Experiences in agriculture are beneficial to Missouri farm youth in many ways but especially for William Nelson, 14, a Cameron FFA member who is autistic.
William is a freshman at Cameron High School and he helps raise and care for mules and donkeys along with his sister, Ginny Jefferies, and brother, Alex Jefferies, 17, on C & J Mule Farm owned by his folks, Cindy and Jerry Nelson.
Working with and training his two halter mules, Chuck and Missy, and his micro-mini donkey, Killer, and showing them at the Missouri State Fair for the last three years has opened a new world for William, his mother said.
“Missy’s like a match made in heaven,” Cindy said Friday at the MSF horse barns. “We’ve dealt with equine therapy for years and we’ve had horses for years. But when I met my husband he had mules. I’d never thought of a mule (helping William) before. Missy is so protective of William and so gentle.”
She added that the mules and the miniature donkey have been helpful in breaking William out of his shell and allowing him to socialize. Especially Killer, who is so small and cute that families walking through the MSF horse barns would stop and ask William questions about the donkey.
William decided to try raising a micro-mini donkey, under 31 inches, at Ginny’s prompting.
“My sister started it, and she said I should buy one, so we did,” William said.
He said some of the challenges to raising 3-year-old Killer was the donkey’s stubbornness.
“He sort of doesn’t do everything,” William said.
Although Killer has a stubborn streak, the donkey is gentle, much like a dog, Cindy said. He also loves to nibble the fair’s funnel cakes.
William said what he enjoys about raising mules is riding them around outside in the fresh country air. He said he enjoys the peace of the outdoors. He added that he enjoys agriculture and thought he would continue to show mules and donkeys for a few more years. He also hopes to return for competitions in the 2015 MSF.
On Friday night, William and Killer competed in a halter and jumping class in the Miniature Mule competition at the MFA Arena. During the weekend competitions William was busy showing four other mules, Chuck, Missy, Baxter and Bonita.
He received second place at the MFA Arena for Chuck in the Miniature Mule competition in the horse-mule under 48 inches category. By noon Saturday, William received second place inside the Mathewson Exhibition Center with Bonita in the Open Mule competition in the halter category. He said he was looking forward to showing Killer in the Miniature Mule Costume competition later in the day where the donkey would be dressed as a “seeing-eye dog.”