Draft Animals: Horses, Mules, and Oxen


A farmer cutting hay using a team of mules. Image from the McClure Photographs collection.

Traditional farms often used draft animals for farm labor such as plowing and hauling supplies before tractors and mechanical equipment became the more popular alternative. Draft horses and oxen were bred to pull heavy objects, making them integral to a farm’s successful harvest.

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A team of horses plows along sloping ground. Image from the McClure Photographs collection.

Due to these animals' lack of reliance on fuel or mechanical products, they were able to work during inclement weather (to some degree) and maneuver on steep slopes that would not have been safe to attempt with a large tractor, as seen in the image to the right.

Work on the farm is often all-inclusive for members of the family, especially on smaller farms. Therefore, everyone on the farm no matter their gender or age, with exceptions for those physically unable, traditionally took part in driving the draft animals using plows and other equipment, even small children as seen in the far right image in the gallery above.

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A discussion of "the workstock problem." From the Farmers Federation News, November 1938.

The importance of these animals led to a desire for breeding within Western North Carolina (W.N.C.) to begin creating a quality line of workstock animals from regional farms, keeping the money in the area rather than purchasing mostly from outside breeders. Interest in Farmers Federation campaigns for raising breeding stock increased in reaction to discussions of the "Workstock Problem" in the News

According to the Farmers Federation News, in 1925 there were 136,000 horses and 285,000 mules in N.C. By 1937 the number of horses decreased to 69,000 (nearly a 50% decline) and the number of mules increased to 301,000. The News estimated that area farmers purchased 30,000 mules and 6,000 horses per year resulting in about $5,000,000 leaving the region. Therefore, something had to be done.

The resulting effort was the launching of the Workstock Program in 1939 that encouraged better quality livestock breeding in higher quantities. It gained popularity in 1940, therefore, it expanded to more communities.

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Draft Animals