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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 PST

Barn Raising

A Traditional Timber Frame Horse Barn Raising in the Twenty-First Century

by Arthur Bolduc of Howard, Ohio
photos by Jim McBride

One hundred years ago (1905) Henry Ford put his first automobile on the road, and after WWI he started building farm tractors in earnest. He wanted to be a hero, to perhaps make everybody’s life easier, and to certainly get rich himself. But he didn’t foresee some of the problems his inventions would create; the Plain Folks did.

The Amish, and for a time, the Mennonites and a few others saw the automobile and the tractor as a threat to their way of life. The automobile cost money to buy, to run and to maintain. All money drained out of the farm community. It allowed quick transportation to the nearest city with its bright lights and cheap entertainment. People were seduced into buying gimcrack they didn’t need, and couldn’t afford on loose but enticing credit that was expensive. They bypassed the local farm community merchants, and more money was lost from the local economy.

The Plain Folks lived in communities no more than a half-day’s buggy ride in areas. They had their bulk food stores, shops and cottage industries, all the necessities of life right there in the community. They worshipped Christ, and their church was an assembly of their community members, not an ostentatious building. They held Sunday services on the farms, in their homes.

Their horse-drawn buggies were ample, inexpensive transportation even after the automobile became popular and replaced most horses on the streets and roads. The Plain Folks farmed with horses, that limited the size of their farms to about eighty tillable acres, enough to support a family and about the limit to what they could properly care for with horses. Limiting the size of a farm encouraged good husbandry, a sustainable form of agriculture and also discouraged greed. Horses lived on homegrown feed and replaced themselves at little expense and often a profit to the owner.

There is a limit to how much work a horse can do before it has to be rested. A farm boy knows that and knows what is expected of him when he is sent out to the field with a team. The tractor changed all of that. When a farmer put his son on a tractor that only needed to be stopped for refueling, the kid never knew when he was going to get off or when the work would end. Since tractors were expensive and didn’t make money sitting under the shed, and the kid was just steering, going for a joy ride and not doing a lot of physical work, and the old man let the good times roll! With headlights, they could work far into the night, and a lot of people got injured or killed doing just that.

Yes, there was practically no end to the acreage a farmer with a family could work with a tractor or two or three, and the greed they could generate. Tractor farmers suddenly started looking to buy out neighbors in trouble instead of helping them.
Driven by a tireless machine instead of the 3 mph pace of the horse, a lot of farm boys burned out and started looking for jobs in town. That was okay with the old man. There were plenty of migrant farm laborers driven off their land in Mexico by U.S. corporations who could grow corn and beans cheaper than the local farmers. Unfortunately the displaced farmers had no money with which to buy the corn and beans (that were grown for U.S. industry anyhow) and joined the migrant farm labor army streaming north of the border looking for any work they could find. Unlike the farmer’s son, the migrant laborers could be turned back on the road when there was no work and they were no expense to the farmer.

The Plain Folks answer to a higher authority than the almighty dollar. Their simple Christian lifestyles are based on home economics and they practice a sustainable economy driven by community cooperation rather than avarice competition.
Family is central in their lives, and community is a group of extended families. What is good for the community is usually good for the individual families, and they learn to ask, “what is good for my community?” They keep their buggy horses for short haul transportation, their draft horses for farm power, and their kids at home on the farm in multi-generation households.

In the twenties and thirties when the electric lines started reaching to the farms, the Plain Folks took a good look at the destruction strip mining was wrecking on the countryside in order to feed the coal fired electric generating plants that polluted the air we breathed and they decided they wanted no part of rural electric. Neither did they want the intrusive radio and later television programmed to shape the buying habits of the consumer-crazed nation. The invasive telephones stayed outside in phone booths where they belonged, and meals are never interrupted by tele-marketers.

In their communities of haves without have-nots and very little expensive police presence, the children working alongside their parents and extended family grow into strong, healthy citizens. By the time the boys are eighteen they are experienced farmers, teamsters, carpenters and have a good knowledge of several other trades. With good social skills, work habits, and ethics, they are very employable, but prefer to be self-employed in their own communities.
They realize their labor is one of their most valuable, sustainable resources, and they make the most of it. With community cooperation, they build their own homes, barns and other buildings.

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There are certainly enough willing hands there to man the pike poles, the ropes and fit the end wall or bent, as it is called, into place.

When one of my neighbors needed a new barn, I thought it would be a pole barn, or even a hoop house. Not so. Bank barns have been around for centuries and they still meet the needs of the horse farmer, and that is what Danny built. He was thinking of what he would hand on to the next generation.

A small bulldozer was brought in to excavate the side of the hill for the foundation. And while the barn foundation was going up, a crew nearby was cutting the timber frame for the barn. I was there September 3, 4, & 5th, 1994 when Rudy Christian and the Timber Framers Guild of America raised the frame for the new barn at Malabar Farm in one of the last great barn raisings of the Twentieth Century. I examined the work closely that was going into Danny’s barn and it was on a par with best work of the Timber Framers of North America at Malabar.

On a misty July morning, with a lot less fanfare than the Great Barn raising at Malabar, Danny’s literally countless relatives and neighbors swarmed over the capped barn foundation. Any ideas I had about lending a hand was soon forgotten, and I retreated a couple of hundred yards to where Jim McBride was setting up a tri-pod for his camera with a long lens.

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With so many workers, I was sure that chaos was going reign before they ever got started, and people were going to get hurt. From my, be helpful and stay out of the way, perch on the hill, I couldn’t tell who was in charge, where they broke up into work teams, or how the crew was organized. Labor, especially skilled-labor, is at a premium on all construction sites. Only in the Navy Sea Bees did I ever see more help standing around than they could efficiently use. And even there, there was a division of labor, everybody had their specialty and didn’t go on until it was their stage of construction. Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

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Now, we will do the same thing on the other end of the barn.

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With the end bents in place, the internal framing takes place.

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That shed roof went into place so fast I missed it.

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Working together like a well-drilled team, the barn takes shape.

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I focused on individuals, I tried to find the gold bricks; I couldn’t. Nobody was killing himself, they couldn’t, everybody was paying attention and turning to. I saw teen-agers, probably no more than fourteen, taking instructions, queuing on the older more experienced workers and before the day was over they had learned a lot.

From the time they can walk, Amish children are with their working parents in the home and on the farm. They are encouraged to help and they fail a lot. The failures and the unsuccessful attempts don’t count, they are just practice, it’s the little successes that are celebrated. The children love the sense of achievement, the praise from parents and older siblings. They grow up bold and confident, and it showed at the barn raising.

There are no people in their world trying to protect turf, to discourage them for fear of them taking their jobs. There is more work to be done in this world than we can accomplish. Their problem is distinguishing what is worthwhile and what isn’t. They also learn to ask, “What good will come of this?”, and they get answers.

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Between breaks in food preparation the women gathered to watch their heroes & pray nobody got hurt.

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I learned that only one teen-ager slid off the roof and dropped about ten feet into a pile of sand. More embarrassed than hurt, he scrambled back onto the roof and kept on working.

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In spite of intermittent rain, the roof sheathing and felt paper goes on and the barn roof is nearly ready for the metal.

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In spite of a rain-slicked surface, the metal roofing goes on without a mishap.

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Before the roof is closed, the siding is going on.

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The doors were hung, but too damp to paint. That will have to wait, somebody yelled “come and get it!”

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An M.D. who came to watch the barn raising admitted that he carried a lot more than just a black bag (if he owned one) in the back of his stationwagon that morning, but was grateful his services were not needed.

By mid-afternoon, most of the workers were picking up their tools, and the youngsters were busy cleaning up around the job site. There were a few pieces of hardware to be installed, and some trim painting to be done, but that would have to wait until drier weather. I felt that I had witnessed a miracle, at least a victory for the human spirit.

Without power tools*, these farm community neighbors had raised a barn in less than a day and had enjoyed every minute of it. A solid timber frame barn on a solid foundation, that if properly cared for will last at least the three hundred years that Amish built barns have stood in Pennsylvania.

*An ironic note to this story is that Danny’s father, Bill Hostetler, ran a community hardware store on the home farm. Here, six miles from the nearest village with a hardware store, it saved those of us in the Nunda community a lot of running around when a bolt or such broke. A little price shopping revealed he wasn’t charging the markup that some of the hardware chains were. But with the boys running the farm and his own woodworking shop in the hardware building, he was happy, and we appreciated it.

However, when his supplier was bought out by a large corporation, they gave Bill a minimum figure in dollars that he had to buy before they would ship to him. Since he was non-electric and didn’t buy power-tools and other electric items, he couldn’t possibly meet their demands and had to close the hardware business last week.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Food Energy The Fragile Link Between Resources and Population

Food-Energy: the Fragile Link Between Resources & Population

by:
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Now, after a one lifetime span of almost free energy and resultant copious food, the entire world faces the imminent decline (and eventual demise) of finite, fossil-fuel capital. Without fossil fuels, food can no longer be produced in one area and shipped thousands of miles to market. To suggest that the world will be able to feed the UN projected population of nine billion by 2050 is totally incomprehensible in the face of declining oil.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

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Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Farmrun - Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor is an educational farm on Shelter Island, whose mission is to cultivate, preserve, and share these lands, buildings, and stories — inviting new thought about the importance of food, culture and place in our daily lives.

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

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At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.

Low Impact Ranching

Low Impact Ranching

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This kind of low-impact management has yielded visible results for Rose who can display flourishing pasture grasses, healthy cattle, and firm banks in his riverside pasture. “I am just a detail oriented person and one of those farm boys who always likes to have a project,” Rose said. “I am trying to get the most out of my land and efforts and I really enjoy seeing the positive outcomes of a finished project.”

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

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