Lake Nowhere: Martin’s Mule Metropolis
Don’t let the unassuming name fool you; if you happen to be a donkey, a mule or a person who loves them, Lake Nowhere in Martin, Tennessee, is a happening place. It’s here that you’ll find owners Deb and Jim Kidwell with their herd of nearly 50 mules, donkeys and horses ready and eager to greet visitors at Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey farm.
RELATED: Fun Facts About Mules and Donkeys
Lake Nowhere wasn’t always a mule metropolis. When Deb, a former South Florida police officer, and Jim, a retired businessman, bought the place in 2004 with the intention of raising a few horses, it wasn’t in great shape.
“It had been a sort of local resort campground since the 1980s but had really fallen into disrepair,” Deb says.
The 110-acre property boasted a small lake, a few tumble-down cabins, woods and fields, all being reclaimed by kudzu and brush. “We hauled out tons of trash,” she recalls, “and I got a herd of goats; they were my ground-clearing crew.”
These days the pastures around Lake Nowhere are full of tasty grasses and hay, along with plenty of mules, donkeys and a few sweet mares grazing on their favorite repast. On a hot day, you might find the equines standing in the lake, munching peacefully on delicious water primrose.
Deb runs the day-to-day farm operations, and Jim works as a contractor, building barns, arenas and commercial buildings. But mules and donkeys weren’t even on Deb’s mind when the Kidwells first arrived in Tennessee.
“I grew up around Appaloosa horses because my father raised them, so I thought I was going to do that. I don’t know that I had ever really seen a jack or a mule up close and in person,” Deb says.
She loves big draft horses too, and while showing her Belgian filly at the Gibson County fair in 2004, Deb laid eyes on her first American Mammoth, a large breed of donkey. “He was magnificent; I just loved him. Then I learned they are a threatened breed, only about 2,500 are left, so I decided I wanted to help preserve these beautiful animals.”
Soon the Kidwells acquired their own jackstock and started a donkey and mule breeding program at Lake Nowhere. Deb proudly points out their sire, a beautiful black American Mammoth jack named Genesis, as he courts a couple of visiting Quarter Horse mares set to become mule mamas.
Mules are created by crossing a male donkey (jack) with a mare horse. To get draft mules, jacks are crossed with Belgian, Percheron-Friesian or Clydesdale mares. For saddle mules, breeders will use Appaloosa, Tennessee Walking Horse and American Quarter Horse mares. The end result is a sure-footed, strong equine. “Mules are intelligent and have a steady temperament. What is interpreted as stubbornness is really just self-preservation. A mule is a thinking animal; he won’t endanger himself,” Deb points out. [Find more interesting facts about mules and donkeys here.]
The Kidwells breed their equines selectively in small numbers. Farm staff handle the foals daily from their birth so that by the time the animals are ready to sell they enjoy being with humans. Foals are introduced to halters two or three days after they are born. Staff feed them pelleted food within a week to 10 days, giving the animals another opportunity to interact with people.
The equines get regular veterinary and farrier care, along with visits from animal-science professors and students from the nearby University of Tennessee at Martin, who assist in vaccinating and deworming the animals.
Lake Nowhere equines get around town too, making regular appearances at Martin’s annual Soybean Festival (slated for Sept. 3-11, 2011) and Christmas parade. At least one of these equines has even paid a visit to the offices inside a local bank.
The animals are consistent prizewinners on the county fair circuit too, earning Lake Nowhere a reputation for excellence in equine breeding. The Kidwells have made equine education a major part of their mission as well, conducting mulemanship clinics at UTM and bringing animals to visit with the children at UT Martin’s Kid College each summer.
“Education is key,” Deb says. “If you are interested in mules, do your research. We ask buyers to come here in person and see our operation and ride our mules. They will find sweet, willing animals, not the incorrect stubborn stereotype.”
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