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February 4, 2017

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Shanxi’s master farrier links rural China to its past

WANG Liangzhen ties a knot around a mule’s neck and binds its four legs with a rope, clamping its upper lip with a 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 beasts whose feet could use some tender loving care.

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

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

“After trimming, my mule’s hooves can firmly grip the ground to avoid slipping and falling while working on the farm,” says a man with the surname Li, who is waiting for Wang to attend to his mule’s feet.

Wang learnt hoof care in the 1980s, when mules and horses were still widely used in agricultural transportation and farm work in China.

Before busy season each year, farmers from outside Wuzhai County come to Wang to treat the hooves of their livestock.

“This job requires good arm strength. You should be stable, accurate and agile when trimming the hooves of livestock. Otherwise, you cannot cut well and the livestock will suffer,” Wang 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,” Wang says. “You need to follow their temperament and get them adapted to farm work.”

Wang gives his customers free advice on choosing a good mule or donkey at the bazaar. He can tell the age and health conditions of livestock just by looking at their teeth.

But hoof care is a dying trade.

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 to 30,000 yuan annually.

Wang is the only person to master hoof care 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,” said Wang.


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