On the road with Heath Herring

Photographer Heath Herring sets out on yet another road trip to Texas to introduce Patrick Archer, Christopher Jones, and the Texas Poitou Donkeys.

“Poitou. You say it like Pwah-too,” said Patrick as we looked out across a field of giant, dreadlocked, four-legged creatures that looked like some beautiful cross between a donkey and a wooly mammoth. A few gnawed at the grass while others stood still as statues, like some wise, ancient beasts that drifted straight out of the middle ages onto a green Texas pasture.

Fewer than 80 Poitou Donkeys existed in 1980. Tractors came along, and the demand for mules collapsed. The breed’s limited geographic area in France also increased its vulnerability.

“We take our commitment to the Poitou very seriously and want them to be ambassadors for not only Poitou worldwide but all heritage breeds that unfortunately are diminishing in numbers.”

Patrick and Chris devote their lives every day to the Poitou herd and other animals, but it’s not for the money. In fact, everything they make from farming goes right back into the farm and the animals they’re working so hard to raise and protect. Technically, their day job is operating a yearly event called the Winter Park Ski-Music festival. They manage the entire operation from Texas and trek out to the Rockies every Spring to put it on. Officing from home makes it possible to manage the festival and the farm together.

Gus Crushable Outdoor Hat

Patrick: Chris and I are not farmers by trade but by choice. Before all this, I was a big box retail manager and Chris was a banker. Both careers were stressful so we purchased a small tract of land so we could escape and breathe. We both love the outdoors. It didn’t take long for me to want to populate the farm with livestock.

Patrick: We started out small – literally. This all started with miniature donkeys. And of course ducks, geese, and other barn animals. Now we have a small herd of cattle, fallow deer, goats, assorted barnyard animals, and we raise Poitou Donkeys.

Chris: Operating a farm as a secondary source of income is extremely rewarding, but still full of surprises.  Whether it’s animal health, mechanical breakdowns, or whether you never know what each day brings.  I enjoy being outside, doing whatever needs to be done and improving the overall operation. Self-accomplishment is my fuel, and operating a farm fills my tank, even during more trying periods.  I just wish the yields of farming/ranching were more financially rewarding.

One of Patrick’s go-to hats is the Gus Crushable Outdoor. He stole it from Heath a couple of winters ago on his second visit to the farm.

Patrick: Since moving to the farm full time, we have amassed a collection of hats for just about every situation and season. We definitely have our favorites. I’m always going to reach for the well-worn felt and Chris is definitely a straw hat guy.  We have been collecting vintage cowboy hats for years. There’s something about a well worn/beat up cowboy hat that speaks to me…much like a great pair of broken in boots or leather gloves. From our work on this farm, I can appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that go into managing land and livestock. When I have one of these old hats on, I try to do it justice. 

Patrick: The Poitou donkey is an ancient French breed. They look like wild, prehistoric animals. They’re huge! At least 14–15 hands (56–60″) high at the withers and weigh 750–950 pounds. Long hair is their most striking feature. It hangs in cords from their entire body. Essentially Poitou donkeys are big, shaggy, lovable, social creatures who also happen to be very smart and very affectionate. They’re also extremely gentle and love attention.

“We also strive to produce the best example of the breed by careful breeding practices that result in a strong, healthy foal. We’ve had great success and hope to be a genetic resource for Poitou worldwide.” 

To learn more about the Texas Poitou Donkeys visit: https://m.facebook.com/TexasPoitouDonkeys/

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