An Ozark mule man shares his experiences with this hybrid equine

What has four legs, a tail, likes to work and has ears almost as long as your arm? Why, a mule, of course. A mule is a hybrid cross between a mare and a jack – with a combination of such diverse traits, you get the best of both worlds: the size of a horse, the stamina of a donkey and who can forget those famous ears? Bill Jackson, of Ozark, Mo., in Christian County knows these hybrid equines inside and out – he has spent more than 50 years of his life with them. “I’d rather work a mule anytime than a horse,” he said.
Bill and his wife, Blanche, live on a small farm with a Jersey bull calf, a flock of chickens, an old paint mare, and their mules: Tango, Boomer and Dora. Tango and Boomer are full brothers. All three mules are trained to pull a wagon and Dora is also broke to a buggy. “Tango is ornery as the dickens,” said Bill, “he’ll run off with your hat. But they’re all as gentle as can be.”
Bill feeds his mules a balanced diet of sweet feed and free choice, good quality hay. He supplements them with sulfur salt blocks in the summer and plain salt blocks in the winter. The sulfur salt, he noted, helps with tick prevention. He also recommended adding one cup of apple cider vinegar to each portion of sweet feed to further cut down on ticks. Once the mules (or horses) become accustomed to the taste, he said, “They lap it up.” To round out his feeding program, Bill deworms the mules twice a year.
The wagon that the Jackson mules pull was built by Bill himself. He made it from recycled metal and car axles. It is built to roll, built to last and built with comfort in mind: it is complete with running water, a sink, a port-a-pot and cushioned seats taken from a car. “I tell him he doesn’t travel like the pioneers did,” Blanche laughed.
Bill Jackson is a well-seasoned wagon driver – he started the annual Wagon Train that runs from Isabella to Ozark, Mo., in conjunction with Mule Days. One wagon train in recent years boasted 19 wagons. Mule and wagon aficionados come from all over the United States to participate in the drive. Not everyone who starts out finishes, however. “Some folks come from flat country,” Bill chuckled. “They come up here in these hills and the mules can’t make it.” Rough country aside, the wagon train is fun for all and it is a great way to bond with mule lovers and “Christian folks.”
There are a lot of things to like about a mule: they are built stout, they have excellent stamina, they like people and they are intelligent. Mules also tend to have better longevity than horses. Bill offers good, sound advice to anyone purchasing their first long-eared equine: “Make sure they’re a good, gentle mule.” Mules will typically have the attitude and personality of their mother – if their momma was bad tempered, it is likely that the mule will be bad tempered as well. It is always beneficial to seek advice from a reputable mule breeder or trainer.
Mules have been plowing dirt, tugging logs and pulling wagons for a long time in this country. People like the Jacksons ensure that this hardy, long-eared, friendly critter will have a place on the farm for years to come.


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