There Is Nothing Like A Mule

February 05, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Sonny Burdette considers the mule "man's best friend."

The Union Bridge mule trainer made that plain yesterday as he sang the praises of the docile draft animals at the monthly Carroll County Agribusiness breakfast.

"I'm not sure if you call him a mule lover or a mule fancier," said Carroll County extension agent Robert Shirley as he introduced Mr. Burdette yesterday morning. "But I know one thing. You don't call him a mule breeder."

For those who didn't get the joke, mules can't reproduce.

"Mules are a half-breed, the product of a mare and a jack donkey," Mr. Burdette explained. "When you have a mule, you've got one of a kind. They may have a lot of fun, but they can't do anything."

Mr. Burdette trains and sells mules on his Green Valley Road farm. He also shows the animals. He finds them a welcome

respite from his daytime sales job, he said.

"There are times when I come home that I'm not fit to talk to," he said. "I pass the wife, change my clothes and go out to the barn to work with the mules for two hours. Then, you may talk to me.

"The mules are like my kids. They take all kinds of punishments from me."

Mr. Burdette said he has driven mule teams ranging from one to 20 animals. His longest journey, more than a month, was from Cushing, W. Va., to Valley Forge, Pa., during the 1976 bicentennial celebration.

"That was a long trip," he said. "It takes a day to get to Baltimore by mule."

When mule-driving was a common form of transportation, owners would often decorate their teams with a set of bells, Mr. Burdette said.

"The roads weren't really good, and it was common practice to see wagons stuck by the side of the road," he said. "If another driver pulled you out, he got to keep your bells. Many times, people came home and didn't have any noise, and they didn't brag about it."

Mr. Burdette said that he sells pairs of mules, about 10 to 12 years old, for from $2,000 to $2,500. He buys animals bred from French mammoth jack donkeys and Belgian or Clydesdale horses to train. The mules weigh between 1,200 and 1,600 pounds.

4 "I've had some mules that weigh a ton," he said.

Despite their reputation as stubborn, mules are intelligent and willing to work with humans, Mr. Burdette said.

"If a mule is stubborn, that person was asking it to do something it shouldn't," he said. "If a mule trusts you, it will do things that a horse won't do."

At one Maryland Draft Horse and Mule Association exhibition, Mr. rTC Burdette said, all the horses were scared by the noise of a threshing machine and wouldn't carry the grain to it. Mr. Burdette said he had no trouble bringing his mule team into the threshing shed.

Also, if a mule escapes and gets to the grain shed, it will only eat until it is satisfied. A horse will continue to eat until it gets sick.

"That's smarter than a horse, if you ask me," Mr. Burdette said.

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