October 26th is National Mule Day. Celebrate with some fun facts about one of America’s original hybrid breeds. First and foremost, let’s tackle the age-old question: what is a mule?
What is a mule?
According to LuckyThreeRanch Mule Facts, a mule is:
A cross between two species of equine: the horse or pony (Equus caballus) and the domestic donkey (Equus asinus). The term ‘mule’ is used for either the cross of male donkey on female horse, or the cross of female donkey on a male horse, although the latter cross is more correctly known as a ‘hinny.’ Mules and hinnies each have one horse and one donkey parent, however the two crosses generally differ from each other in appearance and stature and–to some extent–temperament.”
Essentially, a mule comes from a male donkey and a female horse.
A Horse with No Name: Although there are differences between mules and hinnies, most people only refer to all donkey-horse hybrids as mules.
Other Interesting Facts
1. Mules are (mostly) Infertile
Being the offspring of animals with a different number of chromosomes has its disadvantages. For example, did you know that mules can’t reproduce? In nature, most mammals have an even number of chromosomes. As a whole, science regards plants as the only organisms with odd-numbered chromosomes. In genetics, mules classify as “Polyploids” (an individual organism in which there are more than two chromosome sets. During meiosis (the part of the reproduction in which chromosomes combine), mules end up with 63 chromosomes making them infertile.
You’re the Exception, Not the Rule: Like anything, there are exceptions to the rule. In 2007, a female mule gave birth to male offspring. NPR reports DNA samples sent to both the University of Kentucky and the University of California, Davis positively “verif[ied] that the samples came from a mule and her offspring.”Although the offspring passed away in 2010, this genetic anomaly still amazes.
2. You’re as Stubborn as a Mule
It’s a common misconception that mules are stubborn animals. Most, if not all, of their perceived stubbornness, stems from common sense and self-preservation. LuckyThreeRanch states, “most mules require a kind, polite, sensible, logical and sequential way of training with consideration, consistency and respect for the animal.” Mules are “no-nonsense”-minded animals, meaning they require slow, steady training. By taking the “slow and steady” approach, you’ll get more out of your mule from both a productivity and agreeability standpoint.
Quick Lit: “As Stubborn as a Mule” is a popular animal idiom. An idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”
3. George Washington, First American Mule Breeder?
We all know that George Washington was the first president of the United States, but did you know he’s accredited as the first person to breed mules? The Mount Vernon website shares that George Washington thought, “the mule would revolutionize farming.” Washington set out to acquire a Spanish donkey, which at that time, was considered the best breed. However, at this time in history, all Spanish donkeys “required the permission of the Spanish King [King Charles III] to acquire and import the high-bred stock from Spain.” King Charles III caught wind of George Washington’s request and obliged, “order[ing] ‘two of the very best to be procured & sent you as a mark of his respect.'” While two donkeys set sail across the Atlantic, only one survived the journey to North America. The surviving donkey, aptly named Royal Gift, sired multiple offspring.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Many of the mules and donkeys you’ll see at Mount Vernon today are descendants of Royal Gift.
4. The State Animal of Missouri
The Missouri Mule was officially named Missouri’s State Animal on May 31st, 1995. William Becknell brought mules to Missouri in 1822. The University Of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine Mule Club notes “[Becknell] led the first trading party over the Santa Fe trail and returned with a herd of Mexican mules and donkeys.” Following Missouri’s initial introduction to mules, the animal quickly became an integral, economical addition to the workforce. In the 1870’s, Missouri became the leading mule-holding state, a title maintained for 30 years.
Mules Across America: South Carolina recognizes the mule as the State Heritage Work Animal. Additionally, Columbia, Tennessee (The self-proclaimed mule capital of the U.S.) hosts a 4-day “Mule Day” celebration annually.
Is there a fun fact about mules you’d like to share with us? Leave a comment below!
Jeffers carries a small selection of products specifically for mules.
Interested in raising some type of livestock animal? Read our blog post “Raising Miniature Livestock”
Have questions? Comments? Reach out to our Equine Specialist, Kim Cahill, via e-mail (email@example.com) or phone (1-800-533-3377, ask for Kim).
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