Three-feet-tall animals — and Nicole Kidman — live at Seein’ Spots Farm in Buellton.

On Baseline Avenue in Ballard, in the heart of a rural residential neighborhood, one farm is spotted with a rather special and adorable breed of donkey increasing in popularity across the country: the miniature Mediterranean donkey.

The moment these small equines set hoof on American soil, they’ve been popular for their affectionate personalities and charming looks. In fact, according to the National Miniature Donkey Association, the purebreds in the Mediterranean are rapidly being bred out, which gives American miniature donkeys “global genetic value.”

An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 populate the United States today, including the 20 that live at the Seein’ Spots Farm in Ballard. The Marchi family, which owns Seein’ Spots Farm, has been breeding miniature donkeys in the valley for more than three years.

Linda Marchi has long blond hair and a gentle temperament, much like the donkeys she adores. Soft spoken with a nervous smile, she is a little quiet when talking about her beloved donkeys. She’s seems more at home interacting with the almost-three-feet tall animals.

Minutes within stepping into the pasture, Marchi’s favorite donkey — Nicole Kidman — is stretched across the ground with her oversized fluffy head in Marchi’s lap. Nicole is a four-month-old, fully frosted white, a more unique color than the average grey-dun.

While Marchi and her husband, Brett, recently dropped off two mini donkeys to farmers with a petting zoo in Paso Robles, Nicole is still available for sale.

In the mini market, Linda says the males, or jacks, start at about $1,500 and the females, or jennets, start at about $2,500. On Seein’ Spots Farm’s Web site, however, Nicole is priced at $3,500. Linda smiles when she explains she priced Nicole a little higher than usual because she wants to keep her. It isn’t hard to see why.

Nicole luxuriates in Linda’s lap like she’s some kind of movie star lounging on a silk pillow. Her big eyes close as Marchi scratches behind the donkey’s long, snowy ears and brushes her thick baby fluff. When she grows up, she’ll loose the soft fur, but for now, she looks as fluffy as a baby duck.

The babies, or foals, weigh about 20-30 pounds at birth, and when they reach maturity, they’ll weigh 200-300 pounds. If mini donkeys ever reach a height more lofty than 36 inches, they don’t become mere donkeys but instead are deemed oversized miniature donkeys.

Unlike a mule, which is a mix between a donkey and a horse and is sterile, miniature donkeys can reproduce. And unlike miniature horses, Marchi says miniature donkeys were not bred to be small; they are a natural breed of donkey.

In Sicily and Sardinia, mini donkeys are still used to carry packs. They can haul about 100 pounds, and while people can’t ride them, children can — and maybe super models weighing less than 100 pounds.

Linda says her three children learned their equestrian riding skills on the backs of mini donkeys. In fact, according to the National Miniature Donkey Association, mini donkeys’ good temperaments make them trustworthy animals around small children, the elderly and the handicapped.

The only danger Linda’s mini donkeys seem to pose is nibbling and nudging. They have a fetish for some shoes, especially shiny, patent leather shoes that a reporter might wear, and constantly sniff and try a gentle nibble.

The nudging is rather funny, and soon after entering the pasture, Brett laughs and says, “They’ll goose ya!”

The donkeys love attention and each wants to be scratched and patted by anyone around. Unfortunately on this day, there are about 20 mini donkeys and only six hands available, so the donkeys nudge legs and bottoms to get some attention. Then they look up with big eyes and press their velvet noses against your leg. There’s no choice but to pat them some more. It’s an adorable trap.

Valley resident and miniature donkey owner Gail Frazar says the donkeys’ sweet looks and need for attention won her heart, so she took some home recently. “We went to buy two … and then we said, ‘Oh, look how cute this one is,’ and then, ‘Oh look at how cute this one is,’” she says, laughing. “We left with eight.”

The miniature donkeys want to socialize and usually pair off, Frazar says, so it’s best to have an even number of them. Linda encourages people to buy the donkeys in pairs or have another animal available to befriend it. Mini donkeys will be chums with goats, horses and dogs. She even sold one mini donkey to a lady who wanted a companion for her blind horse.

Besides breeding the mini donkeys, the Marchi family also shows them in national competitions. The mini donkeys get invited to pull mini carts in local parades and activities. They’re a part of the nativity at the Santa Barbara Mission each Christmas and participate in Easter activities, as well. “Palm Sunday is a really big day for donkeys,” Linda says with a gentle laugh.

Her mini donkeys have even appeared in national advertisements and have been on “The Ellen Show.” Linda has given her information to an agent who represents animals in Hollywood, though she’s not sure if they’ll ever become mini movie stars.

The mini pleasures seem completely satisfying for these little donkeys.

Reach Lauren Crecelius at lcrecelius@syvjournal.com.