The dictionary definition of "manual labor" is work that requires physical skill and energy. One of the first great civilizations to put animals to work was the ancient Egyptians. They used a variety of animals for transportation and as beasts of burden or pack animals, mainly donkeys, oxen, camels, horses, and hinnies. (A hinny has a horse for a father and a donkey for a mother.) These animals were also used to pull plows in the fields and to thresh grain in mills. During the Middle Ages, humans developed effective animal control devices such as stirrups, collars, and shoes that allowed animals to work even harder.
In the United States, mechanized equipment has replaced most of the work done by beasts of burden. Draft horses and mules are still used by a few farmers, particularly those in communities that use traditional farming techniques, such as the Amish.
Nearly all developing countries rely heavily on draft animals for agricultural work. (See Figure 8.3.) According to the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) of the United Nations, horses, mules, cattle, buffalo, donkeys, and camels are widely used to help farmers plow, plant, and weed crops, and in transportation, hauling, logging, and land excavation. The FAO reports that even developing countries such as India, Mexico, and Brazil still rely on animal power to do many tasks.
In the United States, some tasks historically performed by animals have become activities of leisure. For example, entrepreneurs in many large cities offer carriage rides to tourists. (See Figure 8.4.) Animal welfarists are very critical of these ventures, saying that carriage horses are forced to work under hazardous conditions on city streets crowded with traffic and often do not receive proper housing and care.
On its Web site in 2005, the horse protection group Equine Advocates listed tragedies involving carriage horses that occurred between 1994 and 2000. Several horses have been hit by cars and at least one was electrocuted. The group says that horse-drawn carriage rides have been banned in several major cities for humane reasons.
In her 1997 book The Horse: The Most Abused Domestic Animal (self-published), animal welfarist Greta Bunting listed a host of problems associated with commercial carriage horses:
The horses work long hours and are exposed to bad weather, dangerous traffic, and exhaust fumes.
The horses are not fed and watered as often as they should be by their operators in order to cut down on "messes" on the streets.
The horses experience many leg and hoof problems from walking repeatedly on asphalt and concrete surfaces.
Some of the horses do not receive proper veterinary care.
Retired carriage horses are often sent to the slaughterhouse.
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