Beasts of Burden: Heritage Breed Work Animals

Horses, cattle, donkeys and heritage breed work animals that help around the homestead.

| July/August 2010

Before there were tractors, trucks and tillers, our ancestors used domesticated livestock heritage breeds to plow fields, dig ditches, haul logs and accomplish tasks that couldn’t be done with human strength alone. Horses, cattle, donkeys and other work animals were reputable as “beasts of burden,” using their strength and resolve to earn their keep on early American farms.

Today, as ever-larger and more powerful machines influence agriculture, many once-popular laboring animals are faced with extinction. Breed names have been replaced with brand names. While the Suffolk Punch, Randall Lineback or Dexter will never compete with John Deere, these animals still have a place on small operations, and their interesting histories and important genetics make them fun to raise, and hopefully will secure their futures. Meet some of the prototypes for modern-day machines.

Suffolk Horse

Status: Critical

The Suffolk horse, commonly called the Suffolk Punch, packs a “big punch.” As the only draft horse breed developed exclusively for farm work, the Suffolk earned the “Punch” nickname because of its solid appearance and brute strength. The breed originated in England and was first imported to the United States in the 1880s.

As a result of the breed’s sole selection for agricultural work, the Suffolk has developed stamina, hardiness, a willing disposition and easy-keeping qualities, all of which make it an ideal workhorse. All Suffolks are a rich chestnut color, standing 16 to 17 hands at the withers and averaging 1,800 pounds. The Suffolk’s moderate size compared to that of other draft breeds has been an asset in its promotion to those who continue to farm with horses. Today, there are about 800 Suffolk horses in the United States and about 200 in England, making it a critical conservation priority.

Dexter Cattle

Status: Recovering

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