I’ve been thinking about the many things I’ve blogged about, and I haven’t talked much about donkeys! Oh, I blogged about donkeys as livestock guardians, but not about everyday donkey stuff or the wild and wacky things Mom learned about donkeys when writing The Donkey Companion (Storey Publishing, 2008). This week’s blog is about donkey’s milk. Did you know these pieces of donkey trivia?
- Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is said to have kept her looks by bathing in donkey’s milk. Roman Emperor Nero’s wife, Poppaea Sabina, kept a stable of jennies for the same purpose.
- When French King Francis I returned home sick from war, none of his court physicians could cure him. Then a Jewish physician from Constantinople prescribed donkey’s milk. The king drank it and was quickly restored to health. This started a donkey’s milk fad in Paris.
- By the early 1800s, donkey dairies, called asineries, were thriving in French cities. Milkmen herded their jennies door to door and sold their milk.
- In the late 1800s, Dr. Parrot, a French supervisory physician at the Hôpital de Enfants Assistés in Paris, began feeding his charges donkey’s milk straight from the donkey. Feeding babies milk from bottles wasn’t a good thing in those days because of poor sanitation. Also, rubber baby bottle nipples weren’t invented until 1845 and weren’t in common use until the 1900s. Most babies whose moms couldn’t or wouldn’t breast feed were raised by wet nurses. However, when sick babies suckled wet nurses, the nurses often became sick, too. So Dr. Parrot got permission from the Ministry of Public Assistance to experiment with alternatives for one year, during which he fed 86 sickly or diseased babies animal milk.Six babies suckled cow’s milk from a bottle; one survived. Forty-two drank goat milk straight from the goat; eight survived. But 28 of the 38 babies who suckled milk directly from a donkey jenny’s udder not only survived but thrived! This is what Dr. Parrot wrote in the Bulletin de l’Académie de Medicine in 1882:The stables where the donkeys are kept are clean, healthy and well-aired; they open onto the nursing infants’ dormitory. Treated gently, the donkey easily lets itself be suckled by the baby presented to it. Its teat is well adapted to the baby’s mouth for latching on and sucking. The nurse sets a stool on the right of the animal near its hindquarters. She supports the child’s head with her left hand, with his body resting on her lap. With her right hand she presses the udder from time to time to help the milk to flow, especially if the baby is weak. The babies are nursed five times during the day and twice during the night. One donkey can feed three infants for five months.
- Finally, the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Maria Ester de Capovilla, who died in Ecuador in 2006 at age 116, as world’s oldest woman. When asked for the secret of her longevity, Maria Ester said: “Drinking donkey’s milk.”