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Draught Animals in Asia

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Livestock contributes significantly to the life of small farmers, nomads and foresters all over the world and increases their productivity, income, employment and nutrition. This contribution is expected to rise. The world population will rise from its present 4.8–5.4 billion people to at least 10 billion in the next 100 years. The population of Asia can be expected to double over that same period. The demand for food will rise even more as the standard of living also rises. Along with this will be a rise in the need for draught power to produce the increased food required. According to Ramaswami and Narasimhan (1982), 2 billion people in the developing countries depend on draught animal power for farming and rural transportation. Draught power is critically short at the time of crop planting and is insufficient for other purposes throughout the year. Draught power will remain a major source of energy in agriculture into the foreseeable future, and the lack of draught power in some places may be the primary constraint to increasing crop production.

Animal draught power was the first supplement to human energy inputs in agriculture. Mechanized power has been used in agriculture only in the last century or so. In Asia, a greater proportion of farmers depend on animals for draught power than in any other parts of the world. A large proportion of these animals belong to farmers who have limited resources and cultivate small areas of land. In most parts of Asia, animal power is supplied by bullocks, buffalo and camels. Bullocks will continue to be the common source of farm power, mainly because they are adequate and live on waste residues. Elephants are also used in some places.


In Asian countries, there are three main sources of power used in agriculture: human, mechanical and animal. Human beings provide the main source of power in developing countries for hoeing, weeding, rice transplanting, seed broadcasting and harvesting of crops. Mechanical power with its versatility is used for practically all the field operations, and the intensity of usage varies considerably from one developing country to another (Khan 1983). Animal power is generally used for tillage operations, haulage and operation of some water-lifting devices. A draught cow is a multipurpose farm animal, providing power, milk, dung, calves and meat. Normal draught power of various animals is presented in table 1.

Table 1. Normal draught power of various animals


Weight (kg)

Approx. draught (kg)

Average speed of work (m/sec)

Power developed (h.p.)

Light horses






























Source: FAO 1966.

To have better draught animal power the following aspects should be considered:

For landless people to repay a loan for purchase of bullocks, feed them, and earn sufficient income to meet everyday costs, they must be able to work their animals for six hours per day.

  • Draught animal nutrition. Animal nutrition is a principal factor in increasing the productivity of draught animal power. This is possible only if the necessary feed is available. In some areas, more effort is made to ensure the best use of available resources, such as treating straw with alkali (molasses urea block (MUB)) to improve its nutrient availability. As draught power availability is presently limiting the production of staple crops (there is an estimated 37% deficiency in draught requirements at the time of harvest), a primary objective is to produce draught animals and improve the efficiency of draught power. The opportunity to use improved nutritional technology (e.g., MUB) may assist draught power development through improved animal work capacity and reproduction rates in the female herd as well as better growth of young animals, which will lead to larger body size.
  • Breeding and selection. Culling of local unproductive breed bulls and selection of the best local bull is necessary. Draught animals are currently selected according to their conformation, temperament and health; however, farmers often must rely on what is available locally.

Some crossbreds show a significant increase not only in milk and meat producing capability, but also in draught power. In India, Pakistan and Australia there have been tremendous efforts made in cross-breeding buffalo, cattle, horses (to produce mules) and, in some places, camels. This has produced very encouraging results. In many other Asian countries, especially developing countries, this research work for improving draught power as well as milk and meat production is very much needed.

  • Equipment. Most farm equipment is old and unproductive. Much of the equipment that is used in conjunction with draught animals (harnesses, cultivation tools and carts) is of traditional type, the design of which has not changed for hundreds of years. In addition, farm implements are often badly designed and achieve low work output.
  • Health. The stress of working may upset the balance which often exists between healthy animals and parasites.



The daily feeding of draught animals varies according to work season. Both draught cattle and buffalo are fed in confinement (year-round) through a cut and carry system, with little or no grazing. Rice straw is fed all year long, depending on farmer preference, at either a measured rate of 8 to 10 kg per day or as necessary. Other crop residues such as rice hulls, pulse straw and cane tops are fed when available. In addition to these crop residues, cut or grazed green grass from roadsides and embankments is fed during the rainy season (April into November) at the rate of 5 to 7 kg/day and may be increased during times of heavy work to 10 kg/day.

Draught animal feed is usually supplemented with small amounts of by-product concentrates such as brans, oil cakes, pulses, rice hulls and molasses. The predominant means of feeding concentrates to draught animals is in a liquid form with all of the ingredients mixed together. The types and amounts of ingredients vary according to the daily workload of the animal, the geographical area, farmer preference and capability. Increased amounts of concentrates are fed during the heavy work seasons, and they are reduced during the monsoon season, when the workload is light.

Animal feed ingredients are also chosen by farmers based on availability, price, and their perception and understanding of its feeding value. For example, during the work season from November to June, daily rations may be: 200 g of mustard seed oil cake along with 100 g (dry weight) of boiled rice; 3/4 g of mustard seed oil cake, 100 g boiled rice and 3/4 g of molasses; or 2 kg total of equal parts sesame oil cake, rice polish, wheat bran and boiled rice, along with salt. On actual workdays during this period (163 days), animals are fed an extra 50% of these same rations. If animals are fed any concentrates at all during the non-working season, the rate ranges from 1/4 to 1/2 kg.

Draught Power in Australia

The Australian continent was first colonized by Europeans in 1788. Cattle were introduced with the first ships, but escaped into the surrounding forest. During those days ploughing and other land preparation was done with the heavy bullock plough, and light cultivation either with bullocks or horses. The bullock cart became the standard means of land transport in Australia and remained so until road building and railway construction began and became more widespread following the gold rushes from 1851 onwards.

In Australia other draught animals include the camel and the donkey. Although mules were used, they never became popular in Australia (Auty 1983).

Draught Power in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh livestock play a vital role in the economy, providing both draught power and milk and contributing up to 6.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) (Khan 1983). Out of the 22 million head of cattle, 90% are used for draught power and transportation. Of this total, 8.2 million are dual purpose, supplying both draught power and dairy products, such as milk and meat (although in minimal amounts) for household consumption and trade. Adding energy value from draught power and dung (fertilizer and fuel), livestock contribute an estimated 11.3% to the GDP.

It has been observed that some cows are used for draught purposes, despite problems with fertility and health complications, which result in lower milk production and fewer calvings per lifetime. While cows are not usually worked during lactation, they contribute significantly to the annual supply of draught power in Bangladesh: 2.14 million (31%) adult female cattle and 60,000 (47%) adult buffalo cows supply animal power (Robertson et al. 1994). When combined with the male workforce, 76% of all adult cattle (11.2 million) and 85 to 90% of all adult buffalo (0.41 million) are used for draught purposes (Khan 1983).

There is no aggregate shortage of draught animals. Rather, the shortfall is based on the quality of draught power available, since malnourished animals are largely unproductive (Orlic and Leng 1992).

There are various breeds of cattle used for draught purposes, including pure deshi cattle and deshi cattle crossed with Sahiwal, Haryana and Red Sindhi cattle and Manipuri, Nili-Ravi and Murrah breeds of buffalo. Deshi bullocks weigh an average of 225 kg, crossbreds are slightly heavier at 275 kg and buffalo weigh an average of 400 kg. Bulls, cows, heifers and bullocks all provide animal power, but bullocks constitute the main workforce.

In Bangladesh, land preparation employs the highest percentage of draught animals. Research workers recommend that land be ploughed six to seven times prior to sowing. However, due to the shortage of draught power, many producers plough only four to five times in preparation for each crop. All ploughs in Bangladesh require two animals. Two bullocks can plough 1 acre in 2.75 (at 6 hours each day) (Orlic and Leng 1992; Robertson et al. 1994).

Draught Power in China

China has a long history of buffalo raising. The animals were used for farming as early as 2,500 years ago. Buffalo have a larger body size than the native cattle. Farmers prefer to use buffalo for farm work because of their great draught power, long working life and docile temperament. One buffalo can provide draught power for the production of 7,500 to 12,500 kg of rice (Yang 1995). Most of them are kept by small-scale farmers for draught purpose. The imported dairy buffalo, Murrah and Nili/Ravi, and crossbreds with these two breeds, are mainly raised on state farms and in research institutes. For centuries, buffalo have been reared mainly for draught purposes. The animals were slaughtered for meat only when they become old or disabled. Milking of buffalo was rare. After generations of selection and breeding, the buffalo have become extremely suitable for working, with deep and strong chests, strong legs, large hoofs and a docile temperament.

In China, buffalo are mainly used for paddy land and for field haulage. They are also employed in raising water, pudding clay for bricks, milling and pressing the juice from sugarcane. The extent of such use is declining due to mechanization. Training of buffalo usually starts at the age of two years. They begin to work a year later. Their working life is longer than that of cattle, usually more than 17 years. It is possible to see buffalo more than 25 years old still working in the fields. They work 90 to 120 days per year in the rice-growing area, with intensive work in the spring and autumn, when they work as long as 7 to 8 hours per day. The working capability varies widely with size, age and sex of the animal. The draught power reaches its maximum between the age of five and 12 years, remains high from 13 to 15 and begins to decline from 16 years. Most of the buffalo bulls are castrated (Yang 1995).

The Shanghai buffalo, one of the largest in China, has an excellent working capability. Working for 8 hours a day, one animal can plough 0.27 to 0.4 hectare of paddy land or 0.4 to 0.53 hectare of non-irrigated land (maximum 0.67 hectare). A load of 800 to 1,000 kg on a wooden-wheeled, bearingless vehicle can be drawn by a buffalo over 24 km within a working day. A buffalo can raise enough water to irrigate 0.73 hectares of paddy land in 4 hours.

In some sugar-producing areas, buffalo are used to draw stone rollers for sugar cane pressing. Six buffalo working in shifts can press 7,500 to 9,000 kg of sugar cane, requiring 15 to 20 minutes for every 1,000 kg.

Draught Power in India

According to Ramaswami and Narasimhan (1982) 70 million bullocks and 8 million buffalo generate about 30,000 million watts of power, assuming the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) average of 0.5 hp output per animal. To generate, transmit and distribute this power at the same multitudinous points of application would call for an investment of 3,000,000 million rupees. It has also been estimated that an investment of 30,000 million rupees has gone into the Indian bullock cart system as against 45,000 million rupees in railways.

The Ministry of Shipping and Transport estimated that 11,700 to 15,000 million tonnes of freight in the urban areas is carried by cart each year, as against the railway haulage of 200,000 million tonnes. In the rural areas, where railroad service is not available, animal-drawn vehicles carry approximately 3,000 million tonnes of freight (Gorhe 1983).

Draught Power in Nepal

In Nepal, bullocks and male buffalo are the main source of draught power for tilling the fields. They are also used for carting, crushing sugar cane and oil seeds and for tracting loads. Due to the topographic nature of the country as well as the high cost of fuel, there is little opportunity for farm mechanization. Therefore, the demand for draught animal power in the country is high (Joshi 1983).

In wheat production, the contribution of bullocks in terms of labour days is 42% in ploughing, 3% in transplanting and 55% in threshing. In paddy production, it is 63% in ploughing, 9% in transplanting and 28% in threshing (Joshi 1983; Stem, Joshi and Orlic 1995).

Depending on the task, draught animals are generally worked a consistent number of hours each day and for a predetermined number of consecutive days before being allowed to rest. For instance, a full day of ploughing averages 6 hours for a bullock, and the average workday for a cow ranges from 4 to 5 hours per day. Animals used for ploughing follow a pattern of 6 to 8 consecutive days of work, followed by 2 days of rest. In the case of threshing, cows or lighter-weight animals usually work for 6 to 8 hours each day. The length and pattern of use for threshing and transport varies according to need. A bullock in full-time ploughing (maximum heavy labour) typically works for 163 days per year.

Draught Power in Sri Lanka

The total cattle population in Sri Lanka is estimated at 1.3 million. Various breeds are used as draught animals. Cattle breeds are used for draught purposes such as transport and ploughing of both wet and dry fields, as well as in farm operations. Indigenous animals have been used popularly in road transport for several decades. Crosses of Indian breeds with the indigenous cattle have resulted in larger animals that are used extensively for road transport. Out of a total buffalo population of 562,000, the number available in the work age range of three to 12 years is estimated at 200,000 males and 92,000 females.

Potential Hazards and Their Control

Other articles in this chapter address hazards and preventive actions for the draught animals discussed in this article. General information on animal behaviour and a checklist for livestock rearing safety practices are found in articles on these subjects and in the article “Animal husbandry”. Horses are addressed in the article “Horses and other equines”. Cattle (and by close association, bullocks and buffalo) are addressed in the article “Cattle, sheep and goats”. “Bull raising” also offers pertinent information on potential hazards and their control.



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