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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

A Gathering of Comtois in France
A Gathering of Comtois in France

A beautiful example of the breed.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

by Kristina Goetz of Jackson, WY

In August 2004, I once again managed to slip out of the country to return to the splendors of rural France. I had several goals in mind, one of which was to try to get a glimpse into life for the draft horse there.

The origins of many draft breeds lie in Europe: the Belgian of Belgium, the Fresian of the Netherlands, the Haflinger of Italy and the Fjord of Norway, are all European breeds quite popular here in the US, as are several breeds originating on the British Isles like the Suffolk Punch, the Clydesdale, and the Shire. The French specifically have a very long history with horses, and have played a large role in the development of draft horses. France as a single country has itself over 41 breeds, with 10 draft breeds. In a country with over 90 “departments,” or counties, and at least as many cultural identities, it should come as no surprise that there are so many breeds of working horse. These include the Ardennes, Auxois, Boulonnais, Breton, Percheron, Poitevin, Norman Cob, Trait du Nord, and the Comtois. Many of these have been interbred over the ages producing the breeds we know today.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

The gathering was teeming with horses.

Before I left the US I tried to do a little homework. Although difficult to determine, it did seem that there may be several strongholds of draft horse use in France. Unfortunately, my schedule and itinerary didn’t allow me to attend any big events. Instead, I had to seek out something that was being held in one of the areas I was already heading. I had the good fortune to then stumble across a listing of draft horse fairs and events throughout the entire country, which proved a gold mine of information. Of course, this gold mine was all in French, and mine is a little lacking. Nonetheless I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to. But, off I went…

The Franche-Compte is the region just north of the Jura Mountains, in the far east of France, on the Swiss border and not far from the Swiss city of Geneva. This area clearly has a Swiss/German influence, in both architecture and dialect, and is a beautiful, picturesque, and seldom-traveled area. Pontelier itself was a charming town, well kept and filled with friendly people and surrounded by outlying areas of lush meadow and grazing cows. Despite its small size and distance from the big city (Paris was several hours away) it had a very progressive feel. It was also host to a magnificently large organic market! Many footpaths and walking opportunities surrounded the town, and the few visitors to the area often come for the walking. I myself made it to the Swiss border on a morning’s jaunt on a well-marked and beautiful desolate country lane. This is a very popular area in winter for cross country skiers, as the rolling hills, thick forests, and magnificent scenery are perfect for the sport. When I arrived in mid-August, the meadow grasses were tall and flowers in bloom.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

The mane and tail are traditionally braided with straw.

The Franche-Compte is, like many regions in France, very proud of their distinct heritage and unique local flavors. The Comtois, it seems, is a very old breed, perhaps descended from horses brought to the area from northern German immigrants in the fourth century. It is second only to the Breton in numbers in France, and its numbers continue to rise. It is said to be a good-natured, hard working, easy to train horse, with endurance, hardiness, and balance. The Comtois continues to be used for hauling wood from the forest in the Jura, and for working in hilly vineyards. This rural county is also the proud producer to what I found to be another most outstanding accomplishment I must not neglect to mention: it’s own cheese. Compte, with its strict regulations (regarding cows allowed per acre of grass) for production, is the most mild creamy and delicious I came across in all of France, and there was a place right in town where you could tour cheesemaking facilities and gorge yourself on tastings.

But truth be told, upon arrival in this clearly modern town, I was highly skeptical that my sleuthing skills were to pay off. Surely there was no draft horse meet going on here! But after poking around a bit, and with the help of a very kind information clerk, there it was, deep in a long list of Pontelier’s summer events: the working horse exhibition.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A horse is trotted for the judges.

And so the following morning, a short walk from town to the schoolgrounds led me to a hill overlooking a most lovely sight: a field full of Comtois! Hundreds of these beautiful chestnut workhorses, with flaxen manes and tails, milled about a field filled with spectators. I marched down the drive and into a froth of French-speaking agriculturists, armed with an array of questions in my impressively broken and horrific French.

From the get-go, it was clear this was no plow match or demo; the show was purely for judging each horse’s conformation and gait according to the breed standard. Although I was disappointed not to see them in real action, I was still commending myself on finding the needle in the haystack. Apparently, it seems draft horses for show are more common than in practical use or agricultural matches in France, and so I couldn’t feel too bad. Turns out, this particular meet was an uncommon event and had only been planned to mark the anniversary of the area. The atmosphere was delightfully low-key, the beer flowed, and one could look out over 100 thick rumps gleaming in the sunshine.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

Horses were branded on the spot!

For each horse to be judged, two lanes were set up for the horse to walk, then trot down, led by their handler. Classes were arranged by the horse’s age. All Comtois born in a certain year were given a name that began with the same letter; for instance, yearlings had names that began with M. Two year-olds that were deemed worthy of the breed standard were eligible to be an official Comtois, and were branded with the elegant and historic brand right there after they exited the lane! Tradition also seemed to dictate that the horses manes and tails be braided with straw, and this was indeed a very beautiful and classy touch. Leave it to the French!

A Gathering of Comtois in France

Being in such a rural region, nary an English speaker could I find. So, many of my questions were left unanswered. In my travels following, I did hear vaguely of the resurgence of draft horse use by small farmers. I also heard of a group of farmers in the Ariege region who are promoting the use of the draft horse, forming work groups and giving clinics and instruction in using horse drawn farm tools. I heard just enough to keep me wanting to know more. Guess I will have to return once again to this country that prides itself in its small farms and agricultural diversity.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Log Arch

Log Arch

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from issue:

The arch was built on a small trailer axle that I cut down to 3 feet wide and tacked back together. This was done so that I could keep the wheels parallel. I cut the middle out after construction was complete. I used heavy wall pipe from my scrounge pile for the various frame parts. It is topped off with an angle iron bar for added strength and to provide a mount for the winch and some slots for extra chains.

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

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As we start, consider a few things when building a pto cart. Are big drive tires necessary? Is a lot of weight needed? Imagine the cart in use. Try to see it working where you normally go and where you almost never go. Will it be safe and easy to mount or dismount? Can you access the controls of the implement conveniently? Is it easy to hook and unhook? Where is the balance point? I’m sure you will think of other details as you daydream about it.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

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In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

Barn Door Plans

Barn Door Plans

Good barn doors, ones that will last a lifetime of opening, sliding and swinging in the wind, require careful design and construction. In 1946 the Starline Co., a barn building firm from the midwestern US, compiled a book of barn plans. These two diagrams were in that book and presented excellent information.

Chicken

The Best Chicken Pie Ever

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She has one more gift to give: Chicken Pie.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

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A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

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Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

Farm Drum 32 Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil

Farm Drum #32: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Finishing the Hook

Pete Cecil demonstrates basic blacksmithing techniques through crafting a hook in the forge.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

Homemade Cheese Press

Homemade Cheese Press

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On the Gies farmstead we occasionally wallow in goat milk. From it we make our own butter, yogurt and cheese as well as drink some. This has prompted me to build a little cheese press to help with the extra milk. The press is made from inexpensive 1/2 inch thick plastic cutting boards used for the top and bottom plates and pressure disks, white pvc pipe, and a plastic floor drain cap.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Swaledale

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Swaledale

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Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Fencing for Horses

Fencing for Horses

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The first wire we tried was a small gauge steel wire which was not terribly satisfactory with horses. Half the time they wouldn’t see it and would charge on through. And the other half of the time they would remember getting shocked by something they hadn’t seen there and would refuse to come through when we were standing there with gate wide open. We realized that visibility was an important consideration when working with horses.

Homemade Beet Grinder

Homemade Beet Grinder

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This is my small beet grinder I built about 6 years ago. It has done nearly daily duty for that time. The beet fodder is added to my goat and rabbit rations which are largely homemade. Adding the pulp to the grain rations has aided me in having goat milk throughout the winter months. My beets are the Colossal Red Mangels. Many grow up to 2 feet long. I cut off enough for a day’s feed and grind it up each morning. Beets oxidize like cut apples. Fresh is best!

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

Horseshoeing Part 1C

Horseshoeing Part 1C

The horn capsule or hoof is nothing more than a very thick epidermis that protects the horse’s foot, just as a well fitting shoe protects the human foot. The hoof of a sound foot is so firmly united with the underlying pododerm that only an extraordinary force can separate them. The hoof is divided into three principal parts, which are solidly united in the healthy foot – namely, the wall, the sole, and the frog.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT