Table of Contents

See also the “Donkeys” chapter


1. Overview

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 (DAFF)


2. International overview

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 It has been replaced by fossil fuel powered engines and machines, which are highly effective but in many cases less cost-effective and environment-friendly.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)
  • South African Network for Animal Traction (SANAT)
  • Tanzania Association for Draught Animal Power (TADAP)
  • The Uganda Network for Animal Traction and Conservation Agriculture (UNATCA)
  • Rede de Informação de Tracção Animal de Moçambique (RITAMOZ)
  • ROATA (Réseau Ouest Africain sur la Traction Animale , the West African Animal Traction Network.

Contact information for these and other associations can be found at, website of the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).


3. Local business environment

In 1993, the South African Network of Animal Traction (SANAT) was established with a view to promoting the use of working animals, along with the related research, development and training. At the same time, the Animal Traction Centre (ATC) at Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape was established, with the assistance of the National and Eastern Cape Departments of Agriculture. The ATC was to be where training and research in animal traction could be conducted, and where future trainers could be trained.

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 heading 5) can be contacted to find suppliers nearby in your area.