The Shanghai Daily offers a glimpse into the life of a farrier plying his trade in China’s Shanxi Province.
Wang Liangzhen ties a knot around a mule’s neck and binds its four legs with a rope, clamping its upper lip with pliers. Then the farrier starts to work on its feet.
Wang’s clientele includes horses, mules, donkeys and sheep.
Every 3 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 need care. He’s 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 — or $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 learned 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,” Wang says. “You should be stable, accurate and agile when trimming the hooves of livestock. Otherwise, you cannot cut well and the livestock will suffer.”
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,” he says. “Large machines cannot be used there, so the land is plowed by donkeys and mules.”