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A good feeding program is essential in maintaining the strength and health of draft animals. Food is the fuel which an animal converts to energy and pulling power. Animals that are not fed enough of the right foods can show chronic fatigue, will lose the ability to work, and are more susceptible to disease. Excess calories are stored as fat, causing animals to become inefficient workers, lazy, stubborn, and ill-tempered. A basic knowledge of the dietary needs of draft animals and of the nutritional content of available feeds will enable owners to plan a feeding program that will help their animals to work to their full potential.

Why Draft Animals Need Special Diets

Grazing draft animals need supplemental feeding for two reasons:

• to increase energy intake and prevent protein, vitamin and mineral deficiencies

• because of limited grazing time or limited forage availability. Pulling loads is hard work.

Animals burn many more calories when working than when idle or grazing. This means that the energy requirements of an animal will increase with the work load. Experience and research in tropical areas have shown that animals need about twice their normal energy maintenance requirement when they are used for medium-intensity draft work.

Without this additional food, draft animals grow thin and weak, because they must burn body tissue in order to produce the energy needed to perform work. Not only do these animals lose strength, they become increasingly susceptible to injury and disease. An adequate diet is especially important to young draft animals because their growth may be stunted or their conformation affected if food normally used to build bone and muscle must be converted into work energy during the critical early years.

Work animals have limited time to eat, since they work during the time they would normally be grazing or foraging for food. In the time remaining after work, they may not be able to find and eat enough grass to replace the calories lost during work.

General Rules for Feeding

1) Feed the animal so that it gains weight and maintains strength but does not become fat or lazy. Never let it lose weight.

2) Feed large quantities of grass, straw, and other bulky, fibrous foods. These foods are called roughages. If they are of good quality, they supply all the nutrients that a grazing (nonworking) animal needs for body maintenance. Protein, phosphorous and Vitamin A may be deficient in forage growing on arid land.

3) If only poor quality roughage diet is available, supplement the roughage diet with grain and other concentrate feeds such as beans, seeds, and mill by-products. These feeds give the animal additional energy for work.

4) Give the animals salt and mineral supplements.

5) Worm the animals regularly if parasites are present. This ensures that parasites do not interfere with digestion and that animals get the full value of food.

6) Use quality feeds:

• Do not let animals grace in pastures where herds of other animals graze, or eat grain

or hay from the ground or stable floor. These may be contaminated with parasites.

• Never feed moldy or dusty feeds. These cause serious digestive problems.

• Improve the nutritional value of insect-infested grain by mixing good grains, mill byproducts, or peanut or cottonseed cake into the daily ration.

Never give animals free access to lush, young grass or leaves of young corn or peanut plants. These can cause serious conditions like bloat, colic, or dehydration due to diarrhea.

Recommended rations and feeding products are discussed in detail in Appendix B.

Water Requirement-s

During the rainy season, grazing animals get considerable amounts of water from the grasses and other succulent forages they consume. Under these circumstances, drinking water consumption is not an accurate indication of water requirements. Actual water needs are determined by size, species, environment, and intensity of work. Larger animals drink more because they have a greater body mass to cool. Muscular activity (work) generates additional

heat. Working animals lose water from sweating and therefore need to increase their water intake.

Water Requirements of Draft Animals


Liters per day


10-30 rainy season


15-40 dry season







Working animals should have access to water at least three times per day-morning, noon, and night. Horses and some cattle engaged in heavy work may need a short drink every two or three hours. Zebu' cattle, donkeys and mules can work for longer periods without a drink) but still should be offered water during the mid-day resting/grazing period. A heated animal should never be allowed free access to water.

Some animals will drink too much water in the evening. This may prevent them from eating their

concentrate feeds. They should not be allowed to drink freely until after feeding. A small drink may be given before food is offered.