TO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE MULE, YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND THE DONKEY
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE DONKEY AND MULE
To most people the donkey is an animal, which has long ears and brays. But, you can also recognize him by his frequently grey or brown coat, (although he does come in other more “sporty” colors) a light nose & belly, a black cross on his back and shoulders, a short thin upright mane and a tail which is tufted at the end resembling the tail of the cow more than the horse. The hooves of the donkey, which he doesn’t like to get wet or muddy, are small and box shaped, and much more elastic than those of his cousin, the horse.
The donkey probably has more names than any other species in the equine family. His Latin name is Equus Asinus or Ass – with the male of the species being a Jack (hence the term Jack Ass). His lady friend is a Jennet or Jenny. Donkey was originally an English name for the Ass taken from “dun-key”. Meaning a small dun or grey colored animal. Those of us in the Southwest use the Spanish word, Burro, for the ass.
Besides having a lot of names, the donkey comes in about as many different sizes, shapes, breeds, and colors as the horse. Visit one of the many donkey and mule shows across the country and you will see four basic size groups: Miniature – up to 36” tall at the withers; standard – 36 to 48” tall; and large standard – 48” to 56”. The mammoth – or Jack Stock is over 56” or 14 hands tall. Within those sizes you will see many colors, gray, browns, blacks, reds, and even spots. Also you will see many body types from deerlike and graceful to strong and sturdy, something for every job or personal preference.
As Betsy Hutchin’s states in The Donkey’s & Mule as a Backyard Hobby, “The most enjoyable thing about Donkeys as members of the equine world is the fact that they are exceptionally loving, almost in the same manner as a dog. They love to be touched and no amount of playing with, or loving will spoil them for work. They are highly intelligent. For some reasons, rumors to the contrary have always existed, but all one has to do is once have a horse and then a donkey and any belief in the stupidity of the ass is banished. They also have a definite sense of humor, sometimes mischief, and a great love of human company. All in all, whether you ride or drive your donkey, or just love him, he is an unexcelled pet in the large animal category.”
To produce the hybrid equine called a mule, mate a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). The opposite cross, using a male horse (Stallion) and a female donkey (jennet) is called a hinny. Even though the mule and hinny hybrids have the same sexual characteristics and drive as their parents, they are sterile due to an uneven number of chromosomes – 63. The Mule gets some of its characteristics from the sire, which tends to come out in the extremities. Thus, a mule….has a short thick head ( if the jack has a short thick head), long ears, a short mane, thin legs, narrow hooves, a narrower body than a horse, and no hindlimb chestnuts, like an ass; in size, shape of neck and croup, speed, strength and type of tail, it is like a horse. A hinny is smaller and more horse-like than a mule, with shorter ears, a larger head and broader hooves; but has the ass’s calmer disposition. (Note: while these things are generally true, the truest thing is that animals vary so much from individual to individual that sweeping generalizations are not to be taken too seriously)
Contrary to popular belief, a mule is neither vicious nor stubborn, but will respond as he is treated. The mule which is well cared for and not abused makes an excellent riding or working animal.
Mules come in all sizes, from the small miniature to the giant draft mules. The smallest mules come from miniature jacks and miniature horse mares. The draft mules come from Mammoth jacks and large draft mares. Saddle mules are being bred from Quarter horse mares, thoroughbreds, and other pleasure riding type mares and standard & large standard sized jacks. Hinnys come in about the same sizes, but as E.C. Porter states in A Breeder’s Notebook, It is simply the very low conception rate of the jennet (even to a Jack), which makes the breeding of hinnys much less sure and not at all profitable, compared to the breeding of mules.”
Mules today are used for packing, pleasure riding, “coon” hunting and jumping, driving, and even racing. Because of their strength and sure – footedness, mules are being used more and more by cross – country and endurance riders as good, dependable mounts. As a matter of fact mules today are being used in many areas that were thought of as the exclusive province of horses such as fox hunting, dressage, combined driving, cow work and all sorts of recreational uses.
ORIGIN OF MODERN AMERICAN BREEDS OF ASSES
The donkey is one of four members of the equine family, whose most common member is the horse. The following species make up the equine family:
1. Equus caballus – horse
2. Equus assinus – ass (donkey)
3. Equus zebra
4. Equus hemionus – onager, kiang, kulan, khur
The mule, since it is a hybrid, is not considered a species.
Domestic donkeys descend solely from the wild asses of Africa: the Nubian wild ass, now extinct, or the Somali wild ass. Donkeys were domesticated long before the horse.
A number of Asiatic wild asses also evolved, all of which look quite different and have different chromosome counts. Three are endangered in number and none are domesticated. These include the onager, kiang, kulan, and khur. The onager appears more horse-like, and is the wild ass referred to in the Bible.
The breeds of donkeys in North America are now so mixed that they are classified only as to size. Various countries of origin have been identified, however.
Miniature donkeys were bred from animals imported from Sicily, Sardinia, other Mediterranean locations, and Ethiopia.
Standard donkeys arrived with Columbus (six animals) but mostly with the Spanish Conquistadores.
Mammoth donkeys were also imported from Spain, particularly Catalonia and Andalusia, as well as from Malta and Majorca. Another interesting import, although in small numbers, was the rare French Poitou, a large, coarse donkey with extremely long, wavy hair, used mostly for mule breeding but also introduced into Mammoth donkey bloodlines.
Miniature and Mammoth donkeys with proven bloodlines from specific foundation stock can be registered with the Canadian Donkey and Mule Association and the American Donkey and Mule Society.
AMERICAN BREEDS OF MULES
The old breed terms of Cotton, sugar, mine mules etc. are not relevant today. The breed names are now the following. Keep in mind that these breeds are not differentiated so much by size as by the type of mare the mule was bred from.
Miniature Mule: Bred from various types of pony mares or miniature horse mares, Fifty inches is usually considered the cut-off point for miniature mules.
Saddle Mules: Bred from mares of saddle horse breeding. These vary in size from small to very large but have riding type conformation and looks.
Pack/Work Mules: Bred from mares with some draft blood or of heavy work rather than for saddle type conformation.
Draft Mules: These are the largest mules and are bred from various breeds of draft mares. Belgian mules are the most common, valued for their bright sorrel color, but mules from, Percheron, Clydesdale, Shire and other draft breeds are popular also. The larger and heavier the better with these mules, but refinement is desired as well.
WHAT IS A MULE?
The mule is a hybrid equine produced by mating a horse mare to a donkey jack (stallion). Sounds easy, but most donkey jacks will not cross the species line to breed horse mares! Donkeys intended to be used for mule breeding need special raising and training so that they will breed mares.
Male mules are called horse mules and should be gelded around six to nine months of age.
Female mules are called mare mules or molly mules.
Hinny refers to the opposite cross from the mule. This equine hybrid is the product of mating a donkey mare (jennet) to a horse stallion. The hinny resembles the mule very closely but tends to be more horselike in general appearance.
WHY OWN A MULE?
Mules have been bred for some 3,000 years. Mules were used by the Jewish people before the time of King David and by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for harness racing, as draft animals, in farming, and as saddle animals for the nobility and clergy.
The mule combines together many of the good features of both parents such as the intelligence, longevity and sure-footedness of the donkey with the size, and rounded body conformation of the horse. Because mules are a hybrid, they exhibit hybrid vigor and are noted for their stamina and endurance.
Mules are highly intelligent, and like the donkey parent, have an extremely well developed instinct for self-preservation. This instinct makes them less prone to injuries to themselves and their handlers.
Mules are noted as easy keepers and are renowned for their strength and endurance, and ability to withstand heat.
Mules come in a variety of colors and sized ranging from miniature to saddle and draft types. They are a “made to order” animal that is created in just one generation.
Most mules today excel in the recreational field – trail riding, endurance riding, packing, driving, and cutting cattle to packing out big game – a good mule is worth his weight in gold.
Differences between horses and mules
When talking about the differences you have to include the donkey – because the mule is a hybrid differences also vary from animal to animal.
• The angle of the larynx at the back of the throat (top of the trachea) of the donkey is different than in horses, and donkeys have a pharyngeal diverticulum (pocket) in their throat, excess tissue in their pharynx, and elongated laryngeal saccules (part of the airway that aids in vocalization).
• Nasal intubation also is more challenging because donkeys have narrower nasal passages than horses
• Donkeys tend to grow longer, coarser coats that lack the protective undercoat that horses have in the winter. The coat does not provide the protection needed during periods of weather extremes (colder and wet weather).
• An obscured jugular furrow (the place where blood samples are taken or tranquilizers are given). The cutaneous coli muscle is much thicker than in the horse and hides the middle third of the jugular vein. It is easier to find the upper third of the jugular.
• The nasolacrimal duct of the donkey is located on the flare of the nostril rather than the floor of the nostril as it is in the horse.
• Some medication can produce complications such as breathing in donkeys
• Higher doses (typically 1.5 times the horse dose) of a number of drugs are needed in donkeys. An exception is guaifenesin (a centrally acting muscle relaxant). Horse doses of this drug in donkeys can cause respiratory arrest.
• Lungworms are reported to be more common in donkeys than horses
Mule compared to the horse
• Higher mean value for corpuscular volume
• Lower white blood cell count
• Lower monocyte
• Red blood cell tend to be lower
• Mean platelet volume tends to be lower
• Normal temperature is similar (normal temperature for a resting horse is 37.5 to 38 degrees C)
• Mules metabolize most drugs similar to horses but still the sedation may wear off sooner
• Mules tend to show signs of acute pain and generally it’s easier for an owner to detect an issue
• When restraining avoid ear twitching and consider a humane twitch or pharmaceutical restraint
• Mules are very social animals
• Mules can survive on coarser pastures
• Hooves are tougher and more elastic, they are narrow in shape. Weight is placed directly on the frog portion of the foot. The hoof wall is rounded and thick in the toe area, more pinched in and thinner at the quarter and flared out and thick at the heel. The bars are thick and prominent, length of the hoof wall itself is relatively long and upright
• Mule offspring have 63 chromosomes (donkey 62 – horse 64)
• Internal parasites are typical for other equine species therefore the recommendations for control and treatment are those that are used for horses
• Protocols for a vaccination program are usually adapted from those recommended for horses
• Mules are able to cow kick
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