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Physical Construction Of The Mule








I now propose to say something on the mule's limbs and feet. It will be
observed that the mule has a jack's leg from the knee down, and in this
part of the leg he is weak; and with these he frequently has to carry a
horse's body. It stands to reason, then, that if you feed him until he
gets two or three hundred pounds of extra flesh on him, as many persons
do, he will break down for want of leg-strength. Indeed, the mule is
weakest where the horse is strongest. His feet, too, are a singular
formation, differing very materially from those of the horse. The mule's
feet grow very slow, and the grain or pores of the hoof are much closer
and harder than those of the horse. It is not so liable, however, to
break or crumble. And yet they are not so well adapted for work on
macadamized or stony roads, and the more flesh you put on his body,
after a reasonable weight, the more you add to the means of his
destruction.

Observe, for instance, a farmer's mule, or a poor man's mule working in
the city. These persons, with rare exceptions, feed their mules very
little grain, and they are generally in low flesh. And yet they last a
very long time, notwithstanding the rough treatment they get. When you
feed a mule, you must adjust the proportions of his body to the strength
of his limbs and the kind of service he is required to perform.
Experience has taught me, that the less you feed a mule below what he
will eat clean, just that amount of value and life is kept out of him.

In relation to feeding animals. Some persons boast of having horses and
mules that eat but little, and are therefore easily kept. Now, when I
want to get a horse or a mule, these small eaters are the last ones I
would think of purchasing. In nine cases out of ten, you will find such
animals out of condition. When I find animals in the Government's
possession, that cannot eat the amount necessary to sustain them and
give them proper strength, I invariably throw them out, to be nursed
until they will eat their rations. Animals, to be kept in good
condition, and fit for proper service, should eat their ten and twelve
quarts of grain per head per day, with hay in proportion--say, twelve
pounds.

I wish here again to correct a popular error, that the mule does not
eat, and requires much less food than the horse. My experience has been,
that a mule, twelve hands high, and weighing eight hundred pounds, will
eat and, indeed, requires just as much as a horse of similar dimensions.
Give them similar work, keep then in a stable, or camp them out during
the winter months, and the mule will eat more than the horse will or
can. A mule, however, will eat almost any thing rather than starve.
Straw, pine boards, the bark of trees, grain sacks, pieces of old
leather, do not come amiss with him when he is hungry. There were many
instances, during the late war, where a team of mules were found, of a
morning, standing over the remains of what had, the evening before, been
a Government wagon. When two or more have been kept tied to a wagon,
they have been known to eat each other's tail off to the bone, And yet
the animal, thus deprived of his caudal appendage, did not evince much
pain.

In the South, many of the plantations are worked with mules, driven by
negroes. The mule seems to understand and appreciate the negro; and the
negro has a sort of fellow-feeling for the mule. Both are sluggish and
stubborn, and yet they get along well together. The mule, too, is well
suited to plantation labor, and will outlast a horse at it. The soil is
also light and sandy, and better suited to the mule's feet. A negro has
not much sympathy for a work-horse, and in a short time will ruin him
with abuse, whereas he will share his corn with the mule. Nor does the
working of the soil on southern plantations overtax the power of the
mule.

The Value of Harnessing properly.--In working any animal, and more
especially the mule, it is both humane and economical to have him
harnessed properly, Unless he be, the animal cannot perform the labor he
is capable of with ease and comfort, And you cannot watch too closely to
see that every thing works in its right place. Begin with the bridle,
and see that it does not chafe or cut him, The army blind-bridle, with
the bit alteration attached, is the very best bridle that can be used on
either horse or mule. Be careful, however, that the crown-piece is not
attached too tight. Be careful, also, that it does not draw the sides of
the animal's mouth up into wrinkles, for the bit, working against these,
is sure to make the animal's mouth sore. The mule's mouth is a very
difficult part to heal, and once it gets sore he becomes unfit for work.
Your bridle should be fitted well to the mule's head before you attempt
to work him in it. Leave your bearing-line slack, so as to allow the
mule the privilege of learning to walk easy with harness on. It is too
frequently the case, that the eyes of mules that are worked in the
Government's service are injured by the blinds being allowed to work too
close to the eyes. This is caused by the blind-stay being too tight, or
perhaps not split far enough up between the eyes and ears. This stay
should always be split high enough up to allow the blinds to stand at
least one inch and a half from the eye.

Another, and even more essential part of the harness is the collar. More
mules are maimed and even ruined altogether by improperly fitting
collars, than is generally believed by quartermasters. It requires more
judgment to fit a collar properly on a mule than it does to fit any
other part of the harness. Get your collar long enough to buckle the
strap close up to the last hole. Then examine the bottom, and see that
there be room enough between the mule's neck or wind-pipe to lay your
open hand in easily. This will leave a space between the collar and the
mule's neck of nearly two inches. Aside from the creased neck, mules'
necks are nearly all alike in shape, They indeed vary as little in neck
as they do in feet; and what I say on the collar will apply to them all,
The teamster has always the means in his own hands of remedying a bad
fitting collar. If the animal does not work easy in it, if it pinch him
somewhere, let it remain in water over night, put it on the animal wet
the next morning, and in a few minutes it will take the exact formation
of the animal's neck. See that it is properly fitted above and below to
the hames, then the impression which the collar takes in a natural form
will be superior to the best mechanical skill of the best harness-maker.

There is another thing about collars, which, in my opinion, is very
important. When you are pursuing a journey with teams of mules, where
hay and grain are scarce, the animals will naturally become poor, and
their necks get thin and small. If once the collar becomes too large,
and you have no way of exchanging it for a smaller one, of course you
must do the next best thing you can. Now, first take the collar off the
animal, lay it on a level, and cut about one inch out of the centre.
When you have done this, try it on the animal again; and if it still
continues too large take a little more from each side of the centre
until you get it right. In this way you can effect the remedy you need.

In performing a long journey, the animals will, if driven hard, soon
show you where the collar ought to be cut, They generally get sore on
the outer part of the shoulder, and this on account of the muscle
wasting away. Teamsters on the plains and in the Western Territories cut
all the collars when starting on a trip. It takes less time afterward to
fit them to the teams, and to harness and unharness.

When you find out where the collar has injured the shoulder, cut it and
take out enough of the stuffing to prevent the leather from touching the
sore. In this way the animal will soon get sound-shouldered again. Let
the part of the leather you cut hang loose, so that when you take the
stuffing out you may put it back and prevent any more than is actually
necessary from coming out.

See that your hames fit well, for they are a matter of great importance
in a mule's drawing. Unless your hames fit your collar well, you are
sure to have trouble with your harness, and your mule will work badly.
Some persons think, because a mule can be accustomed to work with almost
any thing for a harness, that money is saved in letting him do it. This
is a great mistake. You serve the best economy when you harness him well
and make his working comfortable. Indeed, a mule can do more work with a
bad-fitting collar and harness than a man can walk with a bad-fitting
boot. Try your hames on, and draw them tight enough at the top of the
mule's neck, so that they will not work or roll round. They should be
tight enough to fit well without pinching the neck or shoulder, and in
fine, fit as neatly as a man's shirt-collar.

Do not get the bulge part of your collar down too low. If you do, you
interfere with the machinery that propels the mule's fore legs. Again,
if you raise it too high, you at once interfere with his wind. There is
an exact place for the bulge of the collar, and it is on the point of
the mule's shoulder. Some persons use a pad made of sheepskin on the toe
of the collar. Take it off, for it does no good, and get a piece of
thick leather, free from wrinkles, ten or twelve inches long and seven
wide; slit it crosswise an inch or so from each end, leaving about an
inch in the centre. Fit this in, in place of the pad of sheepskin, and
you will have a cheaper, more durable, and cooler neck-gear for the
animal. You cannot keep a mule's neck in good condition with heating and
quilted pads. The same is true of padded saddles. I have perhaps ridden
as much as any other man in the service, of my age, and yet I never
could keep a horse's back in good condition with a padded saddle when I
rode over twenty-five or thirty miles a day.

There is another evil which ought to be remedied. I refer now to the
throat-latch. Hundreds of mules are in a measure ruined by allowing the
throat-latch to be worked too tight. A tight throat-latch invariably
makes his head sore. Besides, it interferes with a part which, if it
were not for, you would not have the mule--his wind. I have frequently
known mules' heads so injured by the throat-latch that they would not
allow you to bridle them, or indeed touch their heads. And to bridle a
mule with a sore head requires a little more patience than nature
generally supplies man with.

Let a mule's ears alone. It is very common with teamsters and others,
when they want to harness mules, to catch them by the ears, put twitches
on their ears. Even blacksmiths, who certainly ought to know better, are
in the habit of putting tongs and twitches in their ears when they shoe
them. Now, against all these barbarous and inhuman practices, I here, in
the name of humanity, enter my protest. The animal becomes almost
worthless by the injuries caused by such practices. There are extreme
cases in which the twitch may be resorted to, but it should in all cases
be applied to the nose, and only then when all milder means have failed.

But there is another, and much better, method of handling and overcoming
the vices of refractory mules. I refer to the lariat. Throw the noose
over the head of the unruly mule, then draw him carefully up to a wagon,
as if for the purpose of bridling him. In case he is extremely hard to
bridle, or vicious, throw an additional lariat or rope over his head,
fixing it precisely as represented in the drawing. By this method you
can hold any mule. But even this method had better be avoided unless
where it is absolutely necessary.

It is now August, 1866. We are working five hundred and fifty-eight
animals, from six o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock at night,
and out of this number we have not got ten sore or galled animals. The
reason is, because we do not use a single padded saddle or collar. Also,
that the part of the harness that the heaviest strain comes on is kept
as smooth and pliable as it is possible for it to be. Look well to your
drawing-chains, too, and see that they are kept of an even length. If
your collar gets gummy or dirty, don't scrape it with a knife; wash it,
and preserve the smooth surface. Your breeching, or wheel harness, is
also another very important part; see that it does not cut and chafe the
animal so as to wear the hair off, or injure the skin. If you get this
too tight, it is impossible for the animal to stretch out and walk free.
Besides obstructing the animal's gait, however, the straps will hold the
collar and hames so tight to his shoulder as to make him sore on the top
of his neck. These straps should always be slack enough to allow the
mule perfect freedom when at his best walk.

And now I have a few words to say on Government wagons. Government
wagons, as now made, can be used for other purposes besides the army.
The large-sized Government wagon is, it has been proved, too heavy for
four horses. The smaller sized one is nearer right; but whenever you
take an ordinary load on it (the smaller one) and have a rough country
to move through, it will give out. It is too heavy for two horses and a
light load, and yet not heavy enough to carry twenty-five hundred or
three thousand pounds, a four-horse load, when the roads are in any way
bad. They do tolerably well about cities, established posts, and indeed
anywhere where the roads are good, and they are not subject to much
strain. Improvements on the Government wagon have been attempted, but
the result has been failure. The more simple you can get such wagons,
the better, and this is why the original yet stands as the best. There
is, however, great difference in the material used, and some makers make
better wagons than others. The six and eight-mule wagon, the largest
size used for road and field purposes, is, in my humble opinion, the
very best adapted to the uses of our American army. During the rebellion
there were a great many wagons used that were not of the army pattern.
One of these, I remember, was called the Wheeling wagon, and used to a
great extent for light work, and did well. On this account many persons
recommended them. I could not, and for this reason: they are too
complicated, and they are much too light to carry the ordinary load of a
six-mule team. At the end of the war it was shown that the army pattern
wagon had been worked more, had been repaired less, and was in better
condition than any other wagon used. I refer now to those made in
Philadelphia, by Wilson & Childs, or Wilson, Childs & Co. They are known
in the army as the Wilson wagon. The very best place to test the
durability of a wagon is on the plains. Run it there, one summer, when
there is but little wet weather, where there are all kinds of roads to
travel on and loads to carry, and if it stands that it will stand any
thing. The wagon-brake, instead of the lock-chain, is a great and very
valuable improvement made during the War. Having a brake on the wagon
saves the time and trouble of stopping at the top of every hill to lock
the wheels, and again at the bottom to unlock them. Officers of the army
know how much trouble this used to cause, how it used to block up the
roads, and delay the movements of troops impatient to get ahead. The
lock-chain ground out the wagon tire in one spot. The brake saves that;
and it also saves the animal's neck from that bruising and chafing
incident to the dead strain that was required when dragging the locked
wheel.

There is another difficulty that has been overcome by the wagon-brake.
In stopping to lock wheels on the top of a hill, your train get into
disorder. In most cases, when trains are moving on the road, there is a
space of ten or fifteen feet between the wagons. Each team, then, will
naturally close up that space as it comes to the place for halting to
lock. Now, about the time the first teamster gets his wheel locked, the
one in the rear of him is dismounting for the same purpose. This being
repeated along the train, it is not difficult to see how the space must
increase, and irregularity follow. The more wagons you have to lock with
the drag-chain, the further you get the teams apart. When you have a
large body of wagons moving together, it naturally follows that, with
such a halt as this, the teams in the rear must make twenty-five halts,
or stops, and starts, for everyone that the head team makes.

When the teamster driving the second team gets ready to lock, the first,
or head team, starts up. This excites the mule of the second to do the
same, and so all along the train. This irritates the teamster, and he is
compelled to run up and catch the wheel-mules by the head, to make them
stop, so that he can lock his wheels. In nine cases out of ten he will
waste time in punishing his animals for what they do not understand. He
never thinks for a moment that the mule is accustomed to start up when
the wagon ahead of him moves, and supposes he is doing his duty. In many
cases, when he had got his wheels locked, he had so excited his mules
that they would run down the hill, cripple some of the men, break the
wagon, cause a smash-up in the train, and perhaps destroy the very
rations and clothes on which some poor soldier's life depended. We all
know what delay and disaster have resulted from the roads being blocked
up in this manner. The brake, thanks to the inventor, offers a remedy
for all this. It also saves the neck and shoulders of every animal in
the train; it saves the feet of the wheelers; it saves the harness; it
saves the lead and swing mules from being stopped so quick that they cut
themselves; and it saves the wheels at least twenty per cent. Those who
have had wagons thrown over precipices, or labored and struggled in mud
and water two and three hours at a time, can easily understand how time
and trouble could have been saved if the wagon could have been locked in
any way after it started over those places. The best brake by all odds,
is that which fastens with a lever chain to the brake-bar. I do not like
those which attach with a rope, and for the reason that the lazy
teamster can sit on the saddle-mule and lock and unlock, while, with the
chain and lever, he must get off. In this way he relieves the
saddle-mule's back.

We all know that, in riding mules down steep or long hills, you do much
to stiffen them up and wear them out.





Next: Something More About Breeding Mules

Previous: Diseases Mules Are Liable To--what He Can Draw Etc Etc



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