Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: A Lesson on mules
The days are getting shorter and the evenings are cooling down. This means fall is just around the corner. We have gotten some rain and the haying continues. Silage chopping is just beginning, unless you got hailed out, then it is done. We are ultrasounding heifers and a few cows, but we are not buried in work, so we have a little time to spend with family and friends.
This weekend the wagon train commemorating the 125th anniversary of South Dakota’s Statehood passed through our area. Several of my clients were involved in the wagon train so we (The Cattle Team) sponsored a wagon. Our reward for sponsorship was a chance to ride along for a day. It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the mid seventies and a slight breeze. The ride was peaceful, quiet, and very relaxing. We invited my daughter and son-in-law from Sioux Falls to bring the grandchildren to join us.
Each town on the trail has done a great job preparing for the event. They organized camp sites, prepared meals and allowed dignitaries to prepare community programs. In remembering the anniversary of South Dakota it also allowed communities to revive and revisit the local histories of each community. The evening camp, with horses and wagons in organized groups, was very reminiscent of the neighboring and helping attitude that make us the greatest place to live.
My grandkids are in kindergarten and preschool and had no idea what the wagon train was all about. Grandma used her computer and punched up a “Little House on the Prairie” rerun. It was the pilot and highlighted their travel in wagons. My granddaughter even donned a centennial dress and bonnet for the trip. We all boarded the wagon for a great experience.
The ride began with a few easy questions. Then my granddaughter asked, “What are the horses with the bunny ears?” That was an easy one. They were mules. I work with very few mules, but there were at least six nice teams in the procession. I had forgotten the importance of the mule in the settling and farming in our area.
Next came the questions from my precocious grandson, “Are the boys or girls?” There was no easy answer or that question. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (a jack) and a female horse (a mare). The horse has 64 chromosomes and the donkey has 62. The mule ends up with 63 chromosomes. They can be either male or female, but because of the odd number of chromosomes, they cannot reproduce.
Mules are generally sure footed. They are similar to horses but are believed to have superior strength for their size as well as great endurance. The word ‘mule’ can be used for any hybrid. The common names given the parents and offspring have always mixed me up so here is the glossary of terms:
· Stallion: male horse
· Mare: female horse
· Jack: male donkey
· Jennet: female donkey
· Horse mule, John mule: male mule
· Mare mule, Molly mule: female mule
Horse, Mule and Donkey Hybrids:
· Mule: donkey father and horse mother
· Hinny: horse father and donkey mother
· Donkule, Julie: donkey father and mule mother
· Hule: horse father and mule mother
Now that you have all the information you should be able to answer any questions about the horses with ‘bunny ears’.
I am sure school teachers are scarred when my client’s young children begin ‘show and tell’ by, “Doc was out yesterday.” One child took his stuffed cow and a Dixie cup to demonstrate semen collection. If you have problems with explanations to kids and grandkids, let me know I’d love to help out!
We need to better educate the consuming public on the many aspects of farm and ranch life. Participation in events like the wagon train help people visualize and understand the history of our regions and the affection we have for the lifestyle we love. Do your part to educate and we will preserve our rural way of life.