The wonder animal

The only donkey farm in Kerala produces vitamin-rich skin and cosmetic lotions with antioxidants from the milk that are claimed to treat several skin ailments.
Pic: albin mathew
Pic: albin mathew

Over a month ago, a jenny gave birth to a foal at the donkey farm at Ramamangalam, 30 km from Kochi. But the foal fell into a small pit and it was bleating pitifully. When worker Mohanan was about to step forward to lift the foal, the jenny gave a kick that Mohanan lay sprawled on the ground. For good measure, it bit the worker so hard on the arm that he ran way.

Farm owner Aby Baby smiles, as he recounts the incident. “To protect its foal, a jenny can become ferocious,” he says. Aby knows donkeys well. He is the owner of a two-acre farm, which has 20 jennies and a foal. A male donkey died recently. Every day, he gets half-litre milk from three jennies. When six-litre milk gets collected, he gets it freeze-dried. In this process, the milk is frozen to minus 40°C and water is removed from it. And the end result is a powder, with which he makes skin and cosmetic lotions under the brand name of Dolphin IBA.

“Because the freeze-drying process is very expensive, my products have a starting price of `1,920 (for a 40 gm packing),” says Aby, who left his job as a marketing manager at an IT firm in Bengaluru in 2006 to do research on donkeys.

During the 10-year research, he spoke to people, who owned donkeys, and studied the information available on the internet before he set up the farm in 2016. And the result of his hit and trial was these medicines that cure several skin problems.

There is a belief that donkey’s milk can cure skin problems. One who has had a positive experience is Hyderabad-based home-maker Sweetie Paul. For four years, her eight-year-old daughter Selah suffered from lichen planus, a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin. “I would get calls from the school saying Selah was not able to concentrate because of itching. We consulted many doctors in Hyderabad but there was no cure.” Through her dad, who lives in Kochi, Sweetie came to know about this donkey ointment. And she started applying it on her daughter’s body in January. “Within three months, Selah’s itching stopped,” says Sweetie. “And her skin is 60 percent back to normal.”

Another happy customer is Aji K Jacob, 47, who works in the clerical department at a school in Kottayam district. He suffered from keloids (a scar on the skin that causes excessive itching) for many years. “I tried many ointments but there was no cure,” he says. “By accident I came to know of Aby’s products and began using them. After three weeks, the itching has completely gone.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says donkey milk has ‘particular nutritional benefits’.
In history too, donkey’s milk was used regularly. Egyptian queen Cleopatra took baths in donkey milk to maintain her beauty and youth. At that time, milk of 700 donkeys was needed to fill her bath. Hippocrates, who is regarded as the father of medicine, was among the first to write about the benefits of donkey milk.  
Dr (Maj) Sudheesh S Nair (retd), who worked with mules in the Army and is now an Assistant Professor in Surgery at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, says, “Donkey’s milk cures skin problems because it has a lot of vitamins such as A, B, C, D, E, B12, as well as it is high in protein content.”

Nair says, “There is a large market for this kind of ointments, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. I have used Aby’s products. They are very good.”Meanwhile, back at his farm, Aby remains fascinated by donkeys. “They all have individual characters. Some are moody, a few are always angry, a couple of them are introverted and stay away from the crowd,” says Aby, who is looking for investors to expand his business.

What happens at the farm

Sourcing donkeys: Indian breeds are brought from Tamil Nadu that are between the age group of three and eight years. Most live till 40.
Food: CO3 grass,wheat and rice bran,and coconut husk
Technique: Once six litres milk is collected from three jennies, it’s free-dried at 40°C. Cosmetics are made from it.
COST: Rs 1,920 for a 40gm packing.

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