In the United States, oxen, horses, and mules are the traditional draft animals of choice. Donkeys are also common.
But all of these animals tend to be rather large. What if you have a smaller farm to work?
One option is to consider a miniature horse or donkey. Another is to try something completely outside the norm.
How about some of these draft animals?
This may sound far-fetched, but it really isn’t. Goats are quite intelligent, and they love to be the center of attention, a combination that makes them nearly as trainable as dogs.
Goats are strong for their size, too. A doe can pull her own weight, and a buck can pull twice his weight. This is sufficient for helping you haul supplies around the farm, or maybe a young child, depending on the size of the goat. Train several goats to work in a team, and they can become even more versatile.
Any breed or gender of goat can be taught to pull, provided that it likes people and is fully grown. For your goat’s safety, don’t expect it to pull a load until it is one to two years old, although some basic ground training can and should occur before this age. Wethers are generally preferred due to their docility (and the absence of buck odor). Even a Pygmy goat can pull small loads, although larger dairy breeds are most commonly used for this purpose.
Goat carting has attracted enough fans to make finding the equipment fairly simple these days. Just be sure to use equipment designed specifically for goats. Pony carts are too heavy for goats, and they tend to apply pressure to the harness in a way that can hurt your goat’s spine. Likewise, a dog harness does not have the necessary safety features.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, goats can clear brush when not working.
Yes, sheep can be used as draft animals (and it’s a pretty funny sight!). However, they require a little extra care. Their legs are not as strong as those of goats, so it is important not to overload them. Lightly loaded carts are fine.
Note that sheep do not respond to commands as well as most draft animals so they will be limited in their ability to work independently. Sheep work best when being led with a halter.
If you are looking for a draft animal that is guaranteed to attract a curious crowd, look no further! Llamas can provide personal transportation, perform in parades, and even participate in llama driving shows. Yet they are also among the most low-maintenance draft animals.
Be careful to pay attention to fit and quality when purchasing a harness for a llama. Llamas come in many shapes and sizes, so getting the right gear can be a challenge. A harness and cart specifically designed for llamas is highly recommended, as equipment for ponies is too heavy and does not give the llama enough flexibility to turn or change gaits.
Accustom a llama to its cart carefully to avoid a dangerous situation. Llamas that have been pushed before they are ready are known to protest in dramatic style. They tend to accept carting more quickly if they see another, more experienced llama demonstrating it first.
On the other hand, be aware that llamas are quite intelligent and will not tolerate meaningless repetition. They do not like going endlessly in circles, and they often are bored by working in arenas. Llamas prefer to work in a variety of outdoor settings.
Alpacas are even more lightly built than llamas, so great care must be taken not to overload them. However, they can usually pull about 25% of their body weight.
Alpacas are more timid than llamas, which can be a disadvantage in draft work. However, they are also more docile.
A final advantage of alpacas as draft animals is that they can serve as dual-purpose livestock thanks to their production of valuable fiber.
A big dog, such as a Great Pyrenees or Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, can be a satisfactory draft animal if he is sufficiently motivated.
One of the biggest advantages of doing light draft work with a dog is that he can be quite versatile. When not drafting, he can be earning a living serving as a watchdog.
Furthermore, many people already have some basic experience caring for and training dogs, which eases the learning curve a great deal.
A Final Note
None of these animals are big enough to tackle logging or plowing (although a team of large-breed goats may be able to plow a small garden with a lighter soil texture). However, for truly small farms, they can be quite useful in their own way, transporting tools, produce, firewood, small children, or whatever else is required.
Learn more about unconventional draft animals in this book from Homestead on the Range, especially relative to selecting, equipping, and training draft dogs and goats. Free sample pages are available.