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Background Information

From March 8 to 10, 2024, more than 125 cattle experts, farmers, scientists, historians, archaeologists, museum experts and engineers from 21 countries met in Lorsch in southern Hesse (Germany) for the first World Draft Cattle Symposium. The event was initiated by the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory, which has been working on the topic of cattle traction for over ten years, both as a museum facility and through various third-party funded projects, and has considered both historic and modern contexts. In 2021, the institution had invited people to the “Draft Animals in the Past, Present and Future” World Congress, which was held digitally due to the pandemic and was attended by over 500 people. As part of this comparative analysis of various draft animals, it became very clear that – even though the importance of draft cattle in the global context is still very high – they receive little attention in the public debate compared to other work animals. Compared to other work animals, draft cattle are more likely to be seen by political decision-makers, agricultural lobbies and also by many laypeople as part of a narrative of a primitive past that needs to be overcome with more “modern” working methods. Accordingly, in many countries, farmers working with draft cattle face the problem of being publicly denounced as backward – even though there are so many positive examples where draft cattle can be used as part of organic farms in agriculture, viticulture or forestry.

From the outset, the main intention of the 2024 symposium was to address this problem and at the same time bring together different stakeholders and disciplines for the first time As a result, the three days of the conference created an enormously important networking platform and a very special atmosphere with everyone both sharing their knowledge and learning from each other. In addition to specialist presentations on history and archaeology, status reports from around the world and keynote speeches on new innovations, there were practical demonstrations of different harnessing methods, equipment and the training and behavior of draft cattle. Several conference participants said that they had found themselves in a larger community than they had originally imagined, who were focused on the special relationship with cattle as working animals. It was recognized that each country has its own specific problems and challenges to overcome and that the discussion of the importance of draft cattle in the 21st century can only be advanced if as much knowledge as possible is accumulated and contextualized. As a central result of the event, an International Center for Draft Cattle Research and Education was founded, which will be tasked with facilitating joint efforts and creating an international platform for professional exchanges. At the same time, important research initiatives are to emanate from the Center in order to help strengthen the potential role of draft cattle in discussions about sustainability and innovative, resource-conserving working methods in specialist circles. The aim is to break new ground and provide political decision-makers with comprehensive factual and technical information on the potential and the limitations of cattle traction.

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