Mules Can't Stand Prosperity  

by Steve Edwards of Queen Valley Mule Ranch

Late last October I received a phone call from one of my clients, Ann Mulcay.  She has a little mule named Norman that I started 2 years ago.  Norman is a great little mule out of a foxtrotter mare.  Ann rides a lot of trails and covers lots of miles with Norman.  Last May she entered him in several events at Bishop’s Mule Days.  She really had a lot of fun preparing Norman for Mule Days.  Ann spent most days in the saddle.  As with any colt she was feeding him good alfalfa hay and some grain to keep his energy level up.  She also added some grass hay.  This was a good combination of feed for the type of exercise Norman was doing.

After Mule Days it was summer in AZ.  I’m sure you’ve heard the stories.  It’s so hot we fry our eggs on the sidewalk!  That’s almost true.  What is true is that only the true diehard trail riders ride in the valley during the summer.  Ann may have rode a dozen times over the next few months.  When October came and it cooled off Ann decided to go out on a nice trail ride.  A short time into the ride she renamed the trail: “Monster Trail.”  Behind every bush and every rock was a mule eater. 

Once Norman found the first mule eater (a black rock behind the bush), he decided to take control of the situation.  Snorting and going side ways down the trail just sure he was going to be missing a leg before the ride was over.  Needless to say Ann was on pins and needles the whole trail ride.  She would just get relaxed and Norman would find another mule eater.  Jumping sideways running backwards and sometimes spinning around.  Nice sweet Norman could have been sold that day for twenty-five dollars, or better yet Ann would have paid you five hundred to take him off her hands.  Ann took Norman home and thinking he just needed to get out more so she tried a couple shorter rides the next week.  Ann was pretty frustrated when she emailed me saying, “ What do I do now?   "Monsters have attacked my mule!"  I called her on the phone and she told me about the past trail rides and how Norman wasn’t getting any better. 

I chewed her out real good for not calling me after that first ride.  Now the monsters were 10 foot tall and wall-to-wall.  Once Ann calmed down, I asked her what she was feeding Norman.  She told me alfalfa hay.  She was awful quiet over the phone for a minute when she answered me.  She said, “Now, I know what you are going to say.  I am feeding too much good feed.  "You’ve told me, and told me and I’ve been in your clinics and I guess I can’t get it through my head not to do that and I guess you are going to tell me to change feed."  She was right.  I told her to start changing feed slowly because even mules can get a touch of Monday morning sickness.  Monday morning sickness is another name for azoturia.  The farmers use to refer to it that way because their draft animals would sometimes have a bit of colic on a Monday morning after standing around without working on Sunday.  I suggested Ann try Lakin Lite pellets.  Years ago I would of never considered feeding pellets.  I did not think mules could possibly be full and contented from eating such a small amount of food in such a short time.  I did not realize that the pellets expand after the animal drinks and it gives them a full feeling. 

Pellets are high in fiber and useable nutrients.  Some pellets include grains, corn, wheat bran, cottonseed meal etc.  These types of pellets are necessary for hard working animals.  If the animal is not fed enough grain he will first burn body fat for energy and then burn muscular tissue and this will result in a thin and less effective riding mule.  Mules are very easy keepers.  I have told people for years that you can feed two mules for the same amount of money it takes to feed one horse.  I have proven my theory with my own tests I have done over the years.  I have found that mules will thrive on good quality grass hay along with a salt block.  In 1998 I started experimenting with Lakin Lite pellets. Lakin feed company is located here in Arizona and distributes to parts of New Mexico and Colorado. When I’m in California I use products from Star Milling. Star sponsors my mule training program at Pierce College at Woodland Hills, California and the Equine Affaire Expo. Here is a list of ingredients from the Lakin Lite package. 

Crude Protein min.                  11%
Crude Fat min                           2%
Crude Fiber max                      30%
Calcium min                            0.7%
Calcium max                            1.2%
Phosphorous min                     0.2%
Copper min                              15ppm
Selenium min                          0.2ppm
Zinc min                                  50ppm
Vitamin A min                        300IU/LB
Ash max                                  12%
Added Minerals max                1%

Alfalfa hay, Bermuda hay, Cane Molasses, Phosphoric Acid (feed grade) Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Cobalt Carbonate, Sodium Selenite, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Vitamin e supplement, vitamin B 12 supplement, Riboflavin supplement, Thiamin Mononitrate, Niacin supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid and D-biotin.

Any feed must contain enough fiber “roughage” to keep the animal’s digestive track moving properly.  Foals and weanlings need around 16% protein while mature mules can get by on 8% protein.  It is very difficult to know just what vitamins you are getting from a bale of hay.  With pellets you just read the label.  For instance selenium in the soil varies greatly from place to place.  Consequently you are seeing this mineral being added in the pellets and concentrated feeds. 

Most mules and horses stand around five days a week.  They just eat, drink and sleep and get ready for the next meal. ( Just like most of us Americans these days.)  The good feed we are on, if not combined with exercise, results in overeating and over weight.  Then we follow up with a weight loss diet.  Mr. Mule is made to last 20 to 30 years and his big 'ole horse-type body must stand on those little hooves that he got from his daddy Mr. Donkey.  As I travel around doing Mule Training Clinics I see lots of mules fat as an old steer ready for the butcher.  It is not good to be stuffing that ole mule full of that hi protein feed when he is just standing in a corral. 

 When you are using Mr. Mule two to four hours a day five days a week, you might consider putting a nosebag on him and adding a little grain before you get in the saddle.  Feed a lot of grain to Mr. Mule when he just sits around on a daily basis and you are going to have a rocket ship on your hands.  Besides that, it’s expensive.  The colts that I ride get fed real good to build bone and muscle.  They get ridden in the mountains and I need them to have a lot of energy.  A 1000-pound mule is offered three pounds of grain.  Usually he won’t finish it all and then I get right to work with him, either riding driving or packing.  Any time that I have mules with a sorry attitude i.e. snorty, bad ground manners, unwilling nature, hard to catch, in general not wanting to do anything but stand in the corral and be left alone, those mules get nothing but the Lakin Lite pellets.  I have seen the absolute sorriest mule change his attitude.  I think these rich alfalfa hays and feeds we are feeding are kind of like drugs, for mules.  It has amazed me to see the awesome change in attitudes in a mule.  One mule in particular made an amazing turn around once I changed feed;  Moses who belongs to Rich Fillman here in AZ.  When he first brought the mule to me you could hardly get near him.  He was hard to catch, snorty on the ground, and did not want you on either side of him.  He just wanted to be left alone.  So I started my foundation work and on a daily basis.  I fed this 1000 pound mule (he was extremely fat and the top of his back was as flat as my kitchen table) Lakin Lite pellets twice a day measured out in a three pound coffee can.  I also required him to do some aerobic exercise in the form of hiking trails, pulling wagons, packing freight all on a daily basis.  The first 5 days I saw a tremendous difference in Moses.  He started to be more willing to be trainable.  He had learned lots of bad habits over his eight years and had learned to bluff all his owners during that time.  So not only did I have to work through his attitude, I had to give him patient and consistent training to build a good foundation  and to help him on his way to being a good mule.  I found that if I added alfalfa hay or other hot feed to his feeding program, he had an immediate negative attitude change.  I have been training  'ole Moses two months now.  I have had him on the Lakin Lite pellets the entire time.  He has lots of energy.  I use him on the wagon starting other colts, he’s a great lead mule for a pack team, and I have been riding him.  He eats up a mountain trail like it was flat ground.

Please don’t change your mules diet because I have written this article.  Get with your veterinarian or a good nutritionist to see what would work well in your program.

One thing I want to caution you on;  DO NOT FEED GRASS CLIPPINGS in any form.  Grass clipping should not be fed for a multitude of reasons but mostly because they have weed killers and fungicides that can be toxic to horses or mules.  Grass clippings are prone to cause choking because the animals do not have to chew in order to swallow.

Some folks back East have lots of great grass hay, which is great feed for Mr. mule.  While I was out there I saw the prettiest hay I’ve ever seen.  Lots of folks thought my mules where skinny, but when they climbed on their mules the saddle slipped sideways because their mules were so fat that the mules body could hardly hold a saddle.  Ha! Ha.! 

The reason I started experimenting with different feeds was from reading a book called, "How To Be Your Own Veterinarian - Sometimes" By Ruth B. James, DVM.  I got this book from her about five years ago and it sure has been handy.

Oh, you are probably wondering what happened to Norman.  I have been getting emails from Ann Mulcay every other day telling me that Mr. Norman is absolutely doing fantastic.  He is listening to her, he is finding fewer monsters on the trail and Ann is real happy because she can relax in the saddle again.  She is planning to go to the Mule Rendezvous here in Arizona and to Bishop California for the World Championships.