Traction Animals

Traction Animals

What is Animal Traction?

Animal traction is the use of animals such as bulls, oxen, donkeys, mules and horses to assist farmers in carrying tasks, for example:-

  • ploughing, harrowing, planting, ridging, weeding, mowing and harvesting
  • pulling carts and loads as well as carrying loads (pack animals)
  • driving water-pumps and pulling water from wells
  • carrying bricks, earth moving
  • mixing materials, providing power for threshing machines and grain mills

Is Animal Traction Widespread?

A survey (source: Developing Agriculture with Animal Traction, T.E. Simalenga and A.B.D. Joubert, 1997) approximately 10 years ago showed that numerous small-scale farmers use animal traction.

Even in areas where tractors are used for ploughing, weeding and transporting manure are done by means of draught animals which are also used for mowing and raking hay, spreading fertiliser, dam building projects and logging.

Traction animals are often used for transporting goods and people in townships and rural areas.

Because of high oil prices, the weak rand and tractor scheme failures animal traction provides a cost-effective alternative source of power.

What are the Benefits of Animal Traction?

Animal traction is an appropriate, affordable, available and sustainable option which can:-

  • provide small-scale farmers with vital power for cultivation and transport
  • improve soil fertility by ploughing manure from draught animals back into the soil
  • provide employment and transport, and promote food production (higher living standards)
  • make marketing and trading easier (economic benefits)
  • make transportation of the harvest and shopping easier
  • relieve women and children of the burden of transporting water by hand, head or wheelbarrow

These benefits are to a great extent dependent upon healthy animals, with harness/equipment in good repair, being driven humanely and correctly.

Working Donkeys, Horses, Mules and Cattle

The lives of countless numbers of people, especially in rural or disadvantaged areas, are improved and enriched through the use of working equine and bovine.

Cattle are still widely used in South Africa for cultivation purposes and to a much lesser degree for carting.

These animals are used by rural people working often small tracts of land, the cattle are kept on communal grazing and do not receive extra care or feed before or after working but are used sporadically and seasonally. Oxen are favoured but cows and bulls will also be used depending on what animals are available to the family.

While welfare problems do occur with cattle they are highly prized by their owners and their care and treatment is often better than with equine. Due to their size, strength and cultural requirements cattle are generally only used by men and boys. Cattle are powerful and less tolerant of mishandling – they are slower than equine and keep to their own pace.

Donkeys have calm temperaments and are relatively small and they are safely used by all family members for a variety of tasks such as ploughing, transporting water and firewood, and for riding.They are hardy, tolerant animals who suffer widely at the hands of some uncaring or uneducated owners.

The NSPCA National Donkey Protection Project 2013 is a holistic approach to improving the lives of these animals. Each aspect of care and welfare needs to be addressed including:-

  • limiting working hours so the animals have chance to rest and graze
  • improving heavy and unsafe carts
  • replacing worn, unsafe tyres which cannot be adequately inflated creating more resistance for the donkeys to pull
  • youth education programmes – investing in long term welfare
  • primary health care
  • harnessing skills transfer – training owners how to make humane harnessing
  • humane training and handling of donkeys


Donkeys are widely used throughout the developing world for assisting humankind by drawing carts and farm implements, carrying packs across rough terrain and for riding.

Their kind, gentle dispositions make them ideal for use by women and children; unfortunately this also opens them to abuse and ill-treatment. Donkeys are often seen as being stubborn and stupid, when in reality the times they are not willing to work is often when they are so exhausted or in such poor condition and malnourished that they simply cannot.

They have a remarkable ability to survive and continue working under extremely harsh, cruel conditions and are truly great service animals. It is said that "the donkey sustains life in carrying water, wood and giving service to the poorest and most remote peoples in Africa”.


Mules are the result of horses and donkeys mating and reproducing. Mules are usually, but not always, sterile.They are admired for their power and work abilities.

Relatively few mules are used in South Africa when compared to donkeys or horses. Mules are smart, very powerful animals, stronger than the donkey and with greater endurance than the horse.

However mules are strong-willed animals and have a tendency to bond with one or two people and refuse to work for or co-operate with other people. They are generally not suited for use by unskilled women or children. They can be difficult to manage and handle.


Horses fall into numerous categories and are kept as companions and pets, for working, competition and sport.

They are sensitive animals who frighten easily, don't like change and have specialised needs such as regular farrier attention. Due to their size and temperament horses can be more difficult to handle and less predictable than donkeys or mules. They are powerful animals but more susceptible to health challenges (like colic).

Horses pass from one person to the next more frequently than any other animal – those that can't perform to the owners' expectations are simply sold onto to the next person.

Ex-racehorses in particular cannot cope with being used as cart horses and aren't adapted or bred to survive this rigorous life and environment.

To find out more about the NSPCA's work to uplift the lives on donkeys in South Africa - Click here ...

If you would like to be further involved in the upliftment of animals check out our Adopt a Project

Updated: 10 April 2014

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!