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Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

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Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby lorenzo » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 09:53:40

Hi, I've become a farmer in the Congo. Yes, thanks!

So now I'm confronted with an issue, and would like some help in resolving it.

I have the choice between buying 1 or 2 tractors, and buying several traction animals (my preference goes to the Asian water buffalo).

Does anyone know of any studies showing a comparison between petroleum and animal traction as it comes to lifecycle efficiency, energy efficiency, effects on the ecosystem, etc...

I understand that animal traction has many advantages over petro-traction. But tractors don't get sick, they can pull much more than many animals together, and they too can be ran on biofuels (like animals).

I once read a study comparing the overall efficiency of mechanised farms with those of the Amish, and to my surprise, the Amish won hands down...
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby hillsidedigger » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 10:02:51

For real efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness all that is needed is a shovel and hoe. One person working fulltime with these tools on a decent site can grow all the food for about 6 people.

Of course, this does not involve turning every square foot of soil every year. I have built on the 24,000 square feet with a shovel and hoe about 3,200' linear feet of raised beds, that's sixteen 200' long raised beds. being clay soil the beds support themselves without logs, boards or rock walls along the edges.

I work the tops of the beds with a sort of lasagna planting technigue and plant (just by scattering the seed) legumes in the troughs between the beds to discourage weed and grass growth.

Most of the beds are planted multiple times during a year.
Last edited by hillsidedigger on Fri 14 Jan 2011, 12:26:01, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby lorenzo » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 10:17:28

hillsidedigger wrote:For real efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness all that is needed is a shovel and hoe. One person working fulltime with these tools on a decent site can grow all the food for about 6 people.


Seriously? How have you calculated this?

I know that one hunter, if lucky, can kill an elephant of which an entire village can eat. But this is based on luck rather than "science". Not to say that hunters aren't scientists, though.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby SeaGypsy » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 10:26:51

It's true.
An old friend said "I never owned a machine I can't fix and don't replicate itself."
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 10:50:38

8) Having farmed with horse drawn equipment I have to take that study showing Amish horses beating out tractors with a large pinch of salt. First off you have to devote sufficient land to pasture your draft animals and grow feed for them. As much as one third of your land depending on soil quality and climate. Land growing horse hay isn't growing any cash crop. Second draft animals don't have a parking brake. They have the dangerous habit of starting off by themselves at the worst possible times.Third your draft animals are like athletes in that they need to be kept in training and muscle toned condition. You can't let them sit idle for a month and have them work well the first day back in the yoke. As you will be walking beside them driving them you too will stay in top condition and be bone weary every night.
The tractor beats out the animals with it's speed and productivity. It can plant all your land at the most opportune time not a week early or two weeks late and come harvest time get it all harvested before it rots in the field.
A team of horses can do about ten times the work of a man with a hoe. In other words a team of ten men would be hard pressed to pull a log that a team could walk away with and a tractor can do from ten to a hundred times what a team can do depending on the size of the tractor.
I would guesstimate that tractors using $30 per gallon diesel fuel would still beat out animal drawn equipment. There are some exceptions to this such as wet boggy ground like a rice paddy and steep forested terrain where a single horse or ox can get between trees and go places a tractor can't but for most of agriculture I think tractors win hands down.
Just my $.02.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby hillsidedigger » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 11:32:44

lorenzo wrote:
hillsidedigger wrote:For real efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness all that is needed is a shovel and hoe. One person working fulltime with these tools on a decent site can grow all the food for about 6 people.


Seriously? How have you calculated this?

I know that one hunter, if lucky, can kill an elephant of which an entire village can eat. But this is based on luck rather than "science". Not to say that hunters aren't scientists, though.


I spend about 600 hours per year working a 24,000 square feet garden (vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains, also eggs) with only a shovel and hoe. Knowing what I produce and guessing how much I can produce if putting 2,500 hours per year into the effort as well as increasing my productive area by 4 to 5 times (I have the land but it's forested) I would guess would grow enough for 6 people on the site I have to work with, not the best site in the world and not the worst with heavy clay soil, a fairly long frost-free season and well watered with rain thruout the year. I don't know about farming in Congo.

Bear in mind that not all people are large. Children are small and eat less. Still, I'm talking about a near vegan diet and the trick would be to have people eat what is grown which during the cool season means consuming a lot of corn meal, dried beans, rice (yes, upland rice grows here), tofu, peanuts, root crops, greens, etc.. Also, producing a few eggs is easy and cooking oils can be squeezed from sunflowers, peanuts or walnuts. Trading some products to a neighbor with a cow for butter and cheese would be a bonus.

I first encountered the idea of manual gardening being superior to the alternatives from the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing who managed to grow their own food well past the age of 80 years. In fact they claimed it was only a part-time effort rarely requiring 4 hours of any day.

Still, in the contemporary market world, manual gardening technigues would generally not yield enough food to sell for an amount of money equivalent to a typical income.
Last edited by hillsidedigger on Fri 14 Jan 2011, 13:33:31, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Pretorian » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 12:09:11

lorenzo wrote:Hi, I've become a farmer in the Congo. Yes, thanks!

So now I'm confronted with an issue, and would like some help in resolving it.

I have the choice between buying 1 or 2 tractors, and buying several traction animals (my preference goes to the Asian water buffalo).

Does anyone know of any studies showing a comparison between petroleum and animal traction as it comes to lifecycle efficiency, energy efficiency, effects on the ecosystem, etc...

I understand that animal traction has many advantages over petro-traction. But tractors don't get sick, they can pull much more than many animals together, and they too can be ran on biofuels (like animals).

I once read a study comparing the overall efficiency of mechanised farms with those of the Amish, and to my surprise, the Amish won hands down...


I would recommend renting a few Negroes from a near-by village instead of all that. Make sure to pay by a volume of work done rather than by per diem basis, if otherwise, use a whip. Buying anything will cost you more in maintenance in the end. Thats why slavery was abolished, after all.

Btw, I bet import duties on those tractors and repair costs will be out of this world. How much land have you got? How much did it cost?
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby SpringCreekFarm » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 13:13:49

vtsnowedin wrote:8) Having farmed with horse drawn equipment I have to take that study showing Amish horses beating out tractors with a large pinch of salt. First off you have to devote sufficient land to pasture your draft animals and grow feed for them. As much as one third of your land depending on soil quality and climate. Land growing horse hay isn't growing any cash crop. Second draft animals don't have a parking brake. They have the dangerous habit of starting off by themselves at the worst possible times.Third your draft animals are like athletes in that they need to be kept in training and muscle toned condition. You can't let them sit idle for a month and have them work well the first day back in the yoke. As you will be walking beside them driving them you too will stay in top condition and be bone weary every night.
The tractor beats out the animals with it's speed and productivity. It can plant all your land at the most opportune time not a week early or two weeks late and come harvest time get it all harvested before it rots in the field.
A team of horses can do about ten times the work of a man with a hoe. In other words a team of ten men would be hard pressed to pull a log that a team could walk away with and a tractor can do from ten to a hundred times what a team can do depending on the size of the tractor.
I would guesstimate that tractors using $30 per gallon diesel fuel would still beat out animal drawn equipment. There are some exceptions to this such as wet boggy ground like a rice paddy and steep forested terrain where a single horse or ox can get between trees and go places a tractor can't but for most of agriculture I think tractors win hands down.
Just my $.02.


I agree with this 100%.

I've done it thinking I could move over to horses as my farm power source. Unless you have more than one person involved with caring for them and working with them, you'll find that they can be more trouble than they're worth.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby lorenzo » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 13:52:23

Pretorian wrote:I would recommend renting a few Negroes from a near-by village instead of all that. Make sure to pay by a volume of work done rather than by per diem basis, if otherwise, use a whip. Buying anything will cost you more in maintenance in the end. Thats why slavery was abolished, after all.


Well, we work with about 200 farmers that we've united into a cooperative. We buy their products. This is a type of contract farming. But it is not very efficient.

From their sales they gain approximately the official minimum wage, which is a ludicrously high amount of money ($25/month) for an average Congolese farmer.

I myself could employ on my own land, but I'd have to pay the same amount or better. And this is where tractors/animal traction is more interesting.

Just do the calculation:
-tractor investment: say $7500 for the cheap 25hp Indian and Chinese models that are for sale here
-tractor life: 10 years, say $750 a year
-3 liters of gas per day, year round (say 1000 liters per year): $1000 a year
-maintenance and stuff: 250 a year
-tools to hook up to the tractor: $5000, life 10 years, say $500 a year

So per year I'd be spending some $2500 per tractor.

Now the number of workers (your "negroes") you'd have to employ (to compete with a 25hp tractor) is around 50 to 100. One worker costs you $300 a year. Times 50 or 100 = $15,000 to $30,000.

Not barely a match. Human labor is too costly.

Slavery worked because labor was "free".

Traction animals are free too, except for food and care. One water buffalo can pull what 10 men can pull. A young buffalo costs around $500 to buy. It also provides some fertiliser and you can make great cheese out of a female's milk.

Pretorian wrote:Btw, I bet import duties on those tractors and repair costs will be out of this world. How much land have you got? How much did it cost?


There's plenty of tractors for sale in Kinshasa, ranging from the big brands (Kubota) to cheap Chinese and Indian models.

I have as much land as I want. I currently don't pay for it, because I know the chiefs who gave it to me in a kind of a symbolic lease (cause I manage a project for their population, and they're greatful).

The cost of land here is around $10 per hectare if you want to buy it, and around FC1000 per year to rent. But this land requires a lot of preparatory work, as it's basically secondary forest that first has to be cleared.

Nonetheless, you can buy/rent/lease thousands of hectares here for scratch.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby coastie » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 15:48:23

hillsidedigger wrote:
lorenzo wrote:
hillsidedigger wrote:For real efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness all that is needed is a shovel and hoe. One person working fulltime with these tools on a decent site can grow all the food for about 6 people.


Seriously? How have you calculated this?

I know that one hunter, if lucky, can kill an elephant of which an entire village can eat. But this is based on luck rather than "science". Not to say that hunters aren't scientists, though.


I spend about 600 hours per year working a 24,000 square feet garden (vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains, also eggs) with only a shovel and hoe. Knowing what I produce and guessing how much I can produce if putting 2,500 hours per year into the effort as well as increasing my productive area by 4 to 5 times (I have the land but it's forested) I would guess would grow enough for 6 people on the site I have to work with, not the best site in the world and not the worst with heavy clay soil, a fairly long frost-free season and well watered with rain thruout the year. I don't know about farming in Congo.

Bear in mind that not all people are large. Children are small and eat less. Still, I'm talking about a near vegan diet and the trick would be to have people eat what is grown which during the cool season means consuming a lot of corn meal, dried beans, rice (yes, upland rice grows here), tofu, peanuts, root crops, greens, etc.. Also, producing a few eggs is easy and cooking oils can be squeezed from sunflowers, peanuts or walnuts. Trading some products to a neighbor with a cow for butter and cheese would be a bonus.

I first encountered the idea of manual gardening being superior to the alternatives from the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing who managed to grow their own food well past the age of 80 years. In fact they claimed it was only a part-time effort rarely requiring 4 hours of any day.

Still, in the contemporary market world, manual gardening technigues would generally not yield enough food to sell for an amount of money equivalent to a typical income.


The Nearings also had a lot of help from others who came to learn about the Good Life and spent quite a bit of time on the road selling their book and speaking. I think they did wonders for the back to land movement but if you look hard they didnt exactly live the life.

2500 hrs is 7 hrs a day/365 days. How much time are you going to be doing things like preparing meals and cooking, mending clothes, getting firewood etc. How easy is it going to be to clear that land by hand and then spend the several years it takes improving the soil to support those people with very few if any outside amendments?

I will be riding my bike or walking to the gas station for $50 a gallon gasoline for my rototiller and chainsaw. I use less than 5 gallons a year in both and that heats my house and provides a very large garden for a family of four. When gas becomes unobtainable then I would hire someone with horses to come plow for my garden.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby hillsidedigger » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 16:49:11

coastie wrote:
hillsidedigger wrote:
lorenzo wrote:
hillsidedigger wrote:For real efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness all that is needed is a shovel and hoe. One person working fulltime with these tools on a decent site can grow all the food for about 6 people.


Seriously? How have you calculated this?

I know that one hunter, if lucky, can kill an elephant of which an entire village can eat. But this is based on luck rather than "science". Not to say that hunters aren't scientists, though.


I spend about 600 hours per year working a 24,000 square feet garden (vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains, also eggs) with only a shovel and hoe. Knowing what I produce and guessing how much I can produce if putting 2,500 hours per year into the effort as well as increasing my productive area by 4 to 5 times (I have the land but it's forested) I would guess would grow enough for 6 people on the site I have to work with, not the best site in the world and not the worst with heavy clay soil, a fairly long frost-free season and well watered with rain thruout the year. I don't know about farming in Congo.

Bear in mind that not all people are large. Children are small and eat less. Still, I'm talking about a near vegan diet and the trick would be to have people eat what is grown which during the cool season means consuming a lot of corn meal, dried beans, rice (yes, upland rice grows here), tofu, peanuts, root crops, greens, etc.. Also, producing a few eggs is easy and cooking oils can be squeezed from sunflowers, peanuts or walnuts. Trading some products to a neighbor with a cow for butter and cheese would be a bonus.

I first encountered the idea of manual gardening being superior to the alternatives from the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing who managed to grow their own food well past the age of 80 years. In fact they claimed it was only a part-time effort rarely requiring 4 hours of any day.

Still, in the contemporary market world, manual gardening technigues would generally not yield enough food to sell for an amount of money equivalent to a typical income.


The Nearings also had a lot of help from others who came to learn about the Good Life and spent quite a bit of time on the road selling their book and speaking. I think they did wonders for the back to land movement but if you look hard they didnt exactly live the life.

2500 hrs is 7 hrs a day/365 days. How much time are you going to be doing things like preparing meals and cooking, mending clothes, getting firewood etc. How easy is it going to be to clear that land by hand and then spend the several years it takes improving the soil to support those people with very few if any outside amendments?

I will be riding my bike or walking to the gas station for $50 a gallon gasoline for my rototiller and chainsaw. I use less than 5 gallons a year in both and that heats my house and provides a very large garden for a family of four. When gas becomes unobtainable then I would hire someone with horses to come plow for my garden.


That's correct. It does require more effort to initially establish (soil amendment alone might take years but later the same ground might be growing 3 times as much) such a farming system than is required to work the system once established.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby lorenzo » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 16:50:19

coastie wrote:2500 hrs is 7 hrs a day/365 days. How much time are you going to be doing things like preparing meals and cooking, mending clothes, getting firewood etc.


It's called a wife and kids. Basically your slaves. They do all the work, you drink. See rural Africa.


-Woman: works the field, cooks the meals, pleases the man, gives birth, raises kids, and forces them to make her job less hard.

-Man: drinks crude alcohol, sleeps, deposits semen to produce children, beats wife and kids when they don't work enough.


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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Carlhole » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 17:38:04

lorenzo wrote:
coastie wrote:2500 hrs is 7 hrs a day/365 days. How much time are you going to be doing things like preparing meals and cooking, mending clothes, getting firewood etc.


It's called a wife and kids. Basically your slaves. They do all the work, you drink. See rural Africa.


-Woman: works the field, cooks the meals, pleases the man, gives birth, raises kids, and forces them to make her job less hard.

-Man: drinks crude alcohol, sleeps, deposits semen to produce children, beats wife and kids when they don't work enough.


What's life got to offer for you there besides taming your plot?
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby hillsidedigger » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 18:17:30

Wait a minute. I work five 10-hour days on my day job as it is which is 2,500 hours per year with the 600 hours of gardening on top of that. That 600 hours sure beats sitting in a recliner while watching TV.

If and when I am able to retire from the day job I would be 600 hours ahead in the game if spending 2,500 hours gardening.

Still, there is just 2 of us here and so 2,500 hours would not be needed. I am not and would not be trying to grow all the food for myself and 5 others although much of what I grow does become a healthful supplement for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I'm sorry to have derailed this thread but manual labor is the other alternative to draught animals or mechanized farm machinery in the LATOC world to come.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Pretorian » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 18:33:42

lorenzo wrote:One worker costs you $300 a year. Human labor is too costly.
I have as much land as I want. I currently don't pay for it, because I know the chiefs who gave it to me in a kind of a symbolic lease (cause I manage a project for their population, and they're greatful).

The cost of land here is around $10 per hectare if you want to buy it, and around FC1000 per year to rent. But this land requires a lot of preparatory work, as it's basically secondary forest that first has to be cleared.

Nonetheless, you can buy/rent/lease thousands of hectares here for scratch.


All that is fascinating. I know of a land for $15 a hectare, but you need 3 of them to keep alive one sheep, and its cold enough for nothing to grow. I assume since $25 a month is a lot of money, there is a fierce competition for a job like that? How many servants do you have? Got any harem yet?

PS There is gotta be a catch in all that. Is there a dude behind your back with a machete 24/7? Are they waiting for you to invest a lot ?
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Ludi » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 19:50:02

hillsidedigger wrote:I'm sorry to have derailed this thread but manual labor is the other alternative to draught animals or mechanized farm machinery in the LATOC world to come.



Or one could try permaculture/horticulture, which might be more appropriate than plough agriculture. It is the most efficient way to produce food.

http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums

http://berg-en-dal.co.za/?page_id=14
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby SeaGypsy » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 21:10:13

Clearly nobody here has worked the kind of land we are talking about. The Congo is one of the highest rainfall areas in the world, so close to the equator as to be able to grow many fruits year round. On the other hand weeds grow like crazy also.

I have seen many people buy all kinds of machines to farm smaller lots than HSD is talking about, they save themselves a few days of hard work by spending thousands on silly machinery they don't need.
A mattock, shovel, pitchfork, crowbar, machete and a bucket or 2 is all you the tools required for 1 hard worker to farm 1 acre of fertile land. Irrigation is by far the most important labour saving device, watering an acre with a bucket every dry day can be damn hard work.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Ludi » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 21:28:27

SeaGypsy wrote:Clearly nobody here has worked the kind of land we are talking about. The Congo is one of the highest rainfall areas in the world, so close to the equator as to be able to grow many fruits year round. On the other hand weeds grow like crazy also.



Looks like an ideal place for permaculture.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby SeaGypsy » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 22:33:43

Yep, I farmed similar land on Cape York for 3 years. Where I was had 800m altitude, so we couldn't grow mangoes, but avocado would grow next to pears and grapes, papaya and banana were year round as were many kinds of vegetables.
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Re: Animal traction vs. Oil-based tractors

Unread postby Revi » Fri 14 Jan 2011, 22:44:50

We have a 20 acre woodlot, and we have a skidder come every 10 years to harvest trees, but otherwise we don't really need to own a tractor. We use our pickup trucks to haul wood home for heating and I use a little DR powerwagon to get some wood from the lot, but a tractor isn't needed.

We use tubing to get the sap down the hill, so we don't need to use a tractor to collect.

I think the next time we harvest we may be using horses. There are some horse loggers around here now. They do a nice job and are in demand again.
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