|To Make a Mule|
by Marlene Malcher
If you are interested in breeding your mare to a jack in the hopes of getting a baby mule, let me give you some helpful information and some experiences I have had. Although I don't claim to be an expert, I have learned some things the hard way, so why not pass on the knowledge?
Most mares will not willingly be bred by a jack, which seems to come as a surprise to most people. Stop and think about it. Unless the mare lives with donkeys as pasture mates, the donkey, especially if it is an aggressive or noisy jack, will likely scare the daylights out of her. This obstacle alone is often the most difficult one to overcome in the quest for making a mule. If your mare has never been around a jack, she may need to spend time at the breeding farm beforehand, where she can see, smell, and hear the jack without jumping out of her skin. Some jacks are quiet and gentlemanly, while others are aggressive and boisterous, and if allowed to will terrorize the mare.
When a mare is afraid of the jack she will not "show" to the jack as she would to a stallion, thus making the detection of her heat cycle awkward unless a teaser stallion is available. Even then a mare in full heat may not willingly show to the jack. The mare thus must at least not be afraid of the jack, although she may let him mount her only begrudgingly. Believe me, no one finds it pleasant to try to get a mare bred when her wishes do not correspond with the jack's.
Most breeders who stand a jack to outside mares will only hand breed, which is the safest and best way to know if the mare has been covered. Pasture breeding may work but involves many risks. The jack may savage the mare. If she has a foal at her side, the jack may kill the foal.
The jack may also be hurt by the mare, and most breeders cannot risk having their jacks injured. Beware of the backyard breeder who will turn your mare out with his jack for a nominal fee and assume his jack will breed your mare. Some folks don't realize that unless a jack has been raised with horses, rather than donkeys, he will not breed mares. He must have been raised to think he's a horse, otherwise he will not cross the equine line and will be interested only in jennets.
Aside from being aware of how much work is involved in breeding for a mule, also take a look at the age of the mare you are considering turning into a mule mamma. She should be at least three years old. Even though some two-year-olds will catch, it isn't fair to them as they haven't finished growing up yet themselves. The few times we have tried breeding fillies and they foaled, they were barren the following year, telling us their bodies needed time off to grow up. The other extreme is the aged mare that's never had a foal. Her chances of carrying are not good, but not impossible.
Regardless of the mare's age, have her palpated by an equine vet. You might also get a biopsy of her uterus to find out what her chances are of conceiving. You will save a lot of time and expense if the mare has a low chance of carrying a foal.
To acquire a good mule, you must start with a good-minded mare. If your mare is easy going, friendly, willing, and eager to learn then so will be your baby mule. Yes, a good-minded jack is important, but not nearly as critical as the mare. The baby will spend all its time with its mamma and will pick up her vices and characteristics, both good and bad.
Consider also the mare's conformation. Minor flaws may often be strengthened by the jack's influence, but an unsound mare can pass along her hereditary weaknesses. Both parents should have good conformation to guarantee a good looking and useful mule.
The mare you present to the breeder must be well broke to handle. She must be halter broke and able to stand tied without pulling back. If she may possibility kick, she must be able to accept having breeding hobbles put on her back legs. If she is shod, pull her back shoes. The mare must have adequate handling and training to make her safe for the breeder and his jack, thus ensuring a better chance of delivering that baby mule you have your heart set on.
As with any baby animal, but especially with a mule foal, establishing a human relationship from day one is important. Foals that are imprinted and handled with kindness from birth learn to adore people and are so much easier to work with as they get older and bigger. Mules that do not trust people, whether from being mishandled or mistreated, are next to impossible to change. Their naturally self-preserving nature and dislike of being hurt make them a challenging animal to reclaim and some can never be turned around.
Although handling your mule baby a lot is important, the foal also must be taught to respect you. Do not equate love for your animal with spoiling it so it becomes unsafe to handle. Baby mules do not need harsh discipline. A firm voice is all that is usually needed to correct improper behavior. They are intelligent and easy to work with, and respond wonderfully to human handling.
We get so much joy out of handling our baby mules that I find it incomprehensible that some people never touch their foals, believing it is better for the foals. We believe this early time with humans is the most critical and opportune in the making of a good mule. The trust a foal learns at this time in its early life will make it easier to teach and more reliable as a mature animal. The bond with a mule that has been handled since birth is so much greater than with one that has been raised without human intervention and lacks the same level of trust.
Awaiting the safe delivery of mule babies is always an anxious time for me, but it is also a time of fun and eager anticipation. Nothing is so entertaining and delightful as a baby mule. If you do your homework and select a good mare, you will be rewarded with one of the best experiences of your life.
PO Box 2067, Cedar Rapids IA 52406-2067
Phone: 319-362-3027 Fax: 319-362-3046
15 April 2012 last revision