YOU WANT TO RAISE A MULE?
By Marlene Quiring
If you are interested in breeding your mare to a jack to acquire a baby mule from the mare of your choice, I’d like to share a bit of advice and experiences gained from our mule raising years. We were no experts in those days, learning some lessons the hard way. I would rather you experience a journey with good memories as opposed to any disappointments that for the most part are preventable.
Today, one of the safest and best ways to get your mare bred is by selecting Artificial Insemination. Many breeders offer this service which minimizes danger to the mare, jack or handler and also gives accurate breeding dates. Before we retired from raising mules, we were using this method on most mares as we felt it was the least traumatic and gave the best results all around. However, if you are a jack owner, you must be able to collect from your jack and take the time to learn the basics of the whole process. Weekend classes are sometimes offered at Agricultural Schools or your local veterinarian may be able to guide you in this procedure.
If you do not have the option of Artificial Insemination or A.I. as it is commonly called your next best option would be ‘’hand breeding.’’ However if you are a new jack owner, please remember that most mares will not willingly be bred by a jack. Unless the mare is already comfortable around donkeys, an aggressive or noisy jack will likely scare the daylights out of her. Some jacks are very quiet and gentlemanly but some can be very aggressive and boisterous and may terrorize a mare if allowed. Most mares will not “show” to the jack like they would to a stallion, thus making detecting their heat cycles very awkward unless there is a teaser stallion available.
Horse stallions usually breed quite quickly if a mare is presented to them’’ in season.’’ However most jacks do not ‘’watch a clock’’. Our experience with jacks was that patience was indeed a virtue as we waited to see if the jack decided if ‘’today’’ was a good day to breed that mare! More often than not, it would take a whole evening to breed one or two mares.
If a mare will not willingly let the jack mount, the situation can become scary fast for the mare, the jack and the handlers. We did all hand breeding in a tie stall, which was similar to a breeding chute, where we could get to the mare’s head to calm her or un-tie her if necessary and without danger to us. At times it could become a 3 person job; one to manage the mare, another to handle the jack and another to make sure the jack was successful. Most mares were also dressed with ‘’kicking hobbles’’ to make sure they did not injure the jack or handlers. Needless to say, any hind shoes were always removed first. Other than A.I., hand breeding is the safest and best way to live-cover a mare.
Pasture breeding may work for some but there are many risks involved if that is the route you choose to take. The jack can savage mares and if she has a foal at her side, some jacks will kill the foal. The jack can also be hurt by the mare and most breeders cannot risk having their jack injured or scared to breed a mare again. Beware of the backyard breeder who will “turn your mare out with his jack” for a nominal fee and assume that his jack will breed your mare. Successful pasture breeding jacks are few and far between, and the risks are not worth the gamble. Some folks don’t realize that in order to breed mares, a jack almost always has to have been raised with horses, which makes him want to breed them, not jennets. He basically thinks that he is a horse! Otherwise he is unlikely to cross the equine line and he will likely only be interested in jennets.
Now that you are armed with some information on the work it takes on the jack and handlers part in raising a mule baby, there are many things to take into consideration into choosing your best mare for the job.
#1. She should be at least 3 years of age. Breeding a 2-year-old filly is not fair as she hasn’t finished growing herself. Of course the other extreme would be an aged mare that’s never had a foal. Her chances of carrying are not great but not impossible. With any mare, you should have her palpated by an equine vet. A biopsy of her uterus will tell you what her chances are of conceiving and save you a lot of time and expense if she’s a mare that has a low chance of carrying a foal.
#2. In order to acquire a good mule, you must start with a good-minded mare. Long gone are the days when a mare that was hard to get along with was considered suitable to raise a mule foal. If your mare is easy going, friendly, willing and eager to learn, then she will pass that onto her baby. Yes, a good minded jack is important but not near as critical as the mare. The baby will spend all his time with his momma and will pick up her vices and characteristics, good or bad.
#3, Take a hard look at the mare’s conformation. Minor flaws can often be strengthened by the jack’s influence, but if the mare is unsound she can also pass along her hereditary weaknesses. Both parents should have good conformation in order to guarantee a useful mule. If you are not sure how to judge her conformation, consult with several good professionals for their opinions.
#4. The mare you present to the breeder must also be well broke to handle. She must lead well and must be able to stand tied without pulling back. If there is the possibility of kicking, the mare must be able to accept having breeding hobbles put on her back legs. Make sure if she is shod, that you have her shoes pulled. In other words, she must have the handling and training on her that will make her safe for the breeder and his jack and thus ensure a better chance of delivering to you that mule baby you have your heart set on.
When all goes well and you get that mule baby on the ground, we believe that it is important to establish a human relationship from day one. Foals that are handled with kindness from day one learn to trust 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 very challenging animals to reclaim and may take years to turn around.
Handling your mule baby while he is young includes teaching him to respect you. Do not misinterpret love for your animals into spoiling them so that they become unsafe to handle. Baby mules do not need harsh discipline; a firm voice is often all that is required to correct improper behavior. They are very intelligent, playful and curious, so use those attributes in a way that builds a good foundation for the rest of their lives. We derived so much joy out of handling our baby mules that I find it incomprehensible that some people never touch their young foals, somehow believing that that is better for them. It is our belief that this is the most critical and opportune time in the making of a good mule. The trust and guidelines they learn at this time in their early life will make them easier to teach and more reliable as a mature animal.
There is nothing as entertaining and delightful as a baby mule, and if you have done your homework on all that is required, you will be rewarded with one of the best experiences in life. Good luck to you!
Marlene and her husband live on an acreage in central Alberta with 6 mules, 1 horse and several spoiled cats. Marlene has been a long time mule lover, having raised mules for many years. Her passion is to promote mules and donkeys and to help educate those that own them or are considering ownership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Methods of Breeding Donkeys
By Sybil E. Sewell
Breeding donkeys may seem as simple as the equation of one jennet plus one jack will produce a fuzzy, longeared foal next year. However, donkeys are part of the equine family and as such the breeder has a choice of three basic breeding methods.
1. Pasture breeding occurs when the jack is turned out with a group of jennets. The advantage is a natural breeding situation.
- If the jack is not excellent condition he may not be able to successfully breed all the jennets.
- Risk of injury to the jack by aggressive jennets, or vice versa.
- Risk of injury to foals in the herd. The jack may try to kill any jack foal born.
- Risk of infection being spread in an uncontrolled situation.
- Unless closely observed, it is difficult to determine dates of breeding, and hence foaling dates the following year.
2. In Hand breeding occurs when the jennet is placed in a breeding chute or stall and the jack is controlled by his handler. Disadvantages to this method are the requirement of extra care, handling, and facilities during regular teasing and breeding of the jennets. Some jacks are very slow breeders.
- Controlled situation for breeding with minimal risk of injury to either jack or jennet. The foal can be placed close by so the jennet is not worried about her offspring.
- The jack's energy can be conserved and is not wasted chasing jennets.
- Risk of infection is minimized in that both jack and jennet can be disinfected before and after breeding.
- Exact dates for breeding can be recorded and more accurate dates for foaling can be predicted.
3. Equine Artificial Insemination occurs when semen is collected from the jack and used to inseminate one or more jennets ready for breeding. The disadvantages to many small breeders would be the costs involved for a trained technician, or the courses and purchase of equipment to establish them in Equine A.I. The advantages are the lowered risk of infection, and the breeding of a larger quantity of jennets at the same time than could be possible by in hand breeding.
Jacks can be very precocious at an early age, and young jennets often show their first heat cycles early in the yearling year. Since the donkey is a very slow maturing animal it is unwise to allow breeding prior to the age of three years old. Pregnancy in the immature jennet can produce congenital malformations in the foal. The lengthy gestation period, which can very from 11 to 14 months, can produce permanent damage to skeletal and muscular systems of the immature dam. Physically immature jennets may lack the mental maturity to be good mothers.
Careful choice of both jack and jennet, as well as the method of breeding, can indeed yield a fuzzy, longeared foal next year, which will make the long wait worth it!
To Breed or Not to Breed that Jennet?
By Sybil E. Sewell
As spring approaches, thoughts of breeding that jennet who has been a faithful friend for several years run through the mind. But be aware that as the cliché goes there is more to breeding than meets the eye. The owner is responsible that everything possible has been done to ensure the safety and careful breeding of the jennet to an appropriate jack.
1. Using the CDMA Handbook, take a critical look at your jennet, or have an equine vet do so, to determine her conformation faults. Better yet, have her inspected at four years old or over to know whether she is of sufficient quality to enter the stud book. If she does not pass with 65% or higher, it is probably not wise to breed from her.
If she is an older jennet, age ten or over, with no known previous breeding history, discuss with your vet the merits and problems likely to arise from breeding such an older animal. Foal rejection is one problem that can often occur in older mares or jennets who have never previously produced a live foal.
2. Have a vet examine the jennet's reproductive tract to see if it is normal and healthy. There are recorded cases of jennets that look perfectly normal on the exterior, and even cycled normally, but never conceived a foal. Internal examinations proved that there was no connection between the vagina and the uterus. The abnormality left the vagina as a blind pouch and semen could never ever reach its destination!
3. For the sake and sanity of both jack and jennet owner, consider the jennet's education. Is she halter trained and easy to catch? Does she stand willingly to have her hooves trimmed? Does she load and travel in a trailer with no problems? While this type of basic education may seem irrelevant to the breeding process, it is vital should the jennet need to be removed from the pasture in case of accident, at the time of farrier work, or if the jack owner uses in-hand breeding methods or equine artificial insemination. Should the jack owner utilize the ultrasound technology of the local vet to verify pregnancy, the jennet may need to be trailered to the vet clinic.
If the jack owner is expected to give the jennet the basic education she should have received at home, don't be surprised if a training fee is added to the bill? Basic training should already have been completed at home before sending the jennet away for breeding.
4. Visit the owner of the jack to whom you plan to send your jennet. Talk extensively with the owner about methods of breeding (in-hand, pasture or artificial insemination), take a tour of the facilities, and discuss feeding and management of the donkeys there and any special needs your jennet may have. For example, at Windy Ridge Farm, our breeding contract states that no jennet will be unloaded without negative Coggins test papers and a clean veterinarian's health certificate particularly with reference to the reproductive tract. Jennets are also requested to be dewormed, have hooves trimmed, and 4-way shots prior to coming to our farm for breeding.
If you are comfortable with the facilities and management, then meet the jack. Is he CDMA registered and inspected? What was his grade at inspection? Does he have a show record at halter or performance? If he is a large Standard or Mammoth, ask if he is a jennet jack or a mule jack.
5. Does it matter if the jack is a jennet jack or a mule jack? Nothing really, at least not on the exterior, but behaviorally speaking there can be a HUGE difference! A jennet jack has been raised to breed jennets and will readily accept them. Even so, if pasture breeding is used there can be considerable hassle of the jennet and chasing around. A few jacks will breed both horse mares or jennets, but most develop a strong preference depending on how they were raised.
A mule jack however, has been raised with horses with the goal in mind that he breeds horse mares for mule production. He looks like a donkey on the outside but he thinks like a horse on the inside. Because he doesn't think he is a donkey then he will behave more like a horse stallion and he may attack and savage any jennet presented to him for breeding. If a jennet is turned loose with such a jack she can be badly bitten and beaten, and it may take four or five grown men to drive him off and rescue her. The consequence of such traumatization can be that the jennet is terrified of being approached, never mind bred, by any jack in the future.
6. Take a critical look at the jack to whom your jennet will be bred. Evaluate his disposition, conformation and have him walked and trotted in front of you to evaluate his movement. What are his faults? Will his conformation compensate for the faults in your jennet? Check his height compared to that of the jennet you plan to have bred. I would seriously question breeding a 50" jennet to a tall Mammoth jack, especially a jennet with no previous breeding history. The general rule of thumb is to breed plus or minus four to six inches in height. The same consideration needs to be given to Miniature donkeys where breeding very small jennets (under 32") may be cause for future birthing problems.
7. Seriously question any thought of breeding a donkey in the fall or winter months in Canada unless a heated barn is available for cold weather foaling. Donkeys can foal after gestation periods of 11-14 months so it is easy for all but the most vigilant owner to miss the right time. Winter foaling in a snow bank can be fatal, or at the very least result in frozen ears, tails, or limbs. Generally foals produced in April - August, depending on the provincial location, do best because they have the advantage of sunshine and fresh grass. Jennets may cycle erratically throughout a sunny winter, but may not ovulate because like all equines this time of year is a period of anestrus which gives them a reproductive rest.
With careful selection of both parents, and time of year for breeding, the resulting offspring should surpass both parents in quality and arrive at the best time of year for optimum growth and development.
Carl and Sybil Sewell have bred and raised donkeys for overt thirty years. Windy Ridge Farm is located near Leslieville, Alberta.
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