The Mule

Is the hybrid produced by the ass with the mare. How early this animal was bred, is uncertain, but we know he was in high repute in the reign of David, near 3,000 years ago, for he was rode by Absalom, the favorite prince of Israel, on the field of battle. They have from time immemorial been bred in various parts of the East, on the borders of the Mediterranean, and throughout Spain, Portugal, and other countries, many of them being of splendid appearance and of fine qualities. In these countries, they are frequently used by the grandees and nobles, and indeed by royalty itself; and however much they may be undervalued elsewhere, when they are finely bred and trained, and richly caparisoned, they exhibit a stateliness and bearing, that few of the highest bred horses can match.

Breeding Mules in the United States

Was commenced with much spirit in some of the New England states, soon after the American revolution. The object was not to breed them for their own use, but only as an article of commerce. They were at first shipped exclusively to the West Indies; and afterwards to the South and West, for employment in the various work of the plantation. Indifferent animals, both as sires and dams, were used at first, as any thing which bore the name of mule, then commanded a ready sale. The progeny were necessarily inferior brutes, and viewed with almost universal derision; and being considered the type of their race, a prejudice was excited against them, which more than half a century has not been sufficient to dispel.

Among a few thinking men at the North, they have been adopted and made highly useful in the various duties of the farm. They have been largely introduced at the South and West, but principally in the slave states, where the management of the team devolves upon the ignorant and heedless. It is there, and in other and hotter climates, that the superior merits of the mule over the horse as a laboring animal, are peculiarly manifest. In many instances they are indifferently fed, hardly worked, and greatly neglected by their drivers; yet they sustain themselves for years, in defiance of usage that would annihilate two generations of horses. Their powers have been largely increased and their merits improved, by the introduction of some of the best Maltese and Spanish Jacks, and the use of large, blood mares. The propriety of this course is seen in the value of the product; for while some of the inferior are unsaleable at $50, others of the same age, and reared under the same circumstances of keep and condition, could not be purchased for $150.

The Breeding, Rearing, and Management of Mules

Is similar to that of colts. They will be found, equally with horses, to repay generous keep and attention, by their increased and rapid growth. But they should not be pampered by high feed, as it not only has a tendency to produce disease, but to form habits of fastidiousness, which materially lessens their economical feeding in after life. The diseases to which mules are subjected, (which are always few, and if properly managed will seldom or ever occur,) require a treatment like that of horses.

The breeding from mules  has sometimes been questioned, but it has been demonstrated in several instances. Neither the sexual development nor propensities are wanting, but they are seldom indulged with effect. Mr. Kilby, of Virginia, states in the Farmer's Register, that a mare mule brought two colts from a young horse, which they closely resembled. The first was a male, and died, apparently with staggers, which no treatment could arrest, at six months old. The second was a female, 16 months younger than the first, marked like thesire, being jet-black, excepting a white foot and star in the forehead, and died at a year old, after two days' illness, notwithstanding the utmost care was bestowed upon it. Successful propagation of this hybrid, however, beyond the first cross, seems to be incompatible with the fixed laws of nature.

With a view of encouraging the substitution of mules for a part of the horses now employed in American husbandry, we give the following testimony from experienced individuals, of great intelligence and careful observation.

Advantages of Mule Over Horse Labor

The official report of an agricultural committee in South Carolina, in 1824, says:—"The annual expense of keeping a horse is equal to his value. A horse at four years old would not often bring more than his cost. Two mules can be raised at less expense than one horse. The mule is fit for service earlier, and if of sufficient size, will perform as much labor as the horse; and if attended to when first put to work, his gait and habits may be formed to suit the owner."

Mr. Pomeroy, who used them near Boston for 30 years, and to such an extent as to have had more labor performed by them probably than any person in New England, says:—"I am convinced the small breed of mules will consume less in proportion to the labor they are capable of performing than the larger race, but I shall confine myself to the latter in my comparison, such as stand 14½ to 16 hands, and are capable of performing any work a horse is usually put to. From repeated experiments, I have found that three mules of this description, which were constantly at work, consumed about the same quantity of hay, and only one-fourth the provender, which was given to two middling-size coach-horses, only moderately worked. I am satisfied a large-sized mule will not consume more than three-fifths to two-thirds the food to keep him in good order, that will be necessary for a horse performing the same labor. The expense of shoeing a mule the year round, does not exceed one-third that of the horse, his hoofs being harder, more horny, and so slow in their growth, that shoes require no removal, and hold on till worn out; and the wear from the lightness of the animal is much less.

Mules have been lost by feeding on cut straw and corn meal; in no other instance have I known disease in them, except by inflammation of the intestines, caused by the grossest exposure to cold and wet, and excessive drinking cold water, after severe labor, and while in a high state of perspiration. It is not improbable a farmer may work the same team of mules for twenty years, without having a farrier's bill presented to him.

In my experience of thirty years, I have never found but one mule inclined to be vicious, and he might have been easily subdued while young. I have always found them truer pullers and quicker travellers, with a load, than horses. Their vision and hearing are much more accurate. I have used them in my family carriage, in a gig, and under the saddle; and have never known one to start or run from any object or noise, a fault in the horse, that continually causes the maiming and death of numerous human beings.

The mule is more steady in his draught, and less likely to waste his strength than the horse, hence more suitable to work with oxen; and as he walks faster, he will habituate them to a faster gait. In plowing among crops, his feet being small and following each other so much more in a line, he seldom treads down the ridges or crops. The facility of instructing him to obey implicitly the voice of the driver is astonishing. The best plowed tillage land I ever saw, I have had performed by two mules tandem, without lines or driver. The mule is capable of enduring labor in a temperature of heat that would be destructive to a horse.

Although a large mule will consume something over one-half the food of a horse, yet the saving in shoeing, farrying, and insurance against diseases and accidents, will amount to at least one-half. In addition, the owner may rely with tolerable certainty on the continuance of his mule capital for thirty years; whereas the horse owner must, at the end of fifteen years, look to his crops, his acres, or a bank for the renewal of his. The longevity of a mule is so proverbial, that a purchaser seldom inquires his age. Pliny mentions one 80 years old; and Dr. Rees, two in England, that reached the age of 70. I saw one performing his labor in a cane-mill in the West Indies, which the owner assured me was 40 years old. I have now a mare-mule 25 years old, that I have had in constant work for 21 years. She has often within a year taken a ton weight in a wagon to Boston, five miles, and manifests no diminution of her powers. A neighbor has one 28 years old, which he would not exchange for any horse in the country. One in Maryland, 35 years old, is now as capable of labor as at any former period."

Mr. Hood of Maryland, in the American Farmer, estimates the annual expense of a horse for 12 months, at $44, and that of a mule at $22, just half price, and his working age at more than twice that of the horse, and that too after 30 years' experience in keeping both.

A correspondent of the Baltimore Patriot, asserts that "Col. John E. Howard had a pair of mules that worked 30 years, after which they were sold to a carter in the city, and performed hard service for several years longer. Many mules 25 years old, and now in this country, perform well. Many have been at hard work for 12 or 15 years, and would now sell for $100 each. They are not subject to the colt's ailments, the glanders, heaves, yellow-water, and colic, like horses; and seldom are afflicted with spavin, ringbones, or bots; and they will not founder."

General Shelby says, "he has known mules to travel 12 miles within the hour in light harness, and has himself driven a pair 45 miles in six hours, stopping an hour by the way." Four match mules have been sold in this country for $1,000. They were of course superior animals, and made elegant coach-horses. These animals were driven 80 miles in a day without injury; and they proved a first-rate team for many years.

Mr. Ellicott, of the Patuxent Furnaces, asserts that, "out of about 100 mules at the works, we have not lost on an average one in two years. Bleeding at the mouth will cure them of nearly every disease, and by being turned out on pasture, they will recover from almost every accident. I do not recollect we have ever had a wind-broken one. They are scarcely ever defective in the hoof, and though kept shod, it is not as important as with the horse. Their skin is tougher than that of the horse, consequently they are not as much worried by flies, nor do they suffer so much with the heat of summer."

To the foregoing testimony may be added that of the late Judge Hinckley of Massachusetts; a shrewd and close observer through a long life of 84 years. He bred mules at an early day, and always kept a team of them for his farm work, much preferring them to horses for this purpose, after an experience of 50 years. He had a pair nearly 30 years old, which, with light pasturage in summer, and with a moderate supply of hay with little grain in winter, and no grooming, performed all the drudgery, though he kept his stable full of horses besides. They outlived successive generations of horses, and though the latter were often sick and out of condition, the mules never were. One from his stock, 45 years old, was sold for the same price paid for a lot of young mules, being at that mature age perfectly able to perform his full share of labor.

For the caravans that pass over the almost inaccessible ranges which form the continuation of the Rocky Mountains, and the extensive arid plains that lie between and west of them, on the route from Santa Fé to California, mules are the only beasts of burden used in these exhausting and perilous adventures. Their value may be estimated from the comparative prices of mules and horses; for while a good horse may be bought for $10 to $20, a good mule is worth $50 to $75.

Dr. Lyman, who recently passed through those regions, informs us that their caravan left Santa Fé with about 150 mules, 15 or 20 horses, all beasts of burden, and two choice blood-horses, which were led and treated with peculiar care. On the route, all the working-horses died from exhaustion and suffering; the two bloods that had been so carefully attended, but just survived; yet of the whole number of mules but 8 or 10 gave out. A mule 36 years of age was as strong, enduring, and performed as hard labor, as any one in the caravan. When thirst compelled them to resort for successive days to the saline waters, which are the only ones furnished by those sterile plains, the horses were at once severely, and not unfrequently fatally affected; while the mules, though suffering greatly from the change, yet seldom were so much injured as to require any remission of their labor.

The mules sent to the Mexican possessions from our western states, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, are considered of much more value than such as are bred from the native (usually wild) mares. The difference probably arises, in part, from the Mexicans using jacks so inferior to most of the stock animals used by the citizens of those states.

Mare mules are estimated in those regions at one-third more than horse mules. The reason assigned for this is, that after a day's journey of excessive fatigue, there is a larger quantity of blood secreted in the bladder, which the female, owing to her larger passage, voids at once, and without much apparent suffering, while the male does not get rid of it, frequently, till after an hour of considerable pain. The effect of this difference is seen in the loss of flesh and strength in the male to an extent far beyond that of the female.

The method of reducing refractory mules  in the northern Mexican possessions, is for the person to grasp them firmly by the ears, while another whips them severely on the fore-legs and belly.

Estimated annual saving to the United States from the employment of mules in the place of horses.—To sum up the advantages of working mules over horses, we shall have as advantages: 1. They are more easily, surely, and cheaply raised. 2. They are maintained, after commencing work, for much less than the cost of keeping horses. 3. They are not subject to many of the diseases of the horse, and to others only in a mitigated degree, and even these are easily cured in the mule. 4. They attain a greater age, and their average working years are probably twice that of the horse.

In 1840, there were reported to be 4,335,669 horses and mules in the Union, no discrimination having been made between them. Suppose the total number at the present time is 4,650,000, and that of these 650,000 are mules. If we deduct one-fourth, supposed to be required for the purposes of breed, fancy-horses, &c., we shall have 3,000,000 horses, whose places may be equally well supplied by the same number of mules. We have seen that Mr. Hood, of Maryland, estimates the expense of a working horse at $44 per annum, (not an over estimate for the Atlantic states,) while that of the mule is $22. The difference is $22, which it is proper to reduce to meet the much lower rate of keeping at the West. If we put the difference at $10, we shall find the saving in the keep, shoeing, farriery, &c., by substituting mules for the 3,000,000 horses that can be dispensed with, will be $30,000,000 per annum. But this is not all.

The working age of the horse will not exceed an average of eight years, while that of the mule is probably over sixteen. To the difference of keep, then, must be added the annual waste of the capital invested in the animal. A mule is more cheaply raised to working age than a horse, but allowing them to cost equally, we shall have the horse exhausting one-eighth of his capital annually for his decay, when the mule is using up but one-sixteenth; and if we allow $48 as the first cost of both animals, we shall find the horse wasting $6 annually for this item, while the mule deteriorates but $3, making an additional item of $9,000,000. This will give an aggregate of $39,000,000, as the annual saving to the United States by substituting good mules for three-fourths of the horses now used in this country. When will our farmers have the good sense to make this change? It may be fairly answered, when they shall prefer utility, interest, and a just taste, to a diseased fancy; for though we admit the superiority in appearance of the race of horses over mules, we deny that a bad horse looks better or even as well as a good mule; and with the same keep and attention, a good mule will outwork and outlook most horses of any breed.