On commercial agriculture farms, animal traction can be used to supplement tractor operations and reduce operating costs. Typical activities are transporting of farming inputs, produce and fodder; spreading fertiliser and manure; and weeds control.
Animal power plays a role in the development of emerging farmers entering commercial agriculture. The initial capital investment is about one third what it would be if tractor-powered mechanisation were used. Animals present a much lower investment risk, while the running costs are likewise much lower. Instead of depreciating with time and use, the use of oxen usually implies an appreciation. Cows and mares, also, can result in alternative sources of income in the form of calves, foals and milk. Equally, the use of donkeys provides additional savings or income from the transport of goods and water. There is another side of the coin though. Good, knowledgeable caring owners can provide the necessary care and basic treatment but draught animals require a vet when they are sick or injured. This is a necessary but costly drawback to the use of animal traction.
Most subsistence farmers work small pieces of land which are difficult to manage with conventional tractor-drawn ploughs, harrows, planters and cultivators. Some of these farmers are women who are helped by children. Donkeys (easier to handle for women and children) and smaller light weight equipment are needed for this type of farming.
The more sustainable, cost-effective crop production systems such as Conservation Agriculture are highly compatible with animal traction.
|Photo used courtesy of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DALRRD)
Animal Traction – or “Draught Animal Power” as it is sometimes referred to – has played a most important role in the development of humankind. It has been replaced by fossil fuel powered engines and machines, which are highly effective but in many cases less cost-effective and environment-friendly.
Animal Power is still used on a large scale in many third world countries throughout the world and is beginning to make a comeback in many first world countries as well. In the United States of America, Animal Traction is used in particular by the Amish people as a major power source for their agriculture and transport.
In the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada Animal Traction is used more as a hobby but some areas have seen an increase in the use of animal traction, notably in the forestry industry and for cartage over short distances e.g. on-farm, milk delivery and fertiliser application.
Associations representing animal traction in Africa include:
- Animal Power Network for Zimbabwe (APNEZ)
- Ethiopian Network for Animal Power (ENAP)
- Kenyan Network for Draft Animal Technology (KENDAT)
- Rede de Informação de Tracção Animal de Moçambique (RITAMOZ)
- ROATA (Réseau Ouest Africain sur la Traction Animale , the West African Animal Traction Network
- South African Network for Animal Traction (SANAT)
- Tanzania Association for Draught Animal Power (TADAP)
- The Uganda Network for Animal Traction and Conservation Agriculture (UNATCA)
Contact information for these and other associations can be found at www.atnesa.org, website of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
Find the animal traction page at www.ifrtd.org, website of the International Forum for Rural Transport and Development (IFRTD).
Local business environment
Find the comprehensive notes, “Animal traction in South Africa: overview of the key issues”, at www.animaltraction.com/StarkeyPapers/Starkey-etal-AT-in-ZA-Overiew.pdf
Inputs (namely harness and equipment) are readily available countrywide, especially for ox- or cow-drawn harnessing and crop production equipment. Manufacturer/distributors such as Afritrac and Inttrac (find contact numbers under “Role players” heading) can be contacted to find suppliers nearby in your area.
National strategy and government contact
- It is important that animal traction is undertaken in accordance with the Animals Protection Act No 71 of 1962, the SABS Standard SANS 1031 Animal harnessing and hitching. and SANS 1025 Animal drawn carts. The SANS documents can be obtained from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). See www.sabs.co.za.
- The Traction Centre (TC) at Fort Hare University, which incorporated the Animal Traction Centre (ATC), was recognised and supported financially by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) as well as the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform.
- A number of provincial departments of agriculture have supported animal traction initiatives in their provinces.
There is still talk of, and the actual supply of, state of the art agricultural machinery including tractors to emerging farmers. Increasingly, this machinery has become financially out of the reach of small-scale farmers, and plans to establish many small-scale emerging farmers as fully functional commercial farmers is a laudable objective.
A refreshing change is the interest that the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform has shown towards Animal Traction. This has manifested itself in the provision of funding for the training of small scale farmers in animal traction and the importation of a wide range of modern animal drawn equipment from Brazil a country which makes significant use of animal traction throughout its agricultural sector. This equipment has been tested and adapted for use by local farmers at the Animal Traction Centre at Fort Hare University.
Websites and publications
- Find information on ATNESA at www.ATNESA.org, website of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
- The International Forum for Rural Transport and Development (IFRTD) – http://ifrtd.gn.apc.org/en/
- Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) – www.ssatp.org
- Read about the international Latin American animal traction network (La Red Cubana de Tracción Animal) at www.recta.org/estatutos.html
- The Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh carries out research on animal traction and prints the bi-annual Draft Animal News – www.vet.ed.ac.uk/ctvm/Welcome%20page/Publications/DAN/DANFP.HTM
- A number of publications can be downloaded at www.animaltraction.com.
- Find “Role, impact and welfare of working (traction and transport) animals”, an electronic consultation done under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on www.fao.org.
- The ARC-Agricultural Engineering has a few publications of relevance here. Call 012 842 4017 or write to iaeinfo [at] arc.agric.za for the following: (i) Yokes for animal traction (also available in Afrikaans) (ii) Animal traction implements
- The following Info Paks/brochures can be read on www.dalrrd.gov.za or obtained from DALRRD‘s Resource Centre: (i) Guidelines on animal traction (ii) Care and use of working donkeys (isiXhosa, isiZulu, seSotho) (iii) Developing agriculture with animal traction (iv) The Golovan cart.
- Find our blog “On tractors and animals” at https://agribook.co.za/blog/.
- Gwatyu, M. 2018, January 12. “Crop production: The benefits of animal traction”. African Farming.com. Available at www.africanfarming.com/crop-cultivation-benefits-animal-traction/
- Jouber, B. 2016, April 25. “Why the use of draft animals must start gaining traction”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/opinion/by-invitation/why-the-use-of-draft-animals-must-start-gaining-traction/
- Joubert, B. 2016, February 23. “Using draft animals to plough the fields”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-livestock/using-draft-animals-plough-fields