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Sicilian Ragusa Donkeys

July 13, 2012

 Each culture holds in its belief system principles which are the result of past experiences carried out over time by those who made up its world.  Consequently, when dealing with new experiences one needs to offer a glance into the meaning and interpretation one element holds in the traditions of its culture.

While donkeys may have had a positive role in the fables of some cultures, in the traditional view of donkeys in Sicily they never enjoyed glamour.  There are many legends that tell stories of donkeys in the Sicilian world over time in history.  Many times donkeys were relevant characters in stories written by Sicilian writers.  Remember Giovanni Verga whom I mentioned when I found his lines cited at the B&B in Pozzallo?  Verga wrote “Storia dell’asino di San Giuseppe”, (my translation) The  Story of the Saint Joseph Donkey,  in which the representation of the donkey in general is one that portrays an animal which is the victim of a human society which has turned ugly by hard labor and has become accustomed to serving.

In the Sicilian dialect, a donkey is called “scecchu” and there is an interesting legend that explains the origin of that word.  In 827 A.C., the Arabs were conducting a holy war (jihad) in Sicily.  The Arab King at the time, Miramolino, had forbidden that any Sicilian ever tower higher than an Arab, consequently Sicilians were not allowed to ride horses.  The Sicilians rebelled by poisening the waters the horses drank and there were no horses left.  King Miramolino ordered horses be brought in from Northern Africa, but a storm caused all the ships to drown, thus the horses went lost.  The only ship that made it through the storm was the one carrying donkeys.  Therefore, the Sheiks rode donkeys and the Sicilians made fun of them and nicknamed the donkeys with a word they extracted from the sound of Sheik, “scheccu”.

However, many times stigmas attached may be removed when circumstances allow someone to observe from a new point of view.  Recently, I visited a donkey farm in the province of Scicli, Sicily, and had a chance to experience donkeys one on one.  I visited the Petrolo  Farm and met the owners who escorted my friend, Serena, interested in purchasing a donkey,  and me on a visit to their farm.  These donkeys range freely on the property which stands on flat land as well as a rocky cliff where they find dwellings which offer shade.  I was touched when while talking in front of one of these donkeys to the others in the group, the donkey gently nodged me as to ask for a gentle stroke.   I had never interacted with a donkey and realized that if they are treated properly they in turn are warm, tender animals.

This farm also produces donkey milk which is a natural element provided by animals which holds the closest characteristics to a mother’s milk. Donkey’s milk is recommended for those who have developed food allergies or intolerances.  I remember my grandmother telling the story of how her youngest child, my Aunt Lella, was weak as a baby and she was fed exclusively donkey’s milk.

Some of the donkeys I met will leave the farm one day to be adopted in onotherapy, through which they will once again give help and support to humans.

On the road to the Petrolo Farm 

“I have to cross THAT BY CAR?”  Mission accomplished!

Serena talking to a Donkey

Valentina, owner’s daughter, showing us a donkey and its foal, born the previous day, resting in stable.

Owner’s Son and donkey


 Proud Mr. Petrolo in his Milk Processing Facility

  1. Pamela De Leon permalink

    The baby is just adorable, and I am very impressed you crossed that bridge with a car..I would have given up if I was driving, or closed my eyes and let someone else drive. Looks like you have had the very best weather in all these pictures, Rosanna. Does it ever rain?


  2. I believe there was no rain in June and only one event in July so far. The sun shines each day!


  3. I am also interested in purchasing Ragusa donkeys. Is Senore Petrolo open for visitors? I plan on donkey trekking in Rieti, Italy.


    • As Azienda Petrolo is an agritourism, I trust they accept visitors. I am currently abroad, but you can find Azienda Petrolo online at When visiting their website, you will find the following number to contact them: 0932-932124.



  4. Sue permalink

    We would like to visit the farm but having trouble locating the address, apart from Petrolo Farm, Ragusa ?


    • Sue,

      I just went to heir website which is:
      There you will find their location with a map. Don’t give up if you can’t find the farm – sometimes these places are not easy to find!
      The website provides a cell number for people wanting to order donkey milk but I will send it to you just in case you need to call for help on finding them. Cell number is 3281830750.
      I hope you enjoy the location!!!!


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