeys with their soft foal hair mixing with their appearing adult locks.
The donkeys all live around Cécile’s house and can be seen from most of her windows. Having them so close is essential as milking donkeys is a frequent event – a few times a day, by hand and for only a little reward, which is why the product is expensive. Donkeys do not produce very much milk and so it is, quite literally, a labour of love.
Animal welfare and absolute donkey contentment are the guiding principles for this enterprise. Importantly, the breeding of donkeys (when so many exist to be neglected) has to be done ethically and provision has to be made for the colt foals who are not going to be kept for producing milk. These little boys are voluntarily declared unfit-for-consumption (to protect them) and are placed in families or become companions to other donkeys and horses. Many of the current adult females have come to Cécile from rescue situations.
It takes a year for a foal to arrive and so there is nothing rushed or impatient about this enterprise. Foals then have first call on their mother’s milk and as they start to wean then some of the milk can be gathered for making soap and cosmetics.
From her home Cécile makes the many different types of soap herself, using essential oils (including locally grown lavender) or minerals. However, the skincare products and shampoos are produced in a local laboratory and then all the products are either sold on-line, at a few local shops or at the little shop at the entrance to Cécile’s home (open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons). You may come across Cécile at some seasonal markets and quite regularly at the Tuesday market in Valence D’Agen.
To buy on line or find out more about the donkeys you can visit www.emane.fr. You may also like to follow the life of these lovely donkeys on Facebook - Em'ane - Cosmétiques au lait d'ânesse
Some Donkey Milk Facts
- It’s the milk closest, nutritionally, to human milk.
- It contains less fat than cow’s milk.
- It contains plenty of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
- It’s a natural immunity enhancer – good for treating asthma, eczema and psoriasis.
- Donkey milk was used medicinally in France up to the 20th century.
- Hippocrates (the father of medicine) extolled the virtues of donkey milk.
- Cleopatra, who famously bathed in donkey milk, travelled with 700 donkeys to ensure her supply.
- Pliny the Elder (the ancient Roman ‘know-it-all’) claimed that the milk ‘erases facial wrinkles, makes the skin more delicate and maintains the whiteness’.
- Donkey milk is used to produce the most expensive cheese in the world, known as Pule.