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what is the best draft animal?

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I would like to get into draft animals, but I am trying to consider the ins and outs of which animals would fit our situation.

We have 10 acres, which is basically a large clay hill.  We have plenty of grass and forage. We won't be doing much in the way of plowing (except for making swales), so that's not too much of a consideration.

Here's what we want to do with a draft animal(s):

  • [li]1. Swale Construction - basically plowing along the contour, and then using manual labor to shovel the loosened soil to the downhill side to create a berm.[/li]

    [li]2. Road Maintenance - we've got about 1/2 mile of road to maintain, which is mostly done by hand.  It would be nice to have a rock cart and maybe some sort of rake or bucket.[/li]

    [li]3. Local transport - going into our village (1.5 miles away), and carrying loads around our property (dirt, rocks, feed, hay, etc)[/li]


    [li]4. Digging - ponds, underground housing/barns, ditches, etc.[/li]


  • I am considering horses, cows/oxen, donkeys, and possibly mules.  All of these are widely available around me, though donkeys are usually the cheapest.  Day-old dairy bulls can be had for cheap, as well, but starting from that young is probably not what we want.

    Horses are strong, good for riding (#3), and there are tons of local options for equipment and gear for horses. They are also easily spooked and are pretty much only good for draft/riding.  Cows seem to be better, because they can give us milk/meat as well, but they aren't so good for riding, and one cow is not as strong as one horse. Cows seem better as far as feed tolerances than horses.  Donkeys are cheap and easy to feed, are good tempered, but they are small, not as good for riding, and I would probably need at least 2 for every one horse or cow. I am hesitant about mules, mainly because they can't breed.

    Right now, I am thinking that cow would be the best, especially a decent milker. I could cross her with large brahmas around me and produce a good draft/milk animal.

    What do you guys think?  I am sure there are things I am not considering.  I have worked with all of the mentioned animals most of my life.

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    Burra Maluca
    Mother Tree

    Joined: Apr 03, 2010
    Posts: 4525
    Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
        
    173
    I've never owned, or worked, a cow but I've worked with plenty of horses and a donkey.  Donkeys seem to be stronger than a horse of the same size/weight so if you could find a large donkey it might do pretty well as much work as a medium sized horse.  They also seem to eat substantially less than a horse of the same weight, and do well on much rougher grazing and poorer quality forage than a horse would.  They do come in all sizes, so maybe look out for a big one if you particularly want to ride, or maybe do the shopping in a critter-drawn vehicle so the size of the animal isn't so much of an issue.  I've seen some really slow, unwilling donkeys who might be tiring to work with, but mine loves to work!  If you can find a female/jenny there's no reason you couldn't breed her, and milk her too, but I've no experience with that. 

    This thread http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/3800_20/critter-care/draft-animals had a lot of good info on draft animals.


    What is a Mother Tree ?
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yeah, donkeys are definitely a lot hardier than horses, especially with feed.  I've known a lot of people that have had horses founder or just plain die due to feed issues.  I have never heard or seen a donkey die from changing feed, etc.  That being said, I always gie my animals the best food available.

    BUT, if one is more efficient on food, then it pays to look into that.  We've got mainly Mexican burros around us, which are medium sized donkeys, not real big, probably 600 lbs.  They're super cheap, though, with an already trained animal, ready to plow a field starting at about $25 USD.

    some people around us ride their donkeys, thought they are a bit smaller than me!  Riding is just a lot easier for quick transport, rather than hooking up carts, harnesses, etc.

    most of the folks around us use 2 donkeys to plow or one big horse.  No one really uses cows, mainly because they don't know about them for working (they eat cows just fine).

    I've bred donkeys before, no big deal.  I don't know about milking, though.  I know people consume donkey and/or horse milk, but I can't imagine a donkey giving as much milk as a cow.

    The cow seems like the more functional option: draft, milk, meat, and easy to manage.  horse: ride, draft, but higher maintenance. donkey: ride (maybe), draft, but easier to maintain.

    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    i cant speak from personal experience but i have a good friend that grew up using mules for logging, farming, riding.  a good animal.  you just gotta be careful around them.  much better than a horse for working.  smarter too. all this is according to what ive been told.
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator

    Joined: Jun 25, 2010
    Posts: 5326
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
        
      20
    My question would be will your ten acres support an animal unit?

    It takes about 20-25 acres here in my locale to support an animal unit.  One animal unit is a cow and her calf.  A horse is 1.25 or more animal units.

    Personally I like mules, I think they are beautiful.  But I have never worked with them. 


    Idle dreamer

    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yes, 10 acres in my area easily supports an animal unit.  Our property is actually very well suited to this, and I think we could easily support 3-4 animal units in a rotational grazing setup.
    Brice Moss


    Joined: Jul 28, 2010
    Posts: 700
    Location: rainier OR
        
        2
    I'd like to try a mule someday, if you dobt they can be taught anything a horse can and do it better read here.
    http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/article_794ede7a-6a1b-11df-8dcb-001cc4c002e0.html
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yes, mules are great.  The big drawback for me in that they can't reproduce....
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    well then keep a draft horse mare for working.  and then find a good mammoth jack,,,  pay the stud fee.  you'll be in the mule making business then. plus be able to work there dam at the same time
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yeah, no mammoths jacks around us....  and I definitely don't have enough work to keep a draft horse working most of the year...

    but a cow could be giving me milk when she isn't working....
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator

    Joined: Jun 25, 2010
    Posts: 5326
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
        
      20
    velacreations wrote:
    yes, mules are great.  The big drawback for me in that they can't reproduce....


    Considering the working life of a mule is 20 years or more, needing to produce more on a regular basis might not be such an issue, it seems.  Couldn't you buy a new mule in 20 years?

    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    Considering the working life of a mule is 20 years or more, needing to produce more on a regular basis might not be such an issue, it seems.  Couldn't you buy a new mule in 20 years?

    Well, in comparison to a cow or a horse, their reproduction is another product for the homestead.  The cow can reproduce yearly, and the horse biyearly, adding additional income/meat.

    To me, it is a drawback to have a single-purpose animal.  I don't have enough draft work to really need a dedicated draft animal, so it needs to be multi-functional.
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator

    Joined: Jun 25, 2010
    Posts: 5326
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
        
      20
    Ok, that makes sense. 
    Brice Moss


    Joined: Jul 28, 2010
    Posts: 700
    Location: rainier OR
        
        2
    I would love to see results of training one of the small breed cattle like dexters or those shaggy highland types to work as oxen you'd need a pair to pull a moldboard plow but even then they would likely eat less
    Ran Prieur


    Joined: Jun 01, 2010
    Posts: 66
    Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
        
        1
    I've read good things about water buffalo. Here's a thread on another forum:

    http://www.draftanimalpower.com/showthread.php?t=2909
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    there are a lot of cattle breeds that would be decent for work.  You pretty much have to go with whatever is available locally, however.
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    im not a fan of or believe in a dual purpose breed.  of anything.  all it does is leave both sides of the "dual" severly lacking.   

    if it twas I.............and i needed a milk cow.  thats what i would have.  a small breed of milk cow or perhaps even a crossed cow ...perhaps angusXholstein....breed her to a angus bull.  you have your beef then.  while your getting your milk.

    but for utility. id have a true draft animal.  mule or draft horse.  it also is for riding, transportation.  i feel that if i was to try and get everything i wanted out of only one animal.  such as a cow. id be severly dissappointed and would end up purchasing something that was more suitable to the job at hand.  such as the mule.

    heres a thought.  if no mammoth jacks in the vicinity.  you be the first.  have one for stud. and everyone will come to you.  work with him, he will prove to be your draft animal....along with being  currancy maker.  stud him out.

    course this is only in my lil rabbit world.  it may not be the best option for you.
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    that majority of the world would disagree with you on those statements.  They use cows/multi-purpose animals.

    I don't need 10 gallons of milk a day, so milk production can be a lot less than a full milk breed.  I don't need to plow lots of acreage or pull a lot of heavy implements all year.  So draft can be less than ideal.

    Multifunctional is what makes small farms work well.

    The jack idea is a decent one, and one that I should consider.
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    im taking this thread down a rabbit trail now,,,,but in mentioning a Mammoth jack.  they are quite prevalent in my general local.  i know of 4 with in 20 min. ride.  and i wouldnt be afraid of  betting there were quite a few more that im not familiar with.

    im in VA.  i dont know where you are. but two of the four i know of are very nice jacks.  good quality.  and on CL there are mammoths listed on occasion.  so if you do  decide on the mammoth route,  and your anywhere close to this part of the world............just something to consider.

    sorry for the hi-jacking

    now back to dual purpose draft animals.
                                                  


    Joined: Mar 30, 2011
    Posts: 500
    Not easy to get in the states, but camels make a great multi purpose animal. They can run faster then horses for longer, as I understand it. they also carry as much as pack animals so Im sure they can pull a low or whatever. they can eat anything at all. I want a breeding population of them someday. you can milk them to. Not sure how it tastes but its healthier then cows milk.
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    I'm in Nothern Mexico, southwest of Chihuahua City, which is dominated by spanish burros.  My family had mammoth jacks when we were in NM for several years.  I have yet to see or even here of one around me (I have actively searched).

    I imagine that I could possibly import one from NM....  VA would be out of the question, really.

    It would be definitely something to consider, though horses, burros, and cows are widely available and adapted locally.  BUT, one of the attractive things, financially, about the mammoth jacks is that there are none around me....
    Kathleen Sanderson


    Joined: Feb 28, 2009
    Posts: 969
    Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
        
        1
    Velacreations, if you could get a Mammoth Jack and a couple of jennies to go with him, you could breed them for sale, and let other people raise mules.  Just a thought....Asses milk used to be thought of as a remedy for some illnesses, and was quite commonly used for general dairy.  I've never tried to milk a donkey, but did express milk from a mare after she foaled (making sure she had milk and that the teats were open for the foal) and it wouldn't have been difficult at all to milk her.  Much easier than some of the first-freshener goats I've had!

    As for the taste of camel's milk or any other, milk is milk.  The flavor will be affected by what the animal is eating and by the cleanliness of your equipment, but it should all be palatable.

    Kathleen
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yeah, a jack and a few jennies would probably be too much for me to really deal with.  I really don't need more than an animal or two.  It might be a good business idea, but who knows. Using the jack for stud to make mules is a decent idea.

    I agree with the thought, milk is milk, though I am a bit partial to the milk from our Alpine goats.
    Kathleen Sanderson


    Joined: Feb 28, 2009
    Posts: 969
    Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
        
        1
    I'm pretty partial to the milk from my Oberhasli goats, too, but hey, if I had a donkey and she was in milk, I'd probably milk her!

    I'd like to have either a large-standard donkey or a sturdy draft-type pony.  If we ever get a big enough place to grow all the feed for both the goats and a small draft animal, I'll get one.  (I do use the goats a little for packing, and am planning a goat cart for my daughter to use, which will be pulled by the buck.)

    Kathleen
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    i personally wouldnt care to raise a bunch of donkeys.  the whole concept of having a mammoth is to produce mules.  from my experence there isnt a huge market for donkeys.  but mules is another story.  many folks like having them around. and having a good riding mule or even a gaited mule seems to be a hot thing around here.  this is the south and the TN walkers reign suppreme around these parts.

    ive never been a big milk drinker.  but i was raised on goat milk.  if it was milk i was after, id do as suggested and have me a good nubian doe.  something about those massive ears and roman nose that is mighty pleasing to the eye.  and having a goat around.  which i dont right now,  but its mighty nice to have a goat. i miss having them.

    yup i like the idea of a mammoth jack for studing, riding, and draft.  and a goat doe or two for milk.  seems that plan would cut your feeed bill in half.

    just like any stud. you gotta raise  them right and keep your eye on them.
    Ran Prieur


    Joined: Jun 01, 2010
    Posts: 66
    Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
        
        1
    According to Wikipedia, donkey milk is very close to human milk, probably closer than goat and certainly closer than cow.
    Kathleen Sanderson


    Joined: Feb 28, 2009
    Posts: 969
    Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
        
        1
    Well, *somebody* has to raise donkeys, else eventually there wouldn't be any Mammoth Jacks to make mules with!

    Kathleen
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
    Well, *somebody* has to raise donkeys, else eventually there wouldn't be any Mammoth Jacks to make mules with!

    Kathleen


    plenty of them around.  seen a couple even go for free before.  folks have them for flock gardians.  but besides using them for something useful such as that.  a quick ride around the country locally, you;ll see one or two in any given area. 

    perhaps its only a localized thing.
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia


    getcha one of these and put a yoke on him





    a good friend of mine raises these.  watusi.  but a few of them have some longhorn mixed with them. 
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    yeah, those watusi are something else....

    we have a lot of zebu (brahma) around here that could make a decent draft animal, especially if mixed with a milk breed. the hump really helps with a withers yoke.

    yup i like the idea of a mammoth jack for studing, riding, and draft.  and a goat doe or two for milk.  seems that plan would cut your feeed bill in half.

    cut my feed bill in half compared to what? a cow?  I don't know about that.
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    velacreations wrote:
    yeah, those watusi are something else....

    we have a lot of zebu (brahma) around here that could make a decent draft animal, especially if mixed with a milk breed. the hump really helps with a withers yoke.
    cut my feed bill in half compared to what? a cow?  I don't know about that.


    my fault.  im still stuck on my idea that dual purpose animals dont exist.......im still thinking from the concept you would need a milk producer AND a draft animal.  from this viewpoint the two goats would consume less than one cow. and the mam. jack would do better for you than a mule, draft horse etc. 

    much smaller animals, eat less,  yet they do everything a milk cow and draft beast could do...plus make you some cash on the side from stud fees.

    sorry i ddint explain myself.
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    ok, I see what you mean.  Yeah, goats eat less than cows, no doubt.
    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    an interesting side point.  in the Bible.  in Psalms i believe,  goats and sheep are called small cattle.
    Burra Maluca
    Mother Tree

    Joined: Apr 03, 2010
    Posts: 4525
    Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
        
    173
    I think the word 'cattle' is related to the Portuguese word 'gado', which seems to mean pretty well *any* livestock. 
                                                  


    Joined: Mar 30, 2011
    Posts: 500
    Dead Rabbit wrote:


    getcha one of these and put a yoke on him





    a good friend of mine raises these.   watusi.  but a few of them have some longhorn mixed with them. 


    Id be pretty intimidated by those horns I think.... Im still down for camels though. they will even fight with you in battle!!! hehe, not that I intend to ride camels into battle, but they are smart and know they are out free food if you get hurt.
    Walter Jeffries


    Joined: Nov 21, 2010
    Posts: 907
        
      18
    velacreations wrote:what is the best draft animal?


    John Deere Tractor. (or any diesel tractor of your preferred type.)

    Multi-purpose and eats fat, manure, what ever. (bio-diesel)
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    John Deere Tractor. (or any diesel tractor of your preferred type.)

    Multi-purpose and eats fat, manure, what ever. (bio-diesel)

    I actually sold my john deere diesel about 6 months ago.  My property is too steep, and I didn't use it enough to justify the cost to keep it running.  I either need something with tracks or something with legs.  Wheels don't do well here.

    T. Pierce


    Joined: Mar 13, 2011
    Posts: 254
    Location: Virginia
    actually the watusi  are a very calme and mild breed of cattle.  not aggressive either.  i had one cow lower her horns at me while i was trying to move them around and sort a couple out for marketing.  she had a young calf at the time.  but it was mainly a bluff and she didnt follow through with her threat.  even the bulls are mostly calm and easy going.  they are an impressive breed though. b/c of the extreme horn mass.  ive seen in a magazine one time.  that folks have halter trained these and showed one fella actually riding one like a horse.  im sure they could be trained for draft work.
    Abe Connally


    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 1399
    Location: Chihuahua Desert
    I'm sure they ARE trained for draft work in a lot of places.  Those withers would take a yoke really well....
    Suzy Bean
    steward

    Joined: Apr 05, 2011
    Posts: 940
    Location: Stevensville, MT
        
        8
    SILVERSEEDS wrote:
    Not easy to get in the states, but camels make a great multi purpose animal. They can run faster then horses for longer, as I understand it. they also carry as much as pack animals so Im sure they can pull a low or whatever. they can eat anything at all. I want a breeding population of them someday. you can milk them to. Not sure how it tastes but its healthier then cows milk.


    Camels have been used to drag logs out from the woods and plow fields, and they do well pulling a cart if they do well with their training. They are very smart, but you will sometimes get a stubborn one


    www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
     
    I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
     
    subject: what is the best draft animal?
     
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