| Animal traction |
|2. Draft animal selection|
The most commonly-used draft animals are cattle. Among cattle oxen are often preferred, because they are well-muscled and have good temperaments. An ox is a bull which has been castrated and trained to pull loads, but the term is sometimes used to describe a working cow. In this manual, "ox" will refer to animals of either sex. Some stockmen define oxen by age as well, distinguishing them from younger "bullocks" by their full mouths (present at four years of
age.) Oxen are well-adapted to savanna and forest-savanna lands. Their use in rain forest zones has been restricted by disease, most notably trypanosomiasis, or bovine sleeping sickness.
In arid areas, the cost of maintaining cattle is often too great to make oxen a feasible source of farm power. Donkeys are better suited to these climates and often supply sufficient power for the kind of agriculture practiced. Donkeys are popular draft animals because they are inexpensive (often less than half the price of oxen on the live market), easy to train, and effective where shallow breaking rather than overturning of the soil is all that is needed before planting begins. The use of light equipment and the improvement of husbandry techniques has made it increasingly clear that donkeys are an important source of farm power.
Horses, by contrast, have not been popular draft animals in some areas of the world, notably West Africa. Horses can be more expensive to feed than bulls because they are not ruminant animals and therefore use roughage less efficiently. While they theoretically provide more power than bulls, horses do not deliver a sustained tractive, or pulling, effort under difficult conditions. However, horses are much faster than oxen.
Mules found in Africa are rarely used for draft purposes. Like horses, mules are expensive to feed. But where they are culturally acceptable (because they are a crossbreed, they are considered unclean by some Muslims), they have great potential. They have the intelligence and sure-footedness of the donkey and the strength of the horse, and are easily harnessed. A mule is a cross between a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). The male offspring of this cross, called a horse mule, is always sterile, while the female offspring, or mare mule, is usually infertile. The female donkey, known as a jennet or jenny, is rarely bred with the male horse, or stallion. However, their offspring, the macho (male) and hinny (female), are basically indistinguishable from mules, and are good work animals.
Camels are used as pack animals through much of the Sahara. In Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali and Senegal they are used to supply power for drawing water; occasionally they are used to draw plows or light weeding implements. For information on husbandry and use of camels as draft animals, see page 234.
The domestic buffalo is used extensively as a draft animal in Asia; less commonly in Egypt and the Near East. Attempts have been made to cross Asian domestic and African wild breeds, but in each instance the resulting population succumbed to disease. Some researchers feel that futher experiments will prove the value of importing and breeding the animal in Africa, as its milk, meat, and labor potentials are high. Today experimental herds are maintained in Mozambique and Tanzania. Buffalo work at a slower rate than oxen, but are generally considered to be stronger and better adapted to wet terrain.
Except for camels, any of the animals mentioned above can be trained and harnessed using the methods described in the chapter on training.