What are mules and donkeys good for?

I sort of know the difference between a mule, a donkey and an ass, but am under the impression that mules and donkeys don’t occur in nature and are the deliberate product of breeders. Are there farm tasks where a smaller, stupider, more ornery creature is preferable to a horse? Are they a historically more affordable option for poor farmers? What niche do they fill that a draft horse doesn’t?

Donkeys and Asses are the same thing. Mules are the product of a male Donkey and a female Horse and cannot reproduce. A female Donkey and a male Horse can produce a Hinny and also cannot reproduce. Mules make better work animals than horses, they have greater stamina and can perform more work from less food than a horse can. Donkeys are smaller sure footed animals used as pack and draft animals in some harsh environments. Donkeys aren’t as big and strong as horses but require less food and care.

ETA: In rare cases mules and hinnies have produced offspring.

And a burro is yet another name for a donkey/ass. So in other words, if you can’t tell the difference between a burro and a burrow…

I once encountered an argument about whether one used a wheel-burro or wheel-barrel to move stuff around in the garden. Sigh.

Random googling tells me the average donkey can carry 50 kg, and a mule 90 kg. Although YMMV.

The Grand Canyon mule tour has weight limit of " 200 lb / 94 kg or 220 lb / 102 kg weight limit, depending on trip."

Trying to understand the differences with these animals makes me feel like Frank Costanza with the chicken, hen & rooster gag at the dinner table. I can never keep the donkey family straight.

So far we’ve had answers on nomenclature / taxonomy and physical ability. But how obedient / cooperative / intelligent are they? The traditional picture in stories and movies is that a (non-wild) horse is a gentle, smart creature, but that a donkey – or a mule – will only move in the direction you want once you stop asking it to, and slowly at that. Is there some truth to that?

A well trained horse can pretty much be taught to blindly obey their handler/rider once that handler/rider has gained the horse’s trust and established him/herself and the alpha member of their herd. At that point, the horse will unquestioningly do what is asked of them.

Mules, OTOH, are typically very intelligent and independent and have to be convinced that what you want them to do is reasonable and won’t cause them harm. That’s where the reputation for stubbornness comes from. Until a mule has had time to analyze the situation and decide on an appropriate plan of action, they ain’t doing nothing!

Aside from that, mules are typically larger, stronger, more sure footed, and have better endurance than horses. That’s why they are frequently preferred for use as pack animals and plow pulling.

Out two mini donkeys are our first line of security. There is nothing and I mean NOTHING that comes on our property without our donkeys raising the alarm.

Both a very sweet animals, but they are better then any Mission Impossible for detection system.

Oh and snakes. Donkeys will search out and kill the slithering hell demons.

This is our donkey, Joey. He is by far the sweetest animal we own. People come from near and not-too-far to visit him and give him hugs and kisses. I hear he’s got some fans on Facebook! I must say we’ve never asked him to do a lick of work, but as obbn said, donkeys are touted as being protection against snakes and coyotes.

obbn and Dung_Beetle: Are you turtles?

Other than this, is there a difference between a mule and a hinny?

That is, if I gave an expert a mule and a hinny without telling anything about their parentage, could the expert tell which was which, and if so, how?

Mules and donkeys are more sure-footed than horses so they are very useful in steep or rugged terrain.

I am not 100% sure of this factoid but my understanding of it is that donkeys and mules eye are on the sides of their face and they can therefore see their back feet, whereas horses eyes are on the front of the face and cannot see their back feet while walking.

This from the wiki would suggest exact identification is possible if the epigenetic changes can be identified. I assume an expert could take a pretty good guess based superficial characteristics.

" Hinnies are the reciprocal cross to the more common mule. Comparatively, the average hinny has a smaller stature, shorter ears, stronger legs, and a thicker mane than the average mule. The distinct phenotypes of the hinny and the mule are partly attributable to genomic imprinting—an element of epigenetic inheritance.[1]"

:confused: Not at this time…

Mules are very common in my area for backcountry supplying, particularly during hunting season. From what I have seen, a string of pack mules will be lead by a person on a horse and I believe the mules bond with that horse and get anxious if the horse leaves and they have to remain behind.

From a couple trips to Mexico, it appears donkeys are still very much used for work, even in larger cities like PV.

Definitely not on the front. Horses have a very wide range of vision, I don’t know if they can actually see their back feet while looking straight ahead, but they can certainly turn their heads also.

Then, of course, there is the adorable zonkey, the hybrid of a zebra and donkey. It’s also a terrific album from Umphrey’s McGee.


You can meet a one-eyed Zedonk here in Rhode Island. . There are various names for Zebra/Donkey mixes, I don’t think any are well established to indicate the sex of the animal or it’s parents.

Donkey x Horse = Mule.

Male donkeys and female horses are less “choosy” (the other cross is a hinny), and you want the mule to be as large as possible. This means the largest mother, and horses are larger than donkeys. I do not believe mules are larger than horses, but they are typically larger than donkeys.

Mules are smarter than donkeys, who are smarter than horses. Apparently hybrid vigor explains that intelligence. Mules can carry a lot of “dry weight” (they’re typically used for cargo, but you could ride a mule, or a donkey), up to 20% of their own weight. Horses can do 30% “live weight” so it’s a little confusing why horses aren’t used a bit more often compared to mules.

Mules have a reputation for being stubborn, like donkeys. I don’t know how true they are. The Romans used to use onagers (a different species of donkey than the ones used today) who were more stubborn and vicious, so Roman mules were onager x horse.

Horses are very social, which is why they’re so easy to handle; if you want a single horse to cross a river, good luck, but pull the “lead” horse across the river and the rest of the “herd” will follow. I wonder if mules have inherited this behavior.

The vast majority of mules are sterile. Apparently a very small number of female mules are fertile. Since male mules are always sterile, these mules bred with either horses or donkeys, and could produce offspring (who are themselves sterile).

There’s a Bible verse forbidding mules:

Leviticus 19:19

One is an ass. The other is a hole in the grounds. You’re expected to know the difference.