The mule has been in use from very early times; the inhabitants of Mysia and Paphlagonia are said to have been the first breeders. With the Greeks and Romans, and latter especially, the mule was much valued for its good qualities, being employed to draw carriages and carry loads, At the present day it is extensively used in nearly every part of the world, in some countries almost supplanting the horse, while for military purposes it is undoubtedly the best transport animal.
The principal mule countries in Europe are the south of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where they are used for pack and draught. The French mules are most numerous on the borders of the Pyrenees, in Gascony, and in Poitou. In Spain mule are used in the Catalan provinces, in the mountainous districts of Andalusia, and in the province of Alicante. Good draught-mules are bred in La Mancha and in the districts on the slopes of the Pyrenees, where they are employed to carry loads, But in Spain, Italy, and some other countries they are also extensively used in carriages; in Spain particularly, where large, fine mules are bred for this purpose, a pair of these animals will often cost more than a pair of horses. The mules of Asia Minor, Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, and Algeria, as well as those of the district between the Tigris and the Persian frontier and in North China, are good. In the Punjab provinces of British India many excellent mules are bred, breeding being largely promoted by the Government. Good mules are reared in north and South America, the principal districts for breeding then in the United States being Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas. The Kentucky mules are well shaped and slowly, being derived from nearly thoroughbred mares known as Kentucky trotters, while those reared in Missouri are hardly, and can endure much privation and hardship. The Mexican mule, bred by a male ass out of a male ass out of a mustang mare, is also a very hardy, strong, and useful animal.
France is perhaps the most important mule-raising country in Europe, four centres being more particularly devoted to this kind of industry: Poitou, the mountainous districts of central France, the Pyrenees, and Dauphine. The mules of these different parts chiefly differ in height; those of Poiteu are large, powerful, and long in the body, and are mainly exported to the departments of Languedoc and province, as well as to Spain, Italy and America; those of Dauphine are of medium height, with a short, thick body; while those of the centre and the Pyrenees are lighter and smaller, but more active.
Mule-breeding in Poitou is one of the most important branches of industry, and is supposed to dated from the time of Philip V. of Spain, when the particular breeds of horses and asses were imported into that region and Gascony. But there is evidence to show that so early as the 10th century the mules of Poitou were of excellent quality. Though this industry has for a number of years been in a most flourishing condition, this has not always been the case; more than a century ago it was the object of violent attacks, and, had it not been for the great advantages the breeders derived from it and the comparatively small expense incurred in carrying it on, it must have languished or ceased altogether. The Government could not understand why so many mares should be lost to horse production and kept to breed mules alone; and in 1717 the interdant-general of the haras went so far as to prohibit male asses being put to mares measuring more than 12 hands from the withers to the top of the hood under penalty of a fine and confiscation of the ass; and the minister Bertin issued a decree to the effect that all the male asses in Poitou were to be castrated. It was only at a recent period that the haras administration ceased to oppose mule-breeding, when it found that it could not be successfully suppressed; for, while in the one department of Deux-Sévres 13,000 mares were employed in mule production in 1816, fifty years afterwards there were 23,000. besides, it was discovered not only that this industry added largely to the national wealth but that mules were extremely useful in the army as pack animals, as well as for draught, especially for mountain artillery.
The Poitou mules are large, and strong enough to be used for heavy draught; those produced elsewhere in France, especially in Gascony, are light and better adapted for weight carrying. In Poitou at the present time about 50,000 mares are kept for mule production; if these it is estimated that 38,000 are bred from every year, and of the produce 18,000 are sold annually. In the fairs of Poitou some mules fetch the large price of 1300 to 1500 francs, and many are sold for 900 or 1000 francs, it will be seen that Poitou alone realize annually from its mule-breeding no less than 10,800,000 francs. The statistics of 1840 give the number of mules in France at 373,841, of 1852 at 315,331, if 1862 at 330,987, and the census of 1866 at 345,243. The average price of a mule in 1840 was reckoned at 172 francs. The total value of the mules in 1840 was estimated at 64,284,246 francs, in 1862 it had increased to 92,078,458 francs. The total amount of revenue derived from the trade in mules was: in 1840, 21,244,148 francs; in 1852, 87,548,310 francs; and in 1862, 162,341,162 francs. Since the last-mentioned date it is probable that there has been a further increase.
In the United Kingdom mule are seldom bred, and their services do not appear to be much appreciated; hence their importation is almost nil. After the war in Egypt in 1882 a large number of mules which had been purchased by the British Government for that campaign were brought to England and sold by public auction, but the average price realized was probably not more than one-half the amount they had cost in the counties in which they were originally purchased.
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