Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe
Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by Kim Peavey of Westmoreland, NH

On the very last day of January we moved onto our new farm: fifty-three New Hampshire acres of hilly and rocky soil, a mix of pasture, hayfield, woods, small wetlands, a pond, a small house, a small barn, a beautiful view from the highest hill, and an enormous amount of snow. We were excited, and a bit daunted.

The place had not been farmed in thirty years; at least the drifts of snow made a restful cover over all the work ahead of us. Winter would also give us time to finish hauling horse equipment and perennial herbs and greenhouse parts and irrigation. It would give us time to unpack our bed sheets and our bowls and our nearly two-year-old daughter. And it would give us time to plan the Community Supported Agriculture Garden we would launch here in our new community.

Not long before, we had said an appreciative goodbye back in central New York State to our rented land, and a very reluctant goodbye, due to chronic lameness problems, to our first team of draft horses. Now we were figuring out our next step with horses; now we were investigating every nook and cranny of our farmhouse; now we were falling in love with our snowy new farm.

Though most of the fields on the new place were overgrown, with white pine and “popples” twenty-five feet or more high, we were fortunate that the previous owners kept a pony and a few goats, so that we had a ready-to-use fenced pasture and a corner of the barn clear for a run-in shed. We also had a steady (if distant) supply of hay from my parents’ dairy farm in New York State. We had all the horse machinery, harness, feed buckets, water trough, and the outdoor hay manger. So we felt perfectly ready, on our nice new farm, for our nice new team of horses.

Well, almost perfectly ready. There was one small detail that worried us.

One Small Detail

The horse dealer answered from his cell phone in Iowa. It was early in March, and he was at the big horse auction. “Hey, I just bought a horse for ya’,” he said, “about a half a minute ago!”

“Oh,” said my spouse, “We kind of changed our minds. We were kind of thinking of a team now. But that’s fine, a single horse is fine.” He didn’t say much else, except goodbye.

I was disappointed. “But we don’t want a single horse. We want a team. It’s too hard to match up two single horses.” I spoke from painful experience: we had gone through three potential and unsuccessful team mates the last summer, trying to match up our remaining horse, who was now herself debilitated. We had had hopes of getting her through one more season, but now realized it was wiser to start afresh.

I looked glumly at my spouse.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, brightly, breezily, as is his wont, “I know this guy. He’ll get to thinking dollar signs. He’ll make more money selling a team to us than just one horse.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, the phone rang. Bright and Breezy winked at me, picked up the phone. “I’ll tell you what I can do for you,” the horse dealer said. Breezy nodded knowingly, holding the phone out so I could hear too.

“Got a real nice team of Percheron mares back home in New York. Black Percherons, sisters or half sisters, from Amish country in Ohio. Been farmin’ all their lives.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bright and Breezy said, looking excitedly at me.

“Plus one’s due to foal in a week or so. That’ll give you two for the price of one! Heh-heh-heh,” The dealer laughed at his joke.

“Oh, brother,” I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. A foal was definitely not part of the Let’s-Start-a-New-CSA-Garden-on-a-New-Farm-in-a-New-State-Where-We-Know-No-One, Especially-No-One-Who-Knows-About-Foals plan.

“Shh,” whispered Bright and Breezy, “What do you think? Huh? Let’s!”

The dealer talked on and on about the single horse and the team of horses and how we’d have to decide right away, etc, etc. Auctiony sounds rumbled in the background.

“What do you think?” Bright and Breezy whispered urgently to me again, his face lit up with anticipation, no doubt already picturing himself behind this perfectly matched, highly experienced team, and with a third horse thrown in for the bargain, in case one or the other went lame at a crucial farming moment.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” I was whispering now too, and flapping nervously around the room, my daughter attached to my leg. I like a good century or so to make a decision, to agonize over every dreadful possibility, to plumb the depths of what might go terribly wrong. (‘You’re deep,’ my spouse has bolstered me on more than one occasion. ‘It’s good. You like to think deeply about things.’)

Oh-oh, I thought, Deep all right, in deep. We will be in deep.

Bright and Breezy, without sufficient time to bolster, or to let me stew for my century, was wiggling now too, holding the phone, nodding, nodding, waving his other hand frantically around in the air, raising his eyebrows up and down, up and down at me, Yes? No? Yes? No?

“Yes!” I squawked finally. “Yes!”

“All right,” said Bright and Breezy in to the phone. He hung up. We both collapsed on the floor. Our little daughter liked this game, and collapsed on top of us.

A Little Time

But we still have a little time, for me to plumb the depths, even if it is after the fact, and for Bright and Breezy to get another load of equipment from the old place, and to pick up some more hay from my parents on the way. The horse dealer has to get back from Iowa, it’ll be next week sometime before he can get the team to us, he’ll let us know.

But only a day or two later, the phone rings again.

“So,” the horse dealer says, “Where’d you say that turn was?”

Bright and Breezy makes big eyes at me over the phone. “You sound like you’re almost here. Are you almost here?”

“Sure am,” the horse dealer says cheerfully.

Eek! Ack! Where’s our week’s notice? Where’s our time to ponder and panic? We run out to the barn, our daughter bouncing along on Bright and Breezy’s shoulders and hollering happily with the general excitement, to make sure the barn is really ready, to bring a bale of hay out, to fill the water trough. Soon enough we hear a big roaring noise, a truck and trailer trying to make it up our steep and snowy hill.

The dealer arrives, chewing his ever present toothpick. More to the point, they have arrived, two short stocky almost identical black horses, with white stars and thick fuzzy winter coats and round winter bellies. We watch, thinking about getting some toothpicks to chew ourselves, nervously, hopefully, while the dealer backs the mares off the trailer, and ties them to the front of the barn. They both put their heads down immediately to the bale, such sensible good calm horses, occasionally looking around with mouthfuls of hay. One has a green halter, the other is in red.

“So you can tell ‘em apart,” the dealer says. They do look a lot alike; we are glad for the halters. After a minute, Bright and Breezy leads Red Betsey around, while I cautiously feel all around Green Belle’s head and ears and legs. She keeps eating, even as I am persuading her to lift up her feet. Our daughter looks on from just inside the barn, her eyes bright with excitement and longing. “Oooo,” she whispers to herself, “Oooo,” about these beautiful black horses.

I take a deep breath, feeling excited myself, “Oooo,” I think too: maybe this will work out, maybe these are good horses for us.

Belle is especially round. I pat her, smell her nice horsey neck; she chews her hay comfortably. Gosh, I think, she sure does have a big belly. Somehow the foal seemed a little more distant, a little more abstract, perhaps, during the horse buying negotiation stage, those three long days ago.

“I had to get her here quick so she didn’t pop on the road,” says the dealer conversationally.

“Right,” I reply, with confidence. “When will that be, do you think?”

“Oh, any day,” he shrugs.

“Oh, any day,” I repeat back, trying for his casual tone. “Any day,” I say again to Bright and Breezy, who is returning with Betsey, and he nods, oh so casually, oh so confidently too. He and I switch horses, going through the same routine with the other color.

We officially accept. The horse dealer drives off with his check, and our single horse in trade, and now Bright and Breezy and I make big eyes at each other and at our daughter, who giggles. We all giggle, looking at our two nice fuzzy new black round horses, knowing how very soon there will be three.

Birth of a Farm


They are a good team, Betsey and Belle. At twelve and thirteen years old they are an ideal pair for us: experienced, with significant working years left. We spend the next ten days getting to know them, finding their sweet scratchy spots when we’re grooming, observing how they react to each other, to us, to the electric fence, to new noises and smells. We also harness, ground drive, and finally hitch to the forecart. Betsey is a snorter, a head lifter, a pawer, a get up and goer. Belle is the boss, calm, steady, smart.

“Belle’s acting kind of funny,” Bright and Breezy says on the tenth day, just back from an afternoon jaunt around the neighborhood with the team and fore- cart.

“Funny how?” I say, jumping to my feet, ready to think deeply and worriedly, if nothing else.

“Cross, kind of. Not herself, come see,” he says.

Belle is still harnessed; she looks around at her side, lifts a hind foot uncomfortably towards herself. We’ve been checking her udder daily, it has gotten tighter and tighter, sooty black and cold to the touch, with lately tiny waxen white drops on the tips of the teats.

“I hope you didn’t work her too hard,” I say. “Did you work her too hard?” looking askance at my Occasionally-Enthusiasm-Overrides-Good-Sense spouse.

“No, no,” he answers. “Do you think…?”

“Yes,” I say firmly. “Today.”

Belle spends the evening restless and pacing, tossing her head, leaking milk.

At eight-thirty the mares have more hay; Bright and Breezy reports that he doesn’t think Belle will have the foal quite yet. This report might be slightly influenced by the fact that he is not looking forward to a night of foal checks.

“She’s just standing there eating hay now. She acts like normal.”

“It would be better to check her. Every hour,” I say, patting my nursing daughter significantly, and reminding my spouse of all those years I had growing up on a dairy farm, with cows freshening left and right.

“You could check her; you’re up anyway, nursing,” he-who-never-hears-the-baby-peep-at-night suggests. “Plus you’re so knowledgeable and all.” is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: People

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer: Ed Button and his Belgians

In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

from issue:

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.

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

from issue:

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Farmrun George's Boots

George’s Boots

George Ziermann has been making custom measured, hand made shoes for 40 years. He’s looking to get out, but can’t find anyone to get in.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Livery and Feed

Livery & Feed

from issue:

A livery stable, for the benefit of those who never heard of one, was an establishment which catered to horses. It boarded them, doctored them, and bred them, whenever any of these services were required. It also furnished “rigs” — a horse and buggy or perhaps a team, for anyone who wished to ride, rather than walk, about the town or countryside. It was a popular service for traveling men who came into town on the railway train and wanted to call on customers in cross-road communities.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

from issue:

Watching Wayne’s sure hands it was easy for me to forget that this is a 91 year old man. There was strength, economy, elegance and thrift in his every stroke.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

from issue:

The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

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

Changing of Seasons

LittleField Notes: Changing of Seasons

from issue:

We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

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…

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

Journal Guide