Hoof care a dy­ing trade in North China

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Taiyuan

Wang Liangzhen be­gins by ty­ing a knot around the mule’s neck and bind­ing its four legs with a rope, clamp­ing its up­per lip with a pair of pli­ers. Then he starts to work on its feet. Wang is a far­rier — a pedi­curist, of sorts, whose clients are horses, mules, don­keys and sheep.

Ev­ery three days, the peo­ple of Wuzhai county in North China’s Shanxi prov­ince gather at the lo­cal bazaar to trade live­stock.

Wang waits there for any an­i­mals whose feet could use some pret­ty­ing up.

He is the only per­son in the area skilled in hoof care.

Seiz­ing a mule’s hoof and putting it on a wooden bench, Wang fin­ishes trim­ming it within a minute, earn­ing 10 yuan ($1.45) per foot.

Only a few farm­ers from moun­tain­ous ar­eas come to me.” Wang Liangzhen, a far­rier in Shanxi prov­ince

“Af­ter trim­ming, my mule’s hoofs can firmly grip the ground to avoid slip­ping and fall­ing while work­ing on the farm,” said a man sur­named Li, who was wait­ing for Wang to at­tend to his mule’s feet.

Wang learned his trade in the 1980s, when mules and horses were still widely used in agri­cul­tural trans­porta­tion and farm work in China.

Be­fore the busy sea­son each year, farm­ers from out­side Wuzhai county come to Wang so he can treat the hoofs of their live­stock.

“This job re­quires good arm strength. You should be sta­ble, ac­cu­rate and ag­ile when trim­ming the hoofs. Oth­er­wise, you can­not cut well and the live­stock will suf­fer,” he said.

Wang’s an­i­mal ex­per­tise ex­tends beyond their feet. Af­ter 30 years of work­ing with live­stock, he is gen­er­ous in dis­pens­ing tips.

“Adult mules and don­keys are un­will­ing to do farm work be­fore they are tamed. It is best to tame mules and don­keys with few peo­ple stand­ing around and star­ing at them, or they will be fright­ened and it will be harder to tame them,” he said. “You need to fol­low their tem­per­a­ment and get them adapted to farm work.”

He gives his cus­tomers free ad­vice on choos­ing a good mule or don­key at the bazaar, as he said he can tell the age and con­di­tion of live­stock just by look­ing at their teeth.

But the far­rier’s trade is a dy­ing one.

Fewer an­i­mals are used on farms across China as a re­sult of im­proved agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery.

Not many young peo­ple are ea­ger to learn the trade due to the low in­come, which ranges from 20,000 ($2,900) to 30,000 yuan per year.

Wang is the only far­rier in eight coun­ties across western Shanxi, in­clud­ing Wuzhai. “Only a few farm­ers from moun­tain­ous ar­eas come to me. Large machines can­not be used there, so the land is plowed by don­keys and mules,” he said.

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