There are few things as nostalgic as a well-trained team of draft horses plowing a field. Some homesteaders thoroughly enjoy living out this bit of history on a regular basis. On the other hand, others are equally attached to their tractors!
So which option is best: the tractor or the draft team? The answer varies. Take a look at the pros and cons of using animal power below and see what you think.
- Nostalgia. For some, that’s reason enough!
- Relaxed pace. If you have a small acreage and are just farming because you love it, why rush? The slower pace of draft animals can give you a good excuse to go outside and enjoy nature.
- Less initial cost. Depending on the type of animal you buy and where you buy it, you can probably pick up a good draft team for less money than you could a good tractor.
- Fuel savings. Diesel and gasoline are not always cheap!
- Fertilizer. Unlike a tractor, a draft animal can make a huge contribution to the farm’s soil fertility.
- Self-sustainability. If you decide to take up breeding draft horses, you can easily raise your own replacements for your team. Plus, selling the surplus foals can help cover your expenses.
- A use for surplus bull calves. Do you keep a dairy cow? Castrate her bull calf and put him to work!
- Agritourism opportunities. If you are interested in agritourism, you can find a wide variety of work for your draft team, from offering hay rides to giving plowing demonstrations.
- Limited availability. Draft animals are not as common as tractors, so you may have to look longer and farther to find what you need. Good harnesses and other paraphernalia can be a little trickier to find, too.
- Zoning requirements. If your local laws do not allow you to keep large animals, you’re out of luck.
- Temperament. Animals have personalities; tractors don’t. This can be either good or bad depending on how you look at it.
- Reduced horsepower. A tractor can work faster and pull a heavier load than a draft team.
- Knowledge requirements. It takes skill to train and handle a draft team.
- Daily maintenance time. Of course, if you already raise animals, a few more won’t increase your chore time significantly. Replacing a tractor with a draft team on a small grain farm will increase the workload, however. Training your own draft animals will take time, as well.
- Feed costs. There are ways to reduce feed costs, such as relying on forage or growing your own feed. However, hard-working animals have higher energy requirements than pasture potatoes. And unlike a tractor, a horse, mule, or ox must be fed even when not in use.
In short, there are two main reasons why you might use draft animals on your farm instead of a tractor:
- For the love of it.
- To complement other farm enterprises.
If your draft animals will be a complementary part of your business, put a pencil to the idea. Look for ways you can keep feed and care expenses down, but also look for new streams of income that your team can provide. Your creativity is the only limit here.
So are draft animals right for you? Only you can decide….
Draft Animal Power for Farming
8-page PDF examining the pros and cons of draft animals, along with a comparison of horses, mules, and oxen. Also includes resources for further research.