Use of animal power generally enables farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to increase agricultural production and improve the quality of life. Effective use of working animals depends on an understanding of the capabilities of the animals for work, their husbandry requirements and the factors which can influence their performance. These issues are reviewed in this paper in the context of the use of animal power in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The type of animal used for work determines power available to the farmer. The performance of donkeys, horses and cattle have been compared in work tests. Equids are more suited to rapid low draught activities where their faster speed can be used to advantage. At higher draught forces, where speed is less important, the additional weight and power of cattle are an advantage. Use of heart rate recovery after work gives a reasonable indication of fatigue and fitness of equids, when test conditions are standardized. Although feed requirements for work are generally low, feed quality can be so poor that animals are unable to eat enough to meet energy needs for work, and so lose weight during the work season. However, improvements in work performance are not always seen following supplementary feeding in the dry season and the economics need to be considered in each case. Food availability, diseases and heat stress, the major constraints to performance of draught cattle and donkeys working in sub-Saharan Africa, are discussed.