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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 Tour of Various Draft Farms
A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Three-abreast on the spreader at Northland Sheep Dairy.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

by Tim Biello of Cazenovia, NY and Nathan Henderson of Essex, NY
photos courtesy of Donn Hewes, Ken Laing, Tony McQuail, and Karma Glos

From how you set up your farm’s infrastructure to accommodate the use of draft animals to the ways in which you actually work them on a day-to-day basis, there are many different systems one can develop to farm with live power. Now, if you ask around enough, you’ll likely be able to find folks who will tell you how it ought to be done. But the truth is there is no one way to do it. Even though there are fairly consistent conditions that using live power presents — daily care such as feeding and watering, particular equipment needs, pasture and manure management, and so on — they yield an incredible variety of responses. This is why we set out to tour draft powered farms, to see the variety firsthand.

At the time of our tour, in the fall of 2011, Nathan and I were farming at Essex Farm in Essex, NY. Nathan came to Essex Farm in the fall of 2010, after farming for two years in Ontario, Canada at Meeting Place Organic Farm. Having worked and managed there for two years, Nathan was searching for his next step, which he thought might be finding his own land and starting his own farm. While returning to New England, he visited Essex to see their horse systems and to learn about their full diet CSA. The visit turned into employment and he decided to stay there and work for the year. That’s how we met. I had been at Essex Farm since 2009, working variously as a dairy manager, vegetable manager and teamster. In 2011, I had gone to a part-time schedule so as to keep up with farming and stay near to my horses — I’d purchased a team in 2010 and they were worked and boarded at Essex Farm — while using my off-farm time to search for land. Nathan and I became immediate friends and spent a lot of time talking about the various farms we’d worked on, visited or knew about. We both had plans to get our own farms and we enjoyed comparing ideas. After a lot of storytelling, and some fact checking, we decided that instead of only talking about the different ways to set up and run a draft powered farm we should go visit some.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Cultivating strawberry beds at Orchard Hill Farm.

We wanted to see how others were farming using draft power. What tools are they using and how have they set up their farming systems to work with their draft animals? We also wanted to connect with other teamsters. And we wanted to spark ideas for our own farms. (Sure, technically, we don’t have these farms yet, but we plan to!) So we set out to visit draft powered farms and farmers, ranging from Ontario, Canada to Western NY to Pennsylvania. In the end, we traveled more than 1,500 miles, which took us more than 30 hours of driving, and at every home we were greeted with warm smiles and great food.

The common thread for the farms we visited was the use of draft power. From there the business models and life styles varied significantly. We saw farms that earned their income from CSAs, farmers’ markets, direct marketing and wholesaling. Many used a combination of these marketing strategies. Some farms grew only vegetables, some focused on animal husbandry and others combined multiple aspects of diversified farming. We saw the ubiquitous horse drawn tools — such as manure spreaders, plows, harrows and cultivators — as well as unique horse equipment, like an implement designed to deliver round bales in the winter or a homemade power forecart. In a way, the diversity in the farms we visited is a testament to the flexibility of the draft horse model.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Discing with four-abreast at Meeting Place Organic Farm.

At every farm we visited, we saw both similar systems as well as unique combinations of infrastructure and systems to complement their use of draft power. While it makes sense, for example, to try to store your hay in a close and convenient location to where you will be stabling and/or overwintering your horses, exactly how you do that depends on your goals and your farm’s set up. At Meeting Place organic farm, the McQuails store round bales in the field, stacked and covered in a manner that allows them to be removed as needed, then drawn to and spread in the desired location using their homemade round bale implement. In this way, they spread the fertility of the hay and feeding-animal’s manure to targeted areas with lower fertility in their fields. Others, such as Michael and Karma Glos of Kingbird Farm, store their hay as well as their grains above their horse’s stables to let gravity do some of the work. Or, at Orchard Hill, Ken and Martha Lang store their hay in the barn adjacent to their horses’ stables, which are themselves adjacent to the pig pens that are set a level below the horse stables. With this set up, the horses are easily fed and their manure and bedding is easily pushed into the pig pens. From there, once the manure is made ready by the rooting pigs, it’s loaded into a spreader. These are just some examples of different ways to organize one’s barn. The variations between farms, in systems and infrastructure, seem to be endless, even though so many of the fundamental reasons (i.e. the horses need to eat in the winter!) are the same.

A farm is an expression of the farmer, and visiting a farmer’s farm is to begin to know that farmer more intimately. With each farm we visited, we not only saw the agricultural choices they made, but they invited us into their lives and shared their time and homes with us. We were able to see how their farms have been tailored by their varied land base, infrastructure, access to capital, production systems, personal beliefs, farming values and quality of life values.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Feeding out round bales at Meeting Place Organic Farm.

For example, many of the draft powered farms that we saw made the choice to have a small tractor with a bucket loader. This tractor could stand in for horses in the field or operate PTO driven machines, as well as use the bucket to move manure or other heavy things. On the other hand, some draft farmers consciously choose not to use any tractor power. Instead, they had developed other systems to take the place of the tractors. We saw the adaptation of team implements for use with a single horse, for when one horse is lame; we saw the use of pig composting systems to turn and stir compost without a bucket loader; and we talked about loose hay systems to avoid the use of PTO driven hay-baling systems. There were also farmers that had tractors but who avoided using them when possible.

It sometimes helps to remember that caring for draft horses and running a farm that uses live power is a responsive, creative and on-going process. It is present in the keeping of the horses. It is present in the equipment that draft farmers buy and modify. It is present in the ways that their barns are built and utilized. It is present in the systems they institute so as to be able to take time off (sweet, sweet time off!). Learning about this variety, and the different reasons for each similar and unique set up, helped us to think about our own plans and how we might set up our own farms in the future. Seeing this variety also relieved some of the stresses of needing to have everything figured out upfront. It became more manageable to “figure it out” because it became less predefined and more personalized, less certain and more adaptable, less requisite and more up to us.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Cultivating in the hoop house at Kingbird Farm.

On our tour, we connected with a host of friendly farmers ready to share their lives and experiences, to demo their equipment and their infrastructure, to explain their farm decisions and always ready to swap ideas about farming with us. It was fun. It was friend-filled. It was inspiring. It reminded us that we all have different skills and different interests and different life goals that ultimately make our farms different from one another. And this is good. This variety continually creates new designs, new tools and new ways for succeeding on our draft-powered farms. Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes, to share what works and what doesn’t and, last but not least, to keep on farming with draft power.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

by:
from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

Fjordworks Plowing the Market Garden

Fjordworks: Plowing the Market Garden Part 1

In a horse-powered market garden in the 1- to 10-acre range the moldboard plow can still serve us very well as one valuable component within a whole tool kit of tillage methods. In the market garden the plow is used principally to turn in crop residue or cover crops with the intention of preparing the ground to sow new seeds. In these instances, the plow is often the most effective tool the horse-powered farmer has on hand for beginning the process of creating a fine seed bed.

New Buggy Gear Design

New Buggy Gear Design

by:
from issue:

As long back as most of us can remember, the plain people were using buggies for transportation. Buggy frames were mounted atop wood wheels that turned on large solid steel axles. Today, more new technology is available for buggies. Torsion axles, fiberglass and steel wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, LED lights, and sealed batteries — the list could continue.

Is This Mower Worth Rebuilding

Is This Mower Worth Rebuilding?

If you are in a position to choose which make and model of mower you might wish to work on might I put in my vote for either the McD/Internationals #7 & #9 or the John Deere Big Four. These were the last and most plentiful models made and some parts are still available with a fair measure of aftermarket cutter bar parts which are interchangeable.

New Idea Manure Spreaders

New Idea Manure Spreaders

from issue:

There is no fixed method of loading. The best results are usually obtained by starting to load at the front end, especially in long straw manure. To get good results do not pile any manure into the cylinders. The height of the load depends upon the condition of the manure, the condition and nature of the field. Do not put on extra side boards. Be satisfied with the capacity of the machine and do not abuse it. Overloading will be the cause of loss of time sooner or later.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

by:
from issue:

I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

"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 Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

The Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

by: ,
from issue:

It is now possible to purchase a make of machine to suit almost any condition if the money is available. There is no doubt that eventually they will be quite generally used. However, the dry farmers are at present hard pressed financially and in many instances the purchase of very much machinery is out of the question. For the man of small means or limited acreage, a homemade implement may be utilized at least temporarily.

Posts

Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

Homemade Cheese Press

Homemade Cheese Press

by:
from issue:

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

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

Cole One Horse Planters

Cole One Horse Planters

by:
from issue:

The most populous single horse planting tools were made by Planet Junior. But they were by no means the only company producing these small farm gems. Most manufacturers included a few models and some, like Planet Junior, American and Cole specialized in the implement. What follows are fourteen different models from Cole’s, circa 1910, catalog. We published ten of these in volume 30 number three of Small Farmer’s Journal.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

McCormick-Deering Ensilage Cutter No 12B

McCormick-Deering Ensilage Cutter No. 12B

from issue:

IMPORTANT TO McCORMICK DEERING OWNERS: This pamphlet has been prepared and is furnished for the purpose of giving the user as much information as possible pertaining to the care and operation of this machine. The owner is urged to read and study this instruction pamphlet and if ordinary care is exercised, he will be assured of satisfactory service.

Log Arch

Log Arch

by:
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.

Amber Baker Letter

Hello from Michigan!

Dear Lynn Miller and staff, Hello from Michigan! We have only just started to read your Journal, and have really enjoyed it. First off, thank you for your publication. It is always a special occasion when the journal arrives, my favorite part would have to be when the seasoned farmer imparts some knowledge. Secondly, my dad is trying to figure out how to make a PTO forecart, but we are having difficulty finding information on people who have made their own, or what dimensions to make the cart out of and such.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

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