Caring for Mules

As with most large animals, mules require regular and thorough care. During the 19th century, canal workers dedicated time to caring for the mules by feeding, grooming, and resting them. Today's park mules receive the same basic care, along with thorough, routine medical examinations and necessary medications to ensure that they live long and healthy lives.

Park ranger feeding hay to a mule
Mules are fed hay and grain twice a day.

NPS Photo / E. Cowan


Food and water are essential to a mule's longevity and wellbeing. Mules are herbivores (plant eaters) and their diet consists of grasses, grains, and shrubs. The park's team of mules are fed grain and hay according to their individual dietary needs, and they sometimes munch on fruits and vegetables for a special treat. Mules have tasebuds just like humans and can have taste and texture preferences, resulting in them liking and disliking some foods.

Mules can drink up to 15 gallons of water a day. That's 120, 16 oz. bottles per day! Mules can store water longer than horses. This can help them to adapt to dry and hot climates, a trait that they get from the desert-loving donkey. In order to stay hydrated, mules can snack on salt licks which prompts them to drink more water. Historically, mules would drink water right out of the canal, but the banks of the canal were often too steep to allow them to reach the water’s surface. “Informal overflows,” sections along the canal that were two feet below the main towpath, would gather excess floodwater and made drinking easier for mules. Canallers called these areas “mule drinks.” Today the park mules have 24-hour access to a large water trough that is refilled with clean, fresh water every morning and evening.

A mule's feeding routine can vary depending on their changing dietary and health needs. Park staff monitor the mules' eating habits daily and adjust their diets as needed to ensure that they are eating properly and getting enough nutrients.


Sleep and Rest

Mules can sleep laying down or standing up just like horses and donkeys. Sleeping while standing allows them to run as soon as they detect danger. They typically sleep standing up but will lay down if they feel safe from predators. It is not uncommon for a team of mules to take turns standing and laying down while sleeping so that at least one mule can "stand guard" and look for predators.

Mules are known for their endurance and ability to work long hours in between rest breaks. Historically, mules worked along the canal in six to eight hour shifts. Today's park mules only work two one-hour shifts with a one hour break in between. When they are not working or training, the mules are free to rest as they please.

Mule having its coat brushed
Brushing helps to maintain a healthy and shiny coat.

NPS Photo / E. Cowan


Just like people, mules require regular grooming for their health and wellbeing. Park staff maintain a regular grooming schedule for each individual mule based on their changing needs. Just like their feeding routines, a mule's grooming regiment can change over time depending on their individual needs.

The mule's daily grooming schedule includes brushing to remove dirt and shine the coat, picking dirt and stones out of their hooves, and detangling their tails. Depending on the needs of the mule, parts of the grooming routine can be done twice a day. Routine maintenance like hoof and hair trimming occur every few weeks for general upkeep and health.

A mule's hooves grow over the course of the mule's life and should be trimmed every six to eight weeks. Some mules even wear muleshoes (similar to horseshoes) to provide their hooves extra protection if needed. A farrier regularly checks on the shoes and replaces them as needed.

Last updated: June 10, 2023

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Williamsport, MD 21795



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