One reason some people prefer mules to horses is that the former are generally easier keepers. A mule approximately the same size as a horse, at a similar level of work, consumes less feed. A mule can eat anything a horse eats, but he uses it more efficiently. Consult your veterinarian for the best diet for your particular equine.
If you're not working your mule, he probably won't require grain. If he is working, he won't require as much grain as a comparable horse. According to Rural Heritage, working mules generally receive about 1/3 of the grain ration as a similarly sized working horse, but much depends on the individual animal and the amount and type of work. Cooperative Extension System estimates a 10 percent reduction in the amount of feed, noting, "There is limited information on the different requirements of mules versus horses." Unlike horses, mules are much less likely to overeat and overload on grain.
Most mules do well on ordinary timothy or grass hays. They don't need the richer legume hays, such as alfalfa. While mules might consume lesser quality hays without incident, it's not a good idea to feed any equine poor quality hay. While cows and other ruminants might not have digestive issues with inferior hay, it's always risky to feed such forage to any equid.
Good pasture and access to water will probably take care of the needs of all but the hardest-working mules. While it's not true that mules don't come down with laminitis, the potentially fatal inflammation of the laminae of the hoof, it's far less prevalent than in horses. Just as they don't gorge on grain the way horses do, another possible laminitis trigger, mules don't overindulge on early, rich pasture. Mules are well-known for their sense of self-preservation and pacing themselves, with this trait extending to eating habits. That doesn't mean they can't become obese, a common problem in donkeys. If your mule is consuming too much grass, you might have to resort to a grazing muzzle for part of the day.
Remember that a mule is half horse and half donkey. The feeding requirements of your mule depend partially on his horse ancestry. In the past, most mules came from draft horse stock. For all of their size, draft horses are relatively feed-efficient compared to light horse breeds. Modern mules are increasingly bred for sport -- some even result from donkey/thoroughbred matings. Mules from "hotter" breeds likely require more feed than their cold-blooded mule companions.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.