March 28 – Mule Day in Columbia, Tennessee

Posted on March 28, 2016

I have already written about “Mule Day” on October 26, the anniversary of the arrival of mules in the United States. 

This is another celebration of “all things mule,” a tradition in Columbia, Tennessee, for almost 170 years. 

It began as Breeder's Day, which was a livestock show and mule market held on a single day once a year. But now it is a week-long festival that includes all sorts of shows and competitions.

Here are some of the things Mule Day festival-goers can enjoy:
  • a wagon train
  • an arts & crafts and flea market
  • Pickin' and Grinnin' (music and dancing)
  • clogging
  • a blue grass music fest
  • a pool tournament
  • a liars' contest
  • a parade
  • a knife auction

And, if that doesn't sound mule-oriented enough:
  • jackpot mule races
  • a mule auction
  • a riding mule show
  • log loading and pulling competitions

  • a miniature donkey and mule show
  • driving and riding mule shows
  • a gaited mule championship
  • and more!

And of course a ton of food! From ham and biscuits to a “Hee-Haw Chili Supper,” from a pancake breakfast to a bake sale, and loads of food booths.

The biology of mules

You probably know that a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, and they have different numbers of chromosomes. Horses have 64 chromosomes, and donkeys have 62. Mules end up with 63 chromosomes. Because of the different structure and number of chromosomes, most mules are infertile – a pair of mules can't themselves have offspring.

Chromosomes are the threadlike organizing “packets” that contain most of the DNA of an animal (or other organism). A gene is an individual segment of DNA, and chromosomes contain many genes packed together. One way of thinking about it is to say that DNA is in genes, and genes are on chromosomes.

If a male horse and a female donkey have offspring, it is not called a “mule,” but rather a “hinny.” However, it is easier to breed mules than hinnies.

In nature it would be unusual for two species to breed together. So you may wonder why people would bother to breed horses and donkeys. Why do mules even exist?

Because mules are considered by many to have the best of both animals. They are more patient than horses, more sure-footed, more hardy. They live longer than horses and have more endurance for long journeys or heavy loads. They are faster than donkeys, and they are also less stubborn than donkeys (although “mulish” is a word we use for a really stubborn person...hmm...). Mules tend to be larger and more intelligent than either of their parents.

This “best from both” parents is called hybrid vigor.

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