Mules are smart, loving, and will work hard for you
By Jodi Henke
Mules are durable, versatile creatures that are used for packing, riding, and other chores on the farm. A mule has a donkey father and a horse mother, and you can spot one by the long ears and short mane.
Amy McLean is an equine reproduction specialist at the University of California-Davis and a board member of the American Mule Association. She says they have a reputation for having a stubborn disposition, so as soon as the baby mule is born, start training it.
"If you tend to handle them from day one and you create a good bond with them and honestly make the mule your friend, that tends to really determine how they’re going to react to certain situations and how either easy or challenging they are to train later on," she says.
Mules will test you to see what they can get away with. But with some patience and kindness, they'll learn to trust and obey you. Mules also have a good memory, so if you cause them any pain, they'll remember it and hold a grudge.
Horses, sheep, goats, and cattle will enjoy having a mule around, but mules are somewhat territorial. McLean says they will learn to adapt to the other animals in their space and be protective of them. In fact, if a stray critter comes around, the mule will chase it away.
Mules are very efficient eaters and can survive on lower quality forages and feed. They can become diabetic if you overfeed them, especially if you feed a lot of alfalfa and grain.
"You have to make sure you’re feeding them at a lower level than you would a horse of the same siz," says McLean. "Controlling the weight and their metabolism with what you’re feeding is always a balancing act with a mule."
Mules originated as desert animals and are well-adapted to warm climates. In colder areas of the country, provide a barn or shelter to protect them from weather extremes.
Learn more about these hardy animals and find mules in your area