Farming Systems & Approaches
Garlic is one of the easiest and most rewarding crops to grow, though often deceptively simple. I’ve grown garlic here in the Finger Lakes of New York since I was a child in my father’s garden and am honored to share the keys to surrounding yourself with abundance.
It all started with an experiment at our kitchen table six years ago. We had read that 100% grass fed beef was better for our health than grain-finished beef, that there were “good” fats and “bad” fats, and that the ratios of these fats to each other was also important. The old saying: “You are what you eat” should apply to cattle as well as us, right? So, we tried a simple experiment that would end up changing our lives forever.
Many consultants and agricultural experts are trying to impress upon ranchers and farmers that our work should be a business and not a way of life, that in order to survive we must have better plans and become more businesslike: “Agriculture must cease to be a lifestyle and begin to be a business.” But farming and ranching can never really be just a business, for the family unit, as it is for big corporations. Yet, if we were to rely only on the “big guys” for our food, America would starve. We need the family farms.
Here at Providence Farm, we produce what is referred to as “rosé veal,” though we aim to make clear that not all rosé veal is the same. Some rosé veal producers rear their calves in batches, housing them in open sheds on deep straw bedding, away from their mamas, and feeding them on milk or milk replacer, hay, and sometimes grain. We, however, use a more extensive method. Our calves are unconfined, and are born and raised on pasture. They spend their days as part of the cowherd, nursing from their mamas, cavorting with their fellow calves, and grazing on lush grasses and clovers at their leisure. They are never fed grains, nor do they receive growth hormones or antibiotics. It is for these reasons that we call this “Milk & Meadow Rosé Veal.”
This has been my first year bringing the horses into the vineyard. I wanted to make sure my skill set was on auto pilot, and my horses were ready before taking them into such a high stakes/claustrophobic scenario. The cultivators and a disc are two pieces of equipment that we brought into the fold last year. For this next season I’ve restored or built a roller for breaking down tall covers, a seed drill, a seeder, and a spin spreader.
That period of winter solitude in the Salmon River canyon is treasured by the handful of year around residents as well as a needed reprieve for the local outfitters and guest ranches in Idaho’s back country. After a full year of guiding, guesting, gardening & going, we cram all the weekends we missed throughout the year into a lump of liquid days… and call it ‘January.’ Greg and I celebrate that gift of time to pamper ourselves in pleasurable pursuits and creature comforts. In between reading great books, journaling and crafts, Greg and I can be found working on the next years’ firewood supply, repairing and oiling the tack, and cracking walnuts that river friends supply us with. The rhythm of these placid weeks are savored, giving further reason to be grateful for the opportunity to live where the wind is your only neighbor.
When considering the potential utility of draft animal power on the modern 21st century farm, I like to begin from the perspective of examining those farm models where all the work was done by hand. That hand work was done with a lot of care and precision and with great attention to detail towards the soil and the crops (these methods persist in our times in small scale community gardens and among some subsistence farmers). I have heard about, read about, and also have first-hand experience practicing these cultural gardening techniques involving hand labor and find it useful and inspiring to use these methods as a springboard from which to examine where draft animal power can be most useful and where the hand work can readily be improved upon. My conclusion is that there are many areas where a horse can do a better job in replacing the hand work, and that live horse power will usually not be ”over-kill,” as could be the case by introducing a tractor into a relatively small-scale operation.
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.
With the average age of an American farmer being 57, much of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the next two decades. To help address this issue, many states and regions are creating land links: programs that help connect farmers, especially beginning farmers, to farmland for rent or sale. Land links are usually online databases that display listings from landholders and landseekers describing what the participant is looking for in a match and what they can offer. The land link program puts this posting online (minus any personal or contact information) and facilitates communication between participants.
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 and to keep on farming with draft power.
In 2012 a comparative yield trial involving 38 cultivated varieties of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) was conducted by Edmund O. Brown II and Pamela Jean Brown at two locations on their farm, known as New Hope Farms in eastern Jasper County, Missouri. The following is a description of the trial, and of which clonal varieties were found by Mr. and Mrs. Brown to yield better and worse.
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.
Increasing numbers of family farms are unlocking sustainable income through Agri-tourism. These events bring visitors to tour working farms. Not only do your guests enjoy a day in the outdoors, but they go home with a new understanding of life and work on a small farm. At the end of the day Ag-tourists go home with bags, boxes and buckets of delicious home-grown delights, perhaps picked with their own hands. Agri-tourism events are in high demand all around the country. This growing industry provides good reasons for you to consider an agri-tourism project for your small farm.
The need for alfalfa (or other legume hay) becomes obvious to any farmer who is intent on lowering his input costs while maintaining maximum production from his land and livestock. Yet often overlooked is the opportunity to produce a valuable seed crop as an alternative cash crop. Production of alfalfa for forage and for seed go hand in hand and is easily accomplished on the small farm.
I purchased my first team of Belgian mares 15 years ago. Well broke, they taught me a lot. I read and re-read your books, and Small Farmer’s Journals. As time passed, I have hooked up singles, team, 3 and 4 abreast, for many projects. Plus, events like parades, weddings, family gatherings and funerals. Almost 20 years later we have a dozen mares and our own stallion, with babies coming in the Spring of 2022. And I am always learning new things as I read.
The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.
“Old timers” are fond of saying that all it takes are lots of long hours in the field, ‘get yourself and the horses sweatin’ and keep them that way.’ It is felt that most training challenges and glitches in the system will work their way out by long hard hours of work. There is certainly something to say for this. However, it is far from the only way. It is my contention, born of a quarter century of experience, that foundation training and good common sense system structure will give us better results. The horse who stands quietly and calmly when needed, regardless of whether he is tired or fresh, is the superior work mate. This is accomplished by well set training and trust.
The artisanal maple producer is passionate and thrills his associates by producing very tasty excellent quality syrup. He never stops innovating in the transformation of maple products and in the use of maple syrup in the kitchen to embellish various dishes. How many maple producers still today collect maple sap in a bucket or with horses or by gravity? Very few you say… well, think again, there are hundreds and hundreds.
The choice of what trees to plant, as well as how many and where, will depend on what your objectives and interests are. Broadly speaking, tree plantings may be divided into five categories: forests, orchards, windbreaks, wildlife habitat, and shade. While each type of planting may be different from the rest, there is often a great deal of overlap between them, so one planting may serve several purposes.
Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.
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.
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…
Why bother building a bat house? North American bats have, like bluebirds, suffered serious loss of habitat and are in desperate need of good homes. Bats comprise almost one-quarter of all mammal species, and they form an integral part of a healthy sustainable ecosystem. Bats disperse seeds, pollinate flowers, and are major predators of night flying insects. Rootworms, cutworms, stink bugs, and corn ear worms are among the many favorite meals of the common bat. A single bat can consume up to 500 mosquitoes in one hour! A simple and inexpensive step towards improving bat habitat is to provide bat roosting houses (approximately $15 per house) around your property.
In Honey from the Earth we see the diversity of hives, bees and methods played out to its absolute extreme. There are plenty of the familiar wooden, frame hives here, close to the ground; easy to manipulate and move. But the sky is, quite literally, the limit. Beehives are made of any and every available material that can be fashioned into homes that bees will accept and occupy — lumber, hollow logs, live trees, straw, reeds, bark, mud and plastic are all used according to the unique local situations in which bees and their keepers find themselves.
This old information is all about using larger teams and saving on the human labor factor. These ideas kept on growing and by the 1940’s Wayne Dinsmore and the original Horse and Mule Association of America produced detailed pamphlets and lots of propaganda trying to sell the idea of big hitches of from 6 to 30 head for large scale field work. The basic premise of larger units to save labor jumped the creek after WWII and was used to justify getting rid of those same draft animals and replacing them with tractors.
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.
“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.”
After Khoke and I married, the life we wove with farming and gardening kept us as busy as one could imagine. The summer and fall harvest would leave our small house feeling quite small indeed. As winter wore on, our potatoes and apples would shrivel in the dry air and some of my canned goods would pop their seals from being stored at temperatures much too warm. So began the conversation about building a root cellar.
Plant breeding is, as Irwin Goldman observes, the slowest of the performing arts and this is particularly true for biennials like cabbage, who have evolved to set seed in their second growing season. In the autumn of 2016, as we embarked on crossing a purple cone-headed cabbage with a green one, we dug the roots and be-headed the stalks of about 100 cabbages. After overwintering in our root cellar, we re-planted each stalk in spring and if you’ve never seen cabbage go to seed, it’s quite astonishing. Each darling cabbage down at your feet sprouts a dozen or so spires rising five feet or higher, bursting into hundreds of blooms, canary yellow and cabbage-y sweet. Pollinators flock to the ruckus with long, green pods emerging from each pollinated flower. The sea of green pods turn to gold as the seed matures and we harvest them just as the first pods begin to shatter.
A friend had recently purchased 11 acres of ground and wanted to know if I thought that was enough ground to set up a viable farm to support his family. We have a fairly large farm of 24 acres in our area, probably considered nothing more than a garden to large-scale farmers. Yet from this farm we have been able to support our family entirely from our vegetable and fruit production. It was from this background that my friend asked for my input to assess his chances of becoming a farmer. To answer his question I sat down and wrote a letter outlining some points that I considered important for him to succeed in his quest. Following is that letter that I mailed off to him:
Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.
Cornfields in the 1880s were laid out much differently than those seen today. To recreate a cornfield during the time period it is laid out in check rows. The field is prepared and then marked using a marking sled. Afterwards, the farmer moves across the field perpendicular to his markings with an original corn planter. A knotted wire is stretched across the field which when tripped causes a kernel of corn to fall into place in the dirt. Rather than being planted in long straight rows, the field is actually laid out more like a checkerboard. The idea behind this is that the field could then be cultivated in all directions, including diagonally.
This last week has been hot with clear skies and bright sunshine, definitely straw-hat weather. I am a keen and consistent wearer of hats, a cloth cap in winter and a straw hat in summer. In between, there are a few weeks when I’m not sure what to wear, but I do need some head covering as I have got to that stage in life when, if the growth on the top of my head was a cover crop, you’d be thinking about ploughing it up and starting again!
Chagfood Community Market Garden is a CSA supplying 80 shares a week from five acres, on the edge of a small town called Chagford on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park, in Devonshire, England. Chagfood has been running since 2010 when it was set up by Ed Hamer and his wife Yssy. Having been born and brought up in the National Park, Ed was aware that many of the traditional farming skills and knowledge of the area have been lost as farming has become more intensive. As a result he was keen to use working horses on the market garden from the very beginning, in an effort to keep the skills of working horsemanship alive for the next generation.
Care should be taken that the charcoal be well pulverized, for it has been ascertained that during the process of burning the wood to get it, the openings of the pores become closed by a vitreous matter – probably caused by the fire melting the silicate of potash – and thus deprive it of the power of absorbing gases. By crushing it other openings are made, which unless the charcoal is again subjected to fire, will not become closed.
A great many small farms across North America keep ten to thirty laying hens for home family supply. Some of those folks might be surprised to discover that with a modest investment they could turn, or grow, that ‘sideline’ into additional farm income – but you need to know that it will take planning, an increase in daily chores, and attention to detail. And of course, to further assure success, it would help if you naturally enjoyed poultry.
Place the dirty and soiled eggs in a wire basket and lower the basket into water usually containing a detergent sanitizer. The temperature of the water should be maintained between 100 degrees and 130 degrees F. Either the basket is revolved or the water is circulated by compressed air. It takes from 3 to 5 minutes to clean a basket of eggs. When the eggs are clean, remove the basket from the machine and dry as rapidly as possible.
If the general public finally becomes convinced of the purity and wholesomeness of extracted honey, this will become a staple article of food. Comb honey to command the higher price – proportionate to the greater cost of production – must justify the extra cost to the consumer by its finer appearance. The consumer of extracted honey is not concerned as to the straightness or finish of the combs in which it was originally stored, but by virtue of its appearance there will probably always be a good demand for the finest grade of comb honey where appearance is the chief consideration.
I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.
In 2004, a small group of direct-market farmers began collaborating with the co-owners of the local, independently-owned supermarket in Fairbury – Dave’s Supermarket – to initiate an “indoor farmers’ market” inside the grocery store. The farmers wanted to provide Fairbury residents with food grown locally and without pesticides, while finding viable markets for their farm products in their own community. The supermarket sees the sales of local produce from local farmers as a public relations tool to continue to draw in customers and help support their local farmers. The business arrangement between the store and farmers is simple: the farmers stock the shelves with their local products, and the store advertises and provides codes for the products to scan through the checkout lines.
Whether located in a suburban setting, or a rural one with limited available acreage, small farmers are always facing a perennial problem – not enough room. However, right under a small farmer’s nose, on almost every city lot or nook and cranny of an oddly shaped rural parcel, there’s a home for some fruit or vegetable. Maybe that sliver of ground is only a few square feet, has limited sun, is in a ditch or against a wall or fence, but some certain garden plant or animal would love to call it home.
In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.
Two management directives led us to a bio-extensive design. First, because our staff is small, we required a system that would provide inherently good weed control. Bermuda grass was a particular concern. Our second directive demanded a reduced dependence on outside fertility inputs, particularly industrial poultry litter. Many, if not most, of the organic market farms in our region depend on broiler or layer litter for annual supplies of nitrogen and organic matter. We wanted an alternative that would be more independent and sustainable.
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.
Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.
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.
Although we were excited about being involved in this comprehensive research project, we must admit we had mixed feelings about doing the NEON enterprise budgets right from the start. Our reluctance was not due to going public with the numbers, but because economics has never been a driving force behind the goal setting and decision making we use on our farm. Right livelihood has always been a higher priority than profit. Consequently, most of our management practices have been based on what seems right for the land, for the animals, for our customer, ourselves, and the larger society – realizing all along that, being human, we will never get it absolutely right.
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.
Wednesday, April 16 – With the help from a friend who made the mistake of volunteering to help out this morning, we cut up 350 lbs. of seed potatoes and then handplanted the early crop of Dark Red Norlands, Kennebecs and Carolas in seven rows along the north side of field 6. This was the first time we had tried ridge-tilling potatoes and it worked slick, using basically the same procedure as we used for ridge-tilling the peas except making the planting furrow deeper.
After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.
In this column we finish cultivating a selection of questions from the 2012 farm tours. We also respond to a question from a group of forty extension agents who toured the bio-extensive market garden in 2010. We thought their concern about managing horse manure in the vegetable fields was timely to address given the recent release of the FDA’s proposed Produce Safety Rule.
The first year we plowed up four acres of the old hayfields (corresponding to fields 1-8 on the map) and planted oats for the work horses. We also put out about a quarter-acre of medicinal herbs and vegetables to see what would grow well in our area. Digging quackgrass out of these trial crops on our hands and knees convinced us that we needed to use the summer fallow to deal with this perennial weed before committing to a larger acreage of produce.
We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.
Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.
For the past 25 growing seasons, we have used the dryland practices described in this article to direct seed and transplant vegetables all season long without irrigation. Of course, rainfall has been necessary to finish out some of our longer term crops, and yields have generally been better in wet weather. Nevertheless, we consistently get good stands of produce without precipitation or watering in the plants, and our income from dryland fruits and vegetables has increased every year without expanding acreage. Although not a substitute for irrigation, the following moisture preserving ideas may possibly be helpful to growers making do with limited access to water or simply desiring to reduce the size of their hydrological footprint.
In the Summer 2008 SFJ we reported on our initial experiment using the fallow field cover crops to generate enough mulch materials for a 380’ row of un-irrigated winter squash. Encouraged by the excellent crop growth and yield despite the dry, hot conditions of 2007, we repeated the experiment the following years, trying to determine the optimum ratio of land in straw producing cover crops to cash crop area. In 2009, we finally got it right: we seeded a 36’ wide strip of rye and medium red clover in September of 2008, then, in April, 2009, we skim plowed a 12’ wide area in the middle of the overwintering cover crops for planting the winter squash.
To weatherproof more of the market garden in 2011, we tried a variation on the grow-your-own mulch system we developed for producing winter squash in the fallow fields. We discovered it was possible to mulch row crops like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and leeks by moving windrows of rye into the pathways. Although awkward to handle at first, we soon got the hang of picking up an 8-10’ length of twisted rye straw in our arms and walking it from the fallow lands into the adjacent vegetable field.
We have relied exclusively on rye for the grow-your-own mulch experiment because it is such a perfect match for many of our spring and summer vegetables. Established in early-to-mid September at our northern Pennsylvania location, rye produces a prodigious amount of biomass by the end of the following May. Mowing the rye at this time eliminates the possibility of volunteer grain. And raking the conveniently grown straw next to the adjacent vegetables a week or two later coincides nicely with the soil temperature and moisture requirements of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, leeks and winter squash. This year we branched out a little, trialing different cover crops for other growing windows.
Our winter workshops seem to generate a lot of interest in bioextensive market gardening among young growers. However, we sense an undercurrent of frustration because many of the participants do not have access to enough land to fallow half of the market garden. We hope that the following list of speculative suggestions will provide some encouragement to new vegetable farmers who cannot afford to take land out of production but want to take advantage of the bioextensive principles of rotational cover cropping, minimum-depth tillage, and bare fallowing.
We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.
The structural management of a clay soil is not such a simple problem as that of sandy one. In clays and similar soils of temperate regions the potential plasticity and cohesion are always high because of the presence of large amounts of colloidal clay. When such a soil is tilled when wet, its pore space becomes much reduced, it becomes practically impervious to air and water, and it is said to be puddled. When a soil in this condition dries, it usually becomes hard and dense. The tillage of clay soils must be carefully timed. If plowed too wet, the structural aggregates are broken down, and an unfavorable structure results. On the other hand, if plowed too dry, great clods are turned up which are difficult to work into a good seedbed.
One reason the no-till garlic may have been able to produce such a massive root system was due to the undisturbed soil being riddled with earthworm holes. Not wanting to destroy the beautiful soil structure created by the earthworms, we prepared the harvested garlic patch for planting a cover crop by fencing in our small flocks of laying hens to shred-and-spread the mulch of wheat straw in the no-till pathways. The birds also lightly tilled all this moisture conserving organic matter into the surface of the soil so a pass or two with the springtooth harrow was all that was necessary before seeding the winter cover of rye.
Combining late winter/early spring grazing with pasture renovation seems to work best when we let these sacrifice areas rest for the remainder of the grazing season. If time permits, one or two mowings helps to set back the less desirable grasses and weeds while the sun-loving clover gets established. Applying minerals, such as rock phosphate and lime, along with a mulch of strawy horse manure, also increases the chances for the new seedlings to take off and thrive in these long neglected and infertile patches of the thirty-year-old pasture.
Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.
It was important to us that the homemade senior horse feed tasted more like dessert than medicine because one of the purposes of their small grain ration is to serve as a reward for the horses coming in from pasture on their own. Ninety percent of the time they are waiting at the stable doors, or within calling distance of the barn, when it is time to stable them. Without the sprout incentive, our daily labor for stabling the horses would be a lot more than 20 minutes. It takes almost that long just to make the round trip on foot to bring in the horses from the back end of the farthest paddocks.
A couple of questions at this year’s small group tour made us realize that we had not thoroughly cultivated the topic of work horse costs in this column. Tom Padua, recently hired to manage a CSA in New Jersey and convert it to the bio-extensive system, wanted to know how much hay, grain and minerals we feed our work horses. Miriam Gieske, a research intern at the Rodale Institute, took Tom’s questions to the next level. After browsing through the SFJ handouts at the end of the day, she wanted to know which costs more, farming with horses or tractors?
This long-term cropping systems project is a collaborative effort between researchers, extension and farmers. Funded by the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, it explores the essential premise of organic farming, namely, the connection between healthy soil and healthy crops. Specifically, the Organic Cropping Systems (OCS) program, which includes long-term organic grain and vegetable experiments, tries to evaluate how varying intensities of cropping, cover cropping, tillage and compost affects soil quality, nutrient levels, insects, weeds, disease, yields and profitability.
It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.
Many sustainable growers subscribe to the philosophy of “feed the soil, not the plant.” Our whole farm approach to weed management follows the same line of thinking – we call it, “weed the soil, not the crop.” Instead of relying on the cultivator or the hoe to save the crop from the weeds, we use cultural practices, including cover cropping, bare fallow periods, rotation and shallow tillage, to reduce the overall weed pressure in the soil. One result of this proactive strategy is we no longer depend on the cultivator or the hoe to grow certified organic produce. “Weeding the soil” has also enabled us to use reduced tillage and living mulches without compromising weed management.
Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?
Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.
When I was a child, my father cut all our wood by hand. A neighbor, standing by watching him one day asked, “Why don’t you get a chainsaw? Just think how much more wood you could cut in a day, the extra time you would have to spend with your family, and you could even read your Bible more.” The day did come when my father got a chainsaw, and he did cut many times more wood than before. As he reflected on the conversation he’d had with the neighbor of his youth, he noted that for all the wood he was able to cut with relative ease, he somehow spent less time than ever with his family and certainly didn’t find occasion to read his Bible more.
An interesting angle to the peppergrass-flavored butter of 1935 was related by Mr. P.C. Betts of the Dairy and Poultry Cooperatives, Inc., Chicago. A few buyers who used this peppergrass butter at greatly reduced prices became accustomed to its high flavor and still called for it after all such butter had been sold from storage. They were willing to pay just as much for it as for high-grade butter. Old cream and fruity-flavored butter sometimes sells at unjustifiable prices when it goes to certain retail outlets.
Although organic food is becoming common, organic wool is a product in its’ infancy. Markets are small, there are few processing facilities, and regulations haven’t been agreed on. What wool is being produced is coming from meat flocks, not wool breeds. Without regulations, when products are marketed as “Organic Wool” the label means far less than the consumer might assume.
We started hand-milking one cow. Now there are three. We are still milking by hand, and love the relationship with our cows, but will have to begin using the milking machine this spring as we add one more cow to the operation. We plan to milk a maximum of six cows. We purchased a 1940s Surge milking machine and assembled the entire unit from new and used parts we acquired from retired dairies in the area. The equipment we needed for the milk cooling room and the cheese room took an entire year to assemble because many of the things needed were just not readily available. With the help of some small dairy equipment dealers and by finding items on eBay, we managed to put it all together, under close scrutiny of the inspectors.
An additional farm operation should allow you to work at it when your schedule allows, but not demand your attention when you don’t have time to spare. To the extent possible, it should make use of your skills and equipment. You are probably already an expert at operating and maintaining gas engines, belt drives, hydraulics, conveyors and winches. Your tractor, flatbed trailer, and 4×4 pickup truck no doubt, do multiple tasks around the farm. Additional equipment should be able to pay for itself in a year or two, even if it is only used three months out of the year.
An old saying states, “Patience is a virtue.” In a society where “instant-everything” is the order of the day, this saying is not practiced by many. Some of those who must still practice patience are owners of pregnant broodmares. With a gestation length of 335-340 days, they just have to wait until the appointed time. You may ask, “Is there anything that can be done to reduce the length of a mare’s pregnancy?”
Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.
The battle against flies is constant, but there are ways to reduce these costly and irritating pests — without toxic chemicals. There are several types of pest flies, with different habits and behavior, so a combination of tactics is usually most effective when trying to eliminate or reduce flies. House flies and stable flies (the latter are aggressive biters, tormenting horses and cattle) breed in manure and rotting organic matter such as old hay and bedding. Horse flies and deer flies breed in swampy areas and black flies breed in flowing water.
It is a common conception that gully control means building check dams, planting trees, plugging gullies with brush, or directly applying to a gully some other individual control measure. This way of thinking focuses attention on devices that stop gullies rather than on ways of farming that prevent gully erosion. A broad, coordinated attack is in general necessary to keep gully erosion under control. A farmer who wishes to keep his fields free from gullies must give first consideration to proper land use and conservation farming on areas that contribute run-off to the gullies.
Where necessary and practical, run-off should be diverted from a gully head before control measures are attempted within the gully. This principle generally applies to gullies of all sizes except those having so small a drainage area that the run-off is negligible, as for example, a gully with a drainage area of less than an acre. In using either terraces or diversion ditches careful consideration should be given to the disposal of the diverted water. If safe disposal cannot be provided, the water should not be diverted. The disposal of concentrated run-off over unprotected areas may cause gullying.
Where temporary structures have been used to control gullies, it has been found that several low check dams are more desirable than one large dam of equivalent height. Low dams are less likely to fail, and after they silt up and rot away, the vegetation can protect low overfalls at these sites much easier than high ones. A temporary dam should seldom exceed 15 inches in overfall height, and an average effective height of about 10 to 12 inches will be better. By effective height is meant the vertical distance from the original gully bed to the spillway crest of the structure. It requires considerable field judgment to determine the most satisfactory location and spacing for temporary check dams.
My apple orchard has only recently begun to bear fruit, but I have learned many things by the “school of hard knocks” which I wish I had known before. Perhaps these remarks may save some time and trouble for others thinking of setting out apple trees in a cold and demanding climate. Northwestern Maine, where I live, appears on the climate map as Zone 3, and area frost pockets even get down to -45 degrees F.
After living in Ohio for twelve years and being very home-sick, I was ready to get home, spend time with my family and friends, and get back to the farm. The question arose, can one really come back home? When I lived in Ohio and asked myself that question the answer was adamantly, yes! Now that I was here… I wasn’t so sure.
Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.
I tried once, in earnest, to buy a farm. Being that I had mostly been operating as either a contract worker or under-the-table, farm lending from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was out of the picture. Looking further into loans, business plans and creative land-use, the numbers didn’t line up. About six years later, the price of land in my county has gone up more than 25%. In the US, farmers under 35 have an average debt-to-asset ratio of 28%. Without inheriting land or building on external assets, jump-starting a farm is seldom viable. This reality of a systemic hardship surrounding farmland access has created a generation that rarely considers farming as a life path.
The whole secret of the growth of these products before the regular season is in the cropping and the soil. Every inch of soil bears at least three crops a year, each of them anticipating the season and therefore producing fancy prices. The soil is regarded by the gardeners as of so much value that, as explained, there is a special clause in the lease that they are at liberty to cart it away to a depth of eighteen inches if they give up the farm at the termination of the agreement. The ground is so precious that no space is allowed for a wheelbarrow path. The loads are all carried in baskets and not a square inch is allowed to go to waste in this rich garden.
The honey bee is arguably the weakest link in the U.S. food supply chain and on this tenuous link is born the heaviest burden. Fully 40% of what we eat, to one degree or other pivots on the work of bees. Along with honey, most of our fruit, fruit juices and wines, as well as our nuts, berries and vegetables depend of bees. While not the primary pollinator of alfalfa, honey bees do contribute to its pollination. To a lesser degree the livestock that eat alfalfa; our milk, beef, sheep, goats and even chickens all depend on the honey bee. Imagine dinner time without honey bees; our diet would be so uninspiring that it would take the joy out of a pleasant meal at the end of the day.
Fencing the farm is to a large extent a problem in farm organization. The amount of fencing required on a livestock farm is determined largely by the farm layout–the location of the farmstead, the arrangement of the field system, and the location and extent of the permanent pasture areas. The character of the fencing required will be determined very largely by the kinds of livestock kept. Horses, cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry all have somewhat different fencing requirements.
As part of a grant program on ecological farming and draft animal powered systems, we also cultivate agricultural fields outside Museum limits and in modern contexts. Last fall we planted a combination of four old heritage wheat varieties in order to build up a diverse and resilient wheat population. Today we used a weed harrow (tine weeder) on said wheat field for weed control and undersowed white clover. We did this with ox-power only.
We are so thankful that Tom Paduano and Sarah Rider of Flying Plow Farm were willing to share their 2018 Financial Benchmark Report with us and the SFJ community because their farm is much more representative of today’s reality than our Beech Grove Farm started in 1983. For instance, they established their business on rented land. In order to purchase their 56 acre farm outside of Rising Sun, MD, they took on a $575,000 mortgage and about $100,000 additional debt for equipment and infrastructure improvement. They are also raising three young children. By contrast, our farm in north-central Pennsylvania cost $64,000, we do not have children, and, in our mid-60s, our financial needs are minimal.
It was in consequence of reading a little volume called “Ten Acres Enough” — a practical and statistical, as well as, in certain points, a poetical production — that I came to prepare this volume. In that work a charming and interesting account is given of the successful attempt of a Philadelphia mechanic to redeem a strip of exhausted land of ten acres in extent. So useful is the instruction it contains, that no one should think of buying a farm, experimenting in rural life, or even reading this book, without first perusing that one. To be sure, the author forgets occasionally some minor matters — such as clothing, food, and the like, leaving his family naked and unfed for several years — but that is doubtless due to his poetical temperament and intense love of nature.
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.
I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.
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.
Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.
A farm is never a static entity, a healthy farming system is something that grows and learns and builds upon itself with experience and time. Any successful farming system is ultimately the summation of an intelligent response of the farmers, eked out through years of trial and error, to the unique characteristics of their particular piece of ground. The farm cannot exist as a fixed point in time but only as the cumulative result of cyclical effort, exhaustion, and rejuvenation.
from issue: 38-3
In this series of articles we are taking a look at how contemporary horse-powered farmers are making use of the moldboard plow, with an emphasis on the use of the moldboard as primary tillage in the market garden. In this installment we will hear “Reports from the Field” from two small farmers who favor the walking plow and a report from one farmer who farms tens of acres of forage crops and is decidedly in favor of the sulky. But first, we’ll dig into the SFJ archives to get a little perspective on the evolution of the manufacture of the walking plow from the late 19th century to the present.
No matter how well your team is matched to the size plow, they are going to have to put in some hard work to pull it through the ground. Plowing represents one of the heaviest exertions of draft power your horses will face in the course of working the market garden. Before you hitch your horses to the plow you will want to get them in shape with lighter tasks. Your horses will tell you if the draft of the plow is too much for them. Your experience of plowing will be immeasurably more satisfactory if your horses can pull the plow comfortably, without wanting to go too fast. If the team is walking too fast they are probably feeling the pull is too hard, as most horses will tend to turn up the throttle (before they balk) when they are feeling over-taxed by the load.
When you first start out trying to plow on the walking plow, if at all possible, start out with someone you trust on the lines and you working the plow handles. That way one person can school the horses to get them to understand what is being asked while you can focus entirely on learning how to steer the plow. Once the two of you and the team have got all that working reasonably well it won’t be such a big step to handle the horses and the plow by yourself.
Primary tillage is the first step in readying land for the reception of seeds or transplants. Just as the gardener breaks ground with a spade, and then breaks up clods with a hoe, and finally levels all with a rake, so does the farmer have a basic armory of tools to perform these functions on a larger scale in order to create a seed bed. Our primary tillage begins with the moldboard plow.
These days I call myself a farmer. However, I was not born into the farming life. In my late teens and early twenties, I began to have the creeping suspicion that my privileged upbringing in a first-world household, my secondary education and suburban lifestyle had left me completely bereft of any useful skills with regard to the fundamental situation of being a human animal on the planet. When I came of age I had this gnawing suspicion that in the first eighteen years of my existence on earth I had learned next to nothing of the kind of skills that would allow a person to survive in the natural world.
After plowing and then spreading the fields with compost, the next step in our method of primary tillage is to roll out the disc-harrows. The disc harrows have traditionally followed the plow because they do an excellent job of breaking up any clods and of further turning and incorporating any surface trash that might not have been fully turned by the moldboard. The weight of the disc also has a leveling effect on the soil in preparation for seeding.
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.
Many of my childhood memories were made in the strawberry patches that my father, Paul Edwards, was gifted at growing. Even for that, he would never eat them. The texture of their seeds was too much and for all the decades that he grew them, and grew them well, I never saw him raise a berry to his mouth. He sure loved to grow them though.
Leo initiated the circle letter discussion on plowing in their very first letter. Already familiar with turning ground with the sulky, he asked for tips on taking the first steps behind the walking plow. The following advice may not be complete, but it is unique in that it combines the fresh impressions and lessons of teamsters who first put their hand to the plow this past year with the seasoned experience of those who have been walking the furrow half of their lives.
Eating invasive vegetation that compete for the scant water supply and inhibit the growth of grass, goats are a biblical-age solution to a modern-day scourge. To restore the land, 1,300 goats mimic the buffalo herds that once grazed the region – breaking the soil’s crust, stomping decadent grasses, knocking over dead trees, fertilizing with their droppings and embedding seeds. And, all the while, the goats voraciously defoliate and ultimately kill the water-guzzling Tamarisk.
A big focus of tillage for our dryland market garden is improving rainfall infiltration and moisture retention. Beginning with skim plowing in the early 80’s, we have added a half dozen shallow tillage practices to maintain moisture conserving residues in the top of the soil. Recently, we were introduced to an objective method for measuring and comparing these moisture preserving practices, thanks to joining the Soil Health Benchmark Study conducted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. One of the benchmarks for this research project, which includes over 60 vegetable, grain and dairy farms, is tillage intensity. This numerical index is based on the Soil Tillage Intensity Ratings developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Grasshoppers, both young and old, injure crops in but one way, that is, by gnawing and devouring them wholesale, and where very numerous they have been known to consume almost every green thing in sight. Even the bark on the tender twigs of trees is eaten by these ravenous insects, which are known to gnaw the handles of agricultural tools, such as hoes and rakes, in order to secure the salt left upon them by the perspiring hands of the farmer.
My great grandfather, William Cooper, owned the family farm just south of Cooperstown during the time when hop production was at its peak in Otsego County. The family was related to the Coopers that settled Cooperstown and of the thirteen siblings raised on the homestead, he took over the farm. He was nearly self-sufficient and marketed a variety of products from his farm, but the profit from his hop yards was so significant that he was known as a hop farmer. His diaries are filled with entries related to his yearly care of the hops.
Feed-handling jobs which used to take hours of time and plenty of back bending are now done in a matter of minutes with little more than a lift of the hand, by means of chutes, augers, power lifts, portable elevators, movable hoppers, overhead catwalks, traveling feed boxes and other ideas similar to the examples shown on these pages. These are the days when feed handling had been powered-up to the point where 100 bushels of shelled corn can be loaded out of a bin into a truck in five minutes, and here’s how it’s done.
Haying season started in early June and just seemed to last all summer in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. In between first crop and second crop, we cut and shocked oats. After the second crop of hay, threshing was done. After threshing, we often put up a third crop of hay. There was no hay baler on the Scheckel farm. Hay was cut with a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower with a five-foot sickle and pulled by two horses. Let it cure for a few days, then bring in the siderake to windrow the hay, then the hay loader pulled behind a hay wagon. It was hard, dirty, back breaking work, often in hot and humid weather.
For the most part, up until the past few years, humans and henbit have peacefully coexisted. But in the past decade, farm handbooks and herbicide ads have come out portraying henbit as an enemy, a threat to productivity on the farm. Because of its sheer commonness, do chemical salesmen see in Lamium a potential cash cow?
We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.
The chicken McMansion is no ordinary chicken coop. It has a copper-clad sub-floor, hardware cloth lining in the walls and metal roofing to prevent varmints from chewing through. Two large Andersen thermal pane windows in the front wall provide ample light as well as solar gain and protection from the elements in winter. Generous window area in the McMansion means a bright interior, which discourages egg laying on the floor and encourages the chickens to use the cozy, curtained nest boxes. Front and side entrances allow for flexibility in docking with the chicken tractor while two five-foot long roosts and four curtained nest boxes with outside access for egg-gathering top the list of creature comforts.
It is more difficult to keep some horses in a respectable condition than others. The slab-sided, upstanding type of draft horse requires more grooming than the more compact, chunky individual. The latter is usually an easy keeper in other ways than grooming. It is not considered good practice to groom too heavily during shedding time, for the new coat is generally a trifle coarse if the old hair is removed too quickly. All grooming should be done when the horse is dry, especially thorough cleaning and grooming to remove dirt, sweat, and falling hair, otherwise sore shoulders will follow.
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.
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.
As I drove south in a rental car from Champaign to Arcola, and began to transition into the landscape stewarded by local Amish communities, subtle shifts began to appear in the land use patterns. Of course, the first noticeable change was that the farms had horses – and lots of them – big drafts for work in the fields, saddle horses, trotters for the buggies, and minis and ponies to haul the kids around in carts and to give first lessons in the joys and responsibilities of horsemanship.
This is my third Horse Progress Days, including 2008 in Mount Hope, Ohio, and 2016 in Howe, Indiana. We could note a few trends in a nutshell — how tall draft horses are back, and miniature horses (which are not stocky ponies but perfectly proportioned horses more pleasing to the eye) are being bred to ever more refined and useful conformations. How the current style for most big draft horses is to have their tails severely docked, though the tails of miniature horses are left long. By way of footwear these days there seem to be few of the brightly colored Crocs for the whole family, but gray and black Crocs aplenty. One huge change over three years ago is that here were as many bicycles, with and without baskets and trailers (and some with batteries and motors), as the dark square family buggies drawn by identical lean brown trotters and pacers. Bicyclers include both youthful and older farmers, using this healthy and efficient form of transportation to get around.
From time to time, someone will ask me what method I use for skidding logs. My answer is: “Whatever fits the situation”. To me it is not about skidding logs, it’s about working horses in the woods. To that end, I have spent fifteen years logging, and learning how to employ different types of equipment that augment the efficiency of working animals. I have two logging carts, a bobsled, a set of bob-wheels, a scoot, and I have twitched many logs with a single horse, as well as with a team of horses, or oxen.
Mr. Davis said he doesn’t make any claims to environmentalism, although his business methods might look like it. He uses glass bottles and horse power because they are economically sound. He farms organically, although he is not interested in buying into ‘organics’ or its politics. He doesn’t tout ‘natural’ on the label. “My customers see the farm, they see the milk, they taste the milk, they come back. It’s that simple. I don’t promise them that it will cure cancer or prevent it. I don’t promise them that it is going to put the ozone back,” he said. “And, I don’t promise them that it’s going to make them feel any better tomorrow than they feel today. I just put good, healthy milk on the market at a reasonable price, and I farm in a conservative method that is not polluting.”
If you have ever had a few good days in the woods with your team – those days when you and the horses are right on top of the work, in great physical shape, and the wood piles up on your landing – then you may have thought, “this would be a great way to make a living. I should get a contract on a big chunk of timber.” After all, the opportunities abound: often private landowners want only horses to work in their woods, for reasons both philosophical and practical; forest companies will sometimes look for competent horseloggers to work in niche areas, as much for the public relations value as for silvicultural reasons; governments offer public timber sales with horselogging only restrictions; and I have detailed elsewhere (see SFJ Summer ‘94) how well a portable mill and a team of horses can work together.
Set in the heart of the Lake District National Park, Tarn Hows Wood lies on the eastern flank of Yewdale. The valley is characterized by Yewdale Fell to the west, with Yewdale Beck flowing in headlong rush from its cascades in Tilberthwaite Gill, to its tumbling rapids in the lower reaches of the valley before flowing into Coniston Water. The flat valley bottom is a miniature agricultural patterned landscape consisting of small hedged fields, punctuated by small groups of trees.
When I wrote about Khoke’s grandfather rebuilding a 7-sweep rotary horsepower unit, I wrote briefly about some technical issues we ran into. To this, we got a response from John Brubaker, the community mechanic for the Winchester Mennonite community near Hillsboro, Ohio. John suggested we come to see the five 2-horse treadmills connected to power the silage chopper in the fall. He also suggested that it might be worth our time to check out the Scottsville Horse and Buggy Mennonite community in southern Kentucky. This community is only 50 miles west of the Vernon community near Hestand, Kentucky, where our longtime friends, the Bye family, lives. Before our travel plans were finalized, they also included a stop at the Delano Mennonite community in Tennessee as well.
By breeding stock that meets the farmer’s needs, and by developing rations to maintain animals and produce energy at less cost, Experiment Stations have made farm power more economical and efficient. To a large extent, the ability of work stock to meet the challenge of mechanical power is a result of this research.
A good deal of the success with hotbeds is due to the careful selection of the manure. Cold manure, like that of cows and pigs, should never be used because it will not heat. Horse manure is best, but in this case at least one-third of the bulk should be straw. If pure manure is used, it will pack too tightly when firmed, so that it will not heat. If possible, the manure from grain-fed, straw-bedded horses should be used.
Once upon a time, I asked my country cousin, Murray Clapp, “Why do you make maple syrup?” He shrugged and said positively, “How would you know it’s spring if you didn’t make maple syrup?” Growing up in Western Massachusetts I always new it was spring when my parents took my sisters and me to the Hilltowns to breathe the maple scented air, watch the sugaring process and taste the unique, sweet syrup.
One of the most frequently asked questions by aspiring teamsters is “how many horses will I need for my farm?” Judging from the following circle letter responses to this very topic, three horses – a team and a spare – would be ideal for a market garden, and four to eight work animals should be sufficient for a livestock operation, where a significant acreage of hay and field crops are harvested.
The SFJ library owns a lovely old leather volume, “How the Farm Pays” which features a curious and thought-provoking treatise on farming 100 years ago. We offer the introductory remarks, originally presented as an interview of the authors, here for your review. Hope you find this as interesting and useful as we have. SFJ
But to all who really want to farm – to accomplish something in developing a high agriculture along sane and wholesome lines – I would say, “Do not have too large a territory.” Not that I advise a really small one, but simply one within reasonable bounds. For beyond a certain limit it is not the size that counts. Not far from where I am now writing, for instance, is a farm of eight hundred and fifty acres, of which certainly seven hundred are arable land; and at about the same distance in another direction is one of only seventy acres that produces more than the big one.
Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.
The family milk cow has followed the small farmer through the ages and lives on yet today. She comes in many colors, sizes and dispositions. As with any animal, she comes with the dignity of her own personality and characteristics. Every cow I have ever had or milked has been unique in her own way. Some I have loved and some, well, not so much.
I, like many before me, had just entered that gray foggy area where those more timid, or could it be more experienced, fear to tread. I had a thoroughly terrified horse who had no interest in harness or cart, and many knowledgeable horse people told me I had ruined her forever. To find my way out I would have to reach deep inside both myself and my mare, and in the process discover that no matter what people said, it could be done.
We were objects of much curiosity when we moved to Cape Breton Island in 1971, and people from miles around came to see what we were up to – and to comment thereon. It appeared that everything we were doing was destined to fail: tomatoes would never ripen here, and as for fancy stuff like peppers and celery! They smiled with pity. Jersey cows? Not a chance. Purebred cattle like that were too delicate to stand Cape Breton winters. But the staggerer was their vehement response to our June haying: That stuff is too green! You’ll never dry that! You’ll have to burn it or throw it over the bank!
Over three inches of rain fell. There was mud everywhere. Horses and wagons tromped through deep gullies as did tractors and people. As the day wore on, it only got muddier. Still they came, young and old… to husk. This was my third year of attending the Indiana State Corn Husking Contest. I went the first year because I was curious. I remember hand-husking corn as a kid to “open up” the fields so Dad could get his corn picker in the fields without knocking any corn down. I wanted to try it that first year because of the memories. I met a lot of nice people, it was fun and I was helping to preserve a bit of history. Did I also mention that it feeds the competitive side of me? So, I came back last year and again this year. Yep, I am hooked.
Icelandic sheep belong to the group of sheep known as the Northern European Short-tails, a group of relatively primitive sheep that have in common, as you’d expect, their short tails that never need to be docked, and their origin in countries and regions of northern Europe, including Iceland, the Baltic states, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Shetland and south through Scotland. The sheep of Iceland were brought to the island by the Vikings in the 8th – 9th century. There they make up a substantial percentage of the agricultural output of the country, and are a commercial production breed.
Roads and productive forests make horse logging efficient and economical. Horse logging is not at all uncommon in Northern Idaho. The University of Idaho in Moscow is therefore a logical place to conduct a Horse Logging Short Course. The University of Idaho also has a 7,000-acre experimental forest dedicated to experimentation and trial of new and innovative approaches to forestry. It is managed as a working forest producing about 2 million board feet of timber each year. Harold Osborne is the manager of the experimental forest and organizer of a two-day horse logging short course held in Moscow on October 11-12, 1985.
Chevre is a lovely thing. It’s delicious, can be fluffy, spreadable, buttery, a little tangy and a perfect companion to a dollop of honey and a hunk of crusty bread. It’s also what people think of as goat cheese. Every time I do a tasting, I realize how many folks aren’t really acquainted yet with the beauty of aged and bloomy-rind goat cheeses. So of course I like to add in a lovely Crottin or Valencay inspired cheese to the mix. These goat cheeses are generally aged about 2-3 weeks and showcase a natural mold rind that is edible. These are my favorite of goat cheeses. They are also the least familiar.
It is a ritual of sorts. I open the tack room door and take the pair of leather bridles down from the cast iron hook bolted to the pinewood wall and set them down within arm’s reach. Our two big mules, casually chewing their morning oats, quietly watch as I get things ready. I exit the barn for a few minutes to attend to some other tasks outside and when I return, these auburn colored drafts are standing stock still, side by side in their stall, patiently waiting to be harnessed. They know.
Jacob sheep serve a vital role on our farm. They provide wool, meat, sheep skins and farm income. Lambs go to market, quality breeding stock is sold to other Jacob breeders, and wool is taken to a fiber mill. To add to the value they bring in and the products they provide, our Jacobs also bring grace and beauty to our farm. I have cared for our flock for seven years now, and have come to know their seasons. The original purpose of Jacob sheep on our farm was to provide high quality natural color wool. And indeed, today, care is taken in the selection of new rams to slowly improve the flocks fleece quality. Jacobs have soft, open, low lanolin wool that is well suited to process at home. My wife, friends and neighbors are quick to pick up certain ewe’s fleece that they particularly like to take home.
Arriving at Higher Biddacott Farm, after driving through the quiet enclosed lanes which wind their way up and down the hills of North Devon, you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much happens here. But Higher Biddacott is a hive of purposeful activity, with horses coming and going, dogs running about, and people arriving for Bed and Breakfast, or to enjoy the Devon landscape from the back of a horsedrawn wagon.
The past two summers I loaded my three Kiger mustang mares into the stock trailer and drove from my home in Beavercreek, Oregon down to Dorena, Oregon where I spent the summer at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis, owned and operated by Walt Bernard and Kris Woolhouse. Walt and Kris employed me to do work for the market crops. They grow mainly vegetables in twelve hoop houses and in the fields. I did everything from sowing seed in the propagation house to tying up tomatoes to weeding to digging potatoes, to harvesting. They also hired me to do some field work with my horses. When I wasn’t being paid to do the farm work, I trained my horses or canned some tomatoes and fruit.
These photos were taken mostly in hilly country around Wonju during 1976-1977. I am not an expert on farming in Korea. I just got out whenever I could to watch and photograph. You can’t begin to imagine how hard they work and how resourceful they are. I was not aware of any government subsidy programs. Their crop insurance was the family, and families helped each other particularly during planting and harvest.
Driving tepee truck is a humble job, beneath the dignity of a lamber, but it suits me fine. The ten-mile drive through the hills to Sunrise Camp is beautiful in the early morning. This is the season between snow and flowers, when the first soft green of grass and moss spreads over the hills with a promise. The long hard winter is over. Next month the ranch will be literally carpeted with wild flowers — bird’s-bills, dog tooth violets, crocuses, wild irises, evening primroses and forget-me-nots — a tangled, riotous fulfillment in colors no artist could paint. Beautiful, yes, but I like this season better. For everywhere I look I can see the stir of new life — in the tender, pale green of the hills, rolling on and on to meet the horizon; in the deepening green of slender, silver-trunked quaking aspen; in the sweet, sharp-scented fragrance of pine and spruce and fir, as the sap runs through their branches.
Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.
We were first introduced to livestock guardian dogs (LGD’s) by our friends the Dillon’s. Will and Debbie milk goats in the coastal mountains of South Tillamook County, and we were visiting them to pick out our first Nubian doe in the late 1990’s. We were greeted by Pete, a Great Pyrenees pup, and an older female Pyrenees. Our first impression was astonishment both at the size of the dogs and at the fact that they were so calmly living in the midst of goat herd pandemonium! We have over the years been treated to many stories of Pete and his companion LGD’s and their escapades.
On all but one day I got more milk from 3 quarters with Ivan’s help than Ruby allowed me from 4 before his help. At this point in her lactation she has a ‘hold back’ capacity of about 6.5 lbs. on 3 quarters. So, it seems that if I milk her out solo and leave all the let down for Ivan, he is going to get about a gallon of very creamy milk held back special for him. Ruby changed my mind – no need to leave milk for the calf in the early weeks of separation. Mama has it handled – she makes sure that he is going to get his share!
Looking back at the garden after seven months of the growing season, the time seems to have whizzed by, the hopes and expectations of March and April have been made, worked upon and revised, and now they have either been achieved or disappointed. Most years I keep a gardening/farming diary, usually the bare bones of sowing and planting dates, haying notes and veterinary treatments, and it is always a useful reference for the future, but whenever I have written more I never regret the extra detail. Last year however, I was too busy and preoccupied to write anything down and had to rely instead on the empty seed packets as a guide to what I grew, but this year of course I have these letters as reference, so next year it can’t fail to be great! Can it?
What a change just three weeks can bring. Like nearly everywhere else in Europe, here in Britain we have been in near lockdown for two weeks, only able to go out to buy essential food or medicine, once a day for exercise, or to go to work if absolutely necessary. For me, and I guess for many of you who live on farms and ranches [if you also have to stay at home], much of my daily routine has stayed pretty much the same, and that is mostly what I want to tell you about.
With his team of horses in hand, Spencer first started cutting firewood off Forest Service land and selling it to the public. In 1985, after four years of cutting firewood by horse logging, the Forest Service, seeing what he was capable of doing, put up a small timber sale in a campground. Today, the Forest Service and land owners see horse logging as a nice tool in managing the land.
There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.
Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.
My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.
Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.
Ask anyone who has more than one child, and they are sure to tell you that each of their children is unique. You may hear something like, “we raised ’em the same; certainly didn’t treat one any different than the other. So why are they each so different?” So it is also with horses. I have two 2-year-olds born within a week of each other, Frankie and Luna, both sprung from the loins of Donald, yet they couldn’t be more different. I started the two youngsters on the same winter’s morning in the same round corral with the same routine. As of this writing I am working Frankie single, daily feeding cows, hauling hay to the loafing sheds and other odd chores. On the other hand, Luna has yet to calmly pull a single tree dragging a log chain without serious jitters.
Contrary to the bucolic notion of the “simple” country life, farming is anything but simple. The operation of a successful farm involves a complex array of decisions involving crops, livestock, weather, markets, strict planting and harvesting windows, life and death, pests and weeds. The challenge is to successfully navigate these turbid waters through the seasons and profit economically, biologically and personally.
To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.
They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?
In the Fall 2013 issue Journal reader W.D. Cooper of Fayetteville, Pennsylvania respectfully took me to task for plowing with the lines tied behind my back while using the walking plow. Mr. Cooper put it this way, “Any one whose ever plowed knows that you never put the check lines around your waist. I don’t care how quiet your team is. If they plow up a nest of yellow jackets they’re fixin’ to blow up and run. Needless to say, trapped.” That got me to thinking about all the different aspects of safety while farming with horses.
Through the use of carefully planned cover crop/vegetable rotations, homemade compost and intention, we focus on minimal tillage and maintaining high organic matter in our soils to retain as much of that soil moisture as possible. Recently we have realized that our plants may have come up against it in this quest – up against a hard pan, that is. Our old soils have been worked since this farm was homesteaded in 1720; over those years it’s seen lots of farming through the generations. In the market gardens we tested for subsoil compaction with a penetrometer, and at 8-12 inches deep this was stopped by the hard pan. With a hefty push, it would punch through and penetrate freely again below this compacted layer. Well to really drought proof the gardens, we wanted to allow the roots of our vegetable plants to be able to penetrate deep into the subsoil moisture reserves in dry spells.
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.”
The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.
The woods are full of horses. A team of Suffolks pulls up to the landing with a load of logs, as a team of Percherons leaves with an empty scoot. Soft bells announce the arrival of a single Belgian, twitching out another log to be bucked into 8-foot lengths and forwarded to the pulp yard. In moments when the chainsaws fall silent, leaving only the sound of bells and hooves and the calls of the teamsters, this could be a forest scene from a hundred years ago.
Making do is an honored tradition in farming. Making do… with quirky horses, ancient machines, and fields with wrinkles and dents. I think that for seat-of-the-pants style making do, nothing beats the blending of flesh to iron to earth that occurs on a mowing machine. The wide sky, the horse sweat, hot leather, warm oil, hay sap, and sun-baked iron swirl together in a mix of making do and getting it done that few outside of workhorse circles can ever hope to experience.
Here in the Mühlviertel region, the big challenge is thanking the neighbors for their numerous favors. For we newcomers have purchased a farm with the goal of self-sufficiency and have gratefully learned that this mountain region has an old-fashioned, neighborly, small farmer soul. The Mu?hlviertel is the outback of Austria, the least populated spot, northwest of Vienna, northeast of Linz, on the Czech border. A region whose farm representatives actively promote organic farming and experimentation and take small seriously. We have neighbors whose family farms have existed continuously for over 400 years. The area has been farmed since the 14th century and for most of that time, self-sufficiency was the goal.
Sickle bar mowers are no high performance machinery and need a lot of maintenance, compared to disc and drum mowers, but are definitely the better mowers in my opinion. This is not only due to their low impact to the nature, but also due to the quality of their work. The knives cut the grass instead of knocking it off like fast rotating drum and disc mowers. A sharp cut lets the grass grow better again, thus optimizing the next harvest. In Luxembourg you can even get financial support by the Ministry of Environment when participating in a wide-ranging program called “maintaining the biodiversity,” as this mowing technology is recognized as environmentally friendly.
The difference between safe, high quality hay and low quality questionable hay (containing molds and dust) is primarily in the harvesting. The plants in a certain field will make some difference, of course — whether it’s a good stand of alfalfa, palatable grasses or has gone mostly to weeds — but poor harvesting conditions/methods can reduce a good hay crop to poor or even unsafe feed for horses.
If it weren’t for the maple syrup season, March could be a very long month. Too early to plow and too muddy to do much else, it’s still a great time to be outdoors. And at Malabar Farm State Park, the legacy of the late Louis Bromfield, March is Maple Syrup Festival time, a time for everybody to get together after a long winter, to renew old acquaintances and to show the new generation what tapping maple trees and boiling sap to make maple syrup is all about.
Years ago all sap was gathered from the buckets on the trees and poured into wooden tanks on sleds pulled by oxen or horses. Nowadays many farms use tractors; however, there are still quite a few places where animals are preferred. To honor that tradition the Meachams have invited members of the Western Mass. 4-H Ox Teamsters Association to be on hand for the day. Those who could come are here with their steers and carts giving rides around the farm. As we sink into the hay cushion in our cart we get the feeling of warmth even though we see not only our breath in the breeze but also the breath of each yoked animal.
Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.
The term mob grazing is often used to describe short duration high-intensity grazing – with many cattle on a small area of pasture, moved once a day or even several times a day to a new section of pasture. Kevin Fulton, of Fulton Farms in central Nebraska, says not everyone has the same definition when they think about mob grazing. “We’ve been doing rotational grazing on our place for nearly 40 years, but didn’t do it very intensively until about 9 years ago when we started doing some daily moves and even some multiple daily moves,” says Fulton.
My wife, Sue, and I just returned from an event we have been a part of for over five years — helping with the annual butterfly survey at Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California, just south of Klamath Falls. In fact, it was Sue who started the interest in keeping track of the butterflies of Lava Beds. We were regular visitors there when she obtained Monarch butterfly tags from the University of Toronto back in the early 90’s. Our kids were just the right age to start working with butterflies, and that long-legged eldest son of ours, Reuben, could outrun and net the fastest butterfly on the monument.
This summer, Kristi Gilman-Miller took half a hundred photos of partner Ed Joseph and I using McCormick-Deering #9 mowers to cut down Triticale grass mix hay. The crop would have been much better if we hadn’t been visited night-time by as many as 300 Elk looking for water and green feed. We planted in seven acre lands a quarter of a mile wide as we were recording variables in plantings for our research into the best future crop rotations. We were very impressed by the Triticale, a cross between Rye and Wheat, which makes a grain hay the cattle and horses love.
The accumulation of unsalable wool from the production of lamb for meat increases overall storage needs and overhead costs. The reason many wool growers store this kempy wool is simple; there is no existing market for kempy wool, as it has no textile value, and thus is considered an agricultural waste. During the 2010 growing season the price of kempy wool was seven cents per pound. At Turner Farm, Bonnie Mitsui and Melinda O’Briant, Garden Manager, resolved to address the wool storage problem by using the wool as a mulch in vegetable production.
The logical and fun solution to vegetation management for us has been employing goats. We do not have the time, nor the income to support mechanical means of clearing brush. Our goat cost averaged about $100 each — a much smaller upfront investment. In addition, the goats can do some work while we are occupied with our day jobs. Above all, we believe utilizing goats instead of traditional mechanical and chemical means impacts our local biodiversity in a positive way. We want plant species that naturally grow here to flourish and provide food and habitat for wildlife.
I heard through the fiber-vine that the mill I used was shutting down because the owner was retiring. After much hemming and hawing, my husband and I decided to purchase the equipment. I created a business plan, secured an equipment loan, and moved everything to our small farming town of Halsey, Oregon. The retired miller, Janelle, has been an amazing mentor. After the last year and a half, I can safely say that I now understand my equipment and how to get it to process fiber at its best.
As most of us know, bees swarm — that is, leave the hive en mass — for several reasons. The most common reason is a lack of room to grow, when there are plenty of blooming plants in the vicinity. When bees swarm, they hatch out a new queen and follow her to find a place to build a new hive. By contrast, in Colony Collapse Disorder the bees slip away as individuals, leave their posts and duties, signalling some kind of failure. Perhaps they only leave in a last desperate urge to avoid fouling the nest with their corpses.
Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.
Fortuitously, by January another local farmer stopped by out of the blue one day when I was cleaning out junk that had been piled next to “the hangar” (I will always call it that). He had heard through the neighborhood that I might be looking for a new operator. It was a beautiful afternoon and we had a nice visit, leaning on opposite sides of the pickup bed, discussing the merits of organic methods and other stuff. Though his family operation does very little of it, for a conventional farmer in these parts to even consider non-chemical agriculture was pleasantly surprising.
For about the last two years I have been pursuing something I call “no pressure driving.” It is not a new idea, and I know Steve Bowers, as well as others, talked about the same principles. I would like to lay out what it means to me, how I go about it, and what I think the benefits are. Simply put: there is no pressure on the lines that is not intended to be a signal to the working horses or mules. Many of us have been taught (myself included) that a certain amount of constant pressure is needed to successfully drive workhorses. Over the years we sought ways to teach our animals to work with a ‘light’ mouth. It was easier on the arms, it seemed nicer for the horses, and it made driving more accessible to folks who may have been told they weren’t strong enough to drive work horses.
Hundreds of new chemicals are released every year in the U.S., most of them with little testing. Furthermore, some chemicals that do get tested are tested by the company that manufactures them, in biased and unscientific conditions. Researchers on the subject of CCD are still combing through lists of newly released chemicals pertaining to agriculture, attempting to find ones that are used in countries that have CCD, but are banned in Canada, Mexico, France, and Italy. This type of research is more difficult than it might sound, because there is no one comprehensive list of all these chemicals.
The students learned to skid in an open field to gain confidence in handling the horses. No one had handled draft horses previously. To start with, when a horse turned his head, the students would jump back. The students learned to drive first, then skid a log in the open. Stakes were set up in different patterns for them to skid a log through. Then they were taken into the bush to learn skidding. One student said, “You don’t expect us to skid a log in there do you?” Ole asked him where he thought he would be skidding logs from. This student became one of the best skidders.
As the years continue to roll on, as busy as ever, I have had plenty of time for considering the pros and cons of farming. So many people have asked me why in the world I would even want to, let alone like, a farm lifestyle. It’s definitely not easy, but I guess my only answer would be that I just plain love it. No noisy things. Peace and quiet. Lots of hard work. Time with the family. Oh, and there’s stress, too! Like when everything is coming in at once and the days aren’t long enough. But there’s also a great satisfaction of making it on your own. I do understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Only people who are crazy like we are, who are for simplicity and hard work over convenience will enjoy it. I do!
A trip to their grandparent’s or some relative’s farm was once something every child looked forward to. There were baby chicks, ducks, and geese to feed; there were newborn calves, lambs, and perhaps a litter of pigs to care for; cows to milk and a vegetable garden to weed and gather food that went directly to the kitchen. Children learned to appreciate wholesome, fresh food, where it came from, how it was grown, and a respect for farming.
Small Farmer’s Journal had an article about “Painted Mountain Corn” with referrals which I checked out. In just a short time I was talking to the man who was instrumental in developing Painted Mountain Corn. He referred me to Frank Kutka who is an OPC specialist, and puts together a newsletter for OPC growers called Corn Culture [now on Facebook]. I asked quite a few questions, and generally picked Frank’s brain. He made suggestions on different varieties, and where to obtain them.
It’s been more than 30 years since the dean of American cooking blessed the Oregon truffle. Yet, still it gets no respect. In 1977, James Beard was part of a symposium called “Mushrooms and Man” in his native Oregon. In front of scientists and mycology (mushroom) experts from across the country, the culinary icon declared Oregon truffles to be the equal of their expensive, exquisite European cousins – the ones that can sell for up to $2,000 a pound. State fungus cognoscenti mark Beard’s statement as the beginning of Oregon’s commercial truffle industry. In the succeeding decades, however, it’s had trouble taking root.
Reflected by decades of Anne and Eric’s rich brocade of inquiry into the orchestration of a top soil’s happy growth to astounding balance and fertility; in this short, deliberate, carefully crafted film of their legendary garden and gardening, the Nordell’s of Pennsylvania offer up to anyone anywhere on this sacred, fragile, and hungry planet an illuminating action view of one small example of how farming might be holistically and practically accomplished to the benefit of the entirety of biological life.
How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.
Our farmstead is nestled at 1500 feet in the hills of Northeast Vermont. Vermont hill farms have a history of hard scrabble living, away from the fertile soils of the valley farms. Ours was no exception. Since the 1790’s our farm has seen 15 families come and go, each unable to keep the land due mainly to a declining fertility in the soils. Clear-cutting, overgrazing and a sandy soil base that leaches out in heavy rains left no cushion against the extremes of the Vermont farming year. When our house foundation was dug 20 years ago the excavator operator asked if we wanted to change our plans and open a gravel quarry instead of building a house.
Apple orchards suffer from a wide range of problems. The worst of all is not moose, deer, rabbits, voles, round-headed apple tree borers, sawfly, codling-moth, curculio, or scab. It is a bird, the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), known locally by the nickname partridge, which is the term I will use in this article. Partridge eat the buds of trees in the winter, and apple buds are among their favorite foods. They eat both leaf and flower buds, but leaf buds will regenerate the same year. Flower buds will not; they require two years in formation. If you lose all your flower buds, you will have no apples. Just one partridge is easily capable of “budding” an entire small orchard over the course of the winter.
The pea is grown as a field crop for the production of grain for stock-feeding and for the manufacture of “split peas” for culinary use, for canning in the factories, for forage and green-manuring and to supply the seed trade. The field- or stock-pea differs from the garden pea usually in its violet or purple rather than white flowers, its smaller and more uniformly smooth seeds, but chiefly in the less tenderness and sweetness and lower quality of the green seeds.
We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.
The pigeon industry has two branches; the breeding of squabs for market, and the raising of breeding stock for sale. The first brings the surest and quickest returns, squabs being safely turned into cash at 4 weeks of age. The second requires more room for raising the young, also more care, more feed, more cleaning of the houses, more advertising, and often involves more losses; but it offers freedom from the unpleasant weekly task of killing and dressing, and better prices for stock sold, if of good quality.
Growing food for family-living purposes in connection with enough outside work to provide the family with the cash for the necessary farm and family expenses is a combination that many families now want to develop. Recent hard times and still more recent Governmental policies have renewed and intensified interest in this possible combination. This kind of farming has often been called subsistence farming and a farm of this kind a subsistence homestead.
This information appeared in L.H. Bailey’s Cyclopedia of American Agriculture from 1900. It was one approach to field design at a time when rotation was king. Though the menu of crop succession is important and useful, we find the sterile approach to field reshaping, in the name of “efficiency,” to be harsh and somewhat suspect. With the return of our small farms and good farming comes a renewed interest in the powerful tool of crop rotation. It preserves soil, builds soil, activates the calendar year in helpful ways and spreads the farmer’s risk.
If you look at most old photos of horses ploughing, certainly from the British Isles, most of them feature a pair of horses. If photographs had been invented before the 1860s there would have been a greater variety of hitches, with three abreast, three in line walking down the furrow, three yoked bodkin fashion, and fours hitched in line or in two pairs. In the middle of the 19th century there was a big movement to improve the function and decrease the draught of ploughs, so that on farms where four horse hitches were used, they might then manage with three or a pair. By the time photographs came more common in the early twentieth century, on all but the heaviest land two horses could pull the plough and this became the most common hitch. By comparison, images of a single horse pulling a plough are relatively rare; perhaps those who could only afford one horse could not afford to have their photograph taken either, but the big plough manufacturers in Britain all produced light ploughs for the single horse, or even for a pony, and there were many small holdings which only supported a single horse.
This was my 2000 & 2001 project rebuilding 3 stockton gang plows, butt chain harness, and Gene Hilty’s 21 head Schandoney Hitch. Also helping George Cabral to train 8 mules for a cadre to hook what mules we could find to pull it. All the old pictures I could find showed 8 or 10 head on one or two plows. To center the 21 Schandoney I needed 3 plows, 13 bottoms with 143″ cut. Everyone said 21 mules couldn’t pull it. Our 21 walked away with the plows set deep as they would go.
Plowing demands more skill and precision from the teamster and the horses than almost any other farm-related task performed with a team. This is true whether you use a walking plow or a wheel-mounted sulky plow. This discussion will be limited to the sulky plow, both because the wheel-mounted sulky is easier to use and my experience is limited to this type, except for one disastrous attempt with a single horse walking plow described in “A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses.”
Success in getting a satisfactory planting of a field crop will depend on two factors: achievement of a loose, smooth seedbed, and the care with which you set up and gauge the planting machinery. I will discuss both of these factors in this article. The only exception to this rule is if you are a “no till” farmer and control weeds completely with herbicides. This point may be academic however, because I don’t know of any horse farmers who are “no till” farmers!
Tom Delehanty is a sixth generation organic farmer, and has been raising meat chicken for over 15 years. He moved to Socorro from Wisconsin in 1994 to start Pollo Real and lives there now with his wife and their two kids. Although they are only ages four and seven, Delehanty described them as the seventh generation of farmers, as they are beginning to help with the chores. Throughout his career, Delehanty has learned about different types of poultry farms in order to help him develop his own pastured poultry method in which he keeps two ideas in mind: the health of the chicken and keeping a natural environment.
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.
Winter is the time when rabbits become a problem. Trees are a favorite food when other sources are hidden beneath the snow. Rabbits will eat twigs and small branches in their entirety. They will girdle larger stock, up to about an inch and a half in diameter, to obtain the nutritious inner bark, but this is fatal to the rest of the branch or tree. And they walk on top of the snow, which reaches depths of over four feet here, giving them access to much of the young forest as food.
As Dennis and Sue Mengeling stand on the crest of their 130 acre farm, the land slopes down in all directions. As they look toward the north the Wisconsin River flows to the southwest. To the south is Voss Road and to the west County Road V and in the distance you can again glimpse the Wisconsin River. They look to the west and hope for rain in the next few days. This evening they will walk the perimeter of the farm, checking on fence and the cattle as they do several times a week. The farm was named because rainbows can be seen frequently on the knoll of the farm following a rain shower.
Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.
Elisabeth Jonsson, a previous guest at the ranch, was struck by the similarities between cattle ranching in the American West, and raising reindeer in the far north of her native Sweden. Reindeer, like cattle, are highly gregarious and usually travel in herds. The American rancher relies on his cattle herd to sustain a way of life that has been ongoing for nearly 150 years. Laplanders, the inhabitants of the northern-most regions of Norway, Finland and Sweden, have been herding reindeer for centuries, and are almost completely dependent on them for their livelihood.
In this part of the world, sorghum is roughly divided into the rainy season kind and the dry season kind. The rainy season kind is the typical red sorghum seen also in the US and called milo. There are many sub species in each category. The varieties allow farmers to harvest twice a year if they have the correct soil. The dry season sorghum requires a flat piece of mostly clay soil. During the rainy season, these flat fields are ploughed in a checkerboard fashion to make squarish ponds so the rainfall will soak into the soil and not drain away.
Horse logging is smart physics. The horses actually pull an “arch,” a rubber-tired sulky-like contraption that is rigged to actually lift the forward end of each log slightly off the ground. The teamsters, looking for all the world like Roman charioteers, stand high on the arch, leaning back against the seat for stability, bouncing through the forest. When the horses get it under way, the log rides on its rear end, front end raised, lessening the drag and damage to the ground.
Within the EU-funded Leader project “Horsepower – Innovation in small-scale agriculture and gardening” an online symposium took place on November 5 and 6. Hosted by Jeanette Junge, business manager of the Swedish Leader LAG PH, a total of 63 participants from 17 countries followed 14 presentations with current reports from research all-around the world, background knowledge and best-practice examples from European smallholdings.
If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.
The photos are of our farm, located in Dorena, Oregon. We have about 35 acres and grow certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, and plants, which we sell at the Eugene / Lane Co. Farmer’s Market and in our community supported agriculture program. In any one-year, we have about 2 – 3 acres in intensive production, the rest in cover crops, pasture, wild lands, etc. Although we have and use a tractor, we are doing most of the work with Ruby and Amber, our beautiful and willing mares who are both patient and forgiving with us.
Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.
The ranch consists of several thousands of acres; the horse are used to farm 555 acres. Last Fall 25 acres were plowed. So far this Spring they had worked up 200 acres with horses. The main part of the farming is done with horses. A tractor is used to clean corrals and bale hay. The hay is cut with a swather. All hay hauling is done with horses. 16 head of horses are used every day. 24 horses are available to work. Pete uses an 8 horse hitch. With green horses, he rotates them in half days at a time in 3 to 6 day intervals. There are 47 head of registered Belgian horses, 2 pair of geldings and some grade horses. Add in the saddle horses and the total equine count comes to 105.
Ever wonder where all that seed comes from when you place your midwinter seed orders? Many seed companies (as in retail seed catalogs) buy at least some of the seed they offer from commercial seed growers who have a highly mechanized operation. This allows us to have inexpensive seed that is widely available. A lot of these catalogs also contract small farm growers to provide those hard-to-find specialty seeds we all love. There are also seed companies who do all their own grow-outs for the seed they offer. All these companies will also run seed trials to test the qualities of new varieties they want to offer.
Scottish Blackface are ideally suited to grass-based farming. The breed has been developed over centuries to utilize rough and coarse grazing ground and to produce grass fed market lambs of the highest gourmet quality. They are extremely hardy and thrifty and thrive in areas where other breeds struggle to survive. Breeders benefit from easy keeping, productive ewes that produce premium market lambs on grass and with a lamb crop of 150% or better.
“Today so few people farm that vital knowledge of how to farm is disappearing. The average age of farmers is over fifty-five and approaching sixty. The proportion of principal farm operators younger than thirty-five has dropped from 15.9 percent in 1982 to 5.8 percent in 2002.” After I read Heinberg’s little monograph, the final scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ flashed in my mind’s eye. But this time, they were not reciting great works of literature – they were reciting farm manuals about soil, compost, microbes, beneficial insects, cover crops and more. The entire Rodale catalogue of books was personified.
This past year a phenomenon occurred I had not heard of before that brought me mixed feelings. In the face of the nationwide quarantines and shelter in place mandates, people everywhere put out gardens. People who had not gardened before, those who had not in many years, and the regular gardeners did even more. This resulted in seed companies everywhere running out of seed relatively early in the year. Many of these companies had surplus stock that was completely wiped out. And then it happened again this year. As I said this brought me mixed feelings. The first was “Wow! This is great, more people are gardening than ever!” The next thought was a little more somber and perhaps selfish, “I may not be able to count on getting the seed I want when I want it.”
“Sooner or later the American people will have to start eating more food that’s grown closer to home,” asserts Maurice Norman, pick-your-own fruit grower from Hendersonville, Tennessee. His belief is shared by thousands of small farmers across the country who are changing the face of agriculture by growing and selling fruit and vegetables on a small scale.
How did the grape find itself here on the outskirts of Milton? If you ask one man, Christophe Baron, the answer is simple. “It’s the cobblestone. (The ground) reminds me of home”. For Christophe, home refers to France and the stone littered earth from which many famous French wines grow. Hailing from a family of vigneron champenois, Mr. Baron came upon this corner of the state by chance, saw its signature geology, and decided to establish his domaine right here in northeast Oregon.
I used to have a team of mares, a mother and a daughter, and they weren’t big horses but we worked them on the mowing machine. They got along just fine together but you put them with another horse and they were cranky with that horse. So what we did with them was we turned them all out together and said let’s find out who was boss and then when they established a pecking order then things smoothed out. The other thing that helped was we mowed a lot of hay with them. Whenever you get a few wet collar pads on them, it makes a whole lot of difference in attitude. They figure out there’s something else to do besides pick on each other.
It is possible to have your animals strung out (4, 6, 8) and only have two lines. So you have a team line that comes like this (to the lead team) and yet no lines on the wheelers. Instead what you have is a tie in chain and a forked three point line hooked to halter rings and back to the lead bar or chain. This requires an equalizing double-tree set up to a lead bar or preferably a chain to the lead double-tree so there is an equalizing effect. All animals have to pull equal. There’s an equalizer with this and there are a variety of different ways of doing that. Basically the leaders step forward and pull along the bar or chain and literally pull these horses back for an equalizing effect.
South of the impressive Magura-Codlei mountain and in the southeastern part of the Transylvanian basin lies the Romanian commune of Holbav. Although only twenty kilometers from the county capital of Brasov, traditional small-scale farming lifestyles have survived in Holbav to this day, forming living testaments to a resilient and successful circular economy of the local people. Of outstanding importance are the individual farms situated on the surrounding hills of the actual village center which is located on the valley floor. Each of the hills is farmed by one of the families – and has been for several generations.
Arriving at the woodlot, he parks the cart in the sun so its on-board panel above can soak up even more energy than is already stored in its 10 KW hour battery pack which supplies a 2,500 watt, 120 volt inverter. He easily lifts his six-pound electric chainsaw and connects it to a 150 foot extension cord plugged in to the cart. The cord trails behind him as he walks into the woods and up a rise. He pushes a switch with his thumb and the chainsaw roars, or more accurately, purrs to life. Within a minute the tree gives way, falling neatly.
Last March I traveled to Illinois to speak at the first general meeting of the Central Illinois Sustainable Farming Network. The Travis family of Spence Farm, Journal subscribers, had been instrumental in getting me to go out. I paid their magnificent diversified farm a short visit before the talk. Marty, Kris and Will were working in the maple syrup rendering shed amidst their farm forest. Several folks had joined them for the work day. I visited with them as we walked that crisp morning.
Every bit of length, taper, angle, weight and sharpness contributes to how and for what the axe is used. The temper (hardness) of the metal must be hard enough to hold an edge and soft enough to file and not be brittle. A blunter maul with an abrupt taper blows the wood apart, or bounces off if it cannot penetrate. A sharp bit with a longer taper will cut in and penetrate easier before splitting the wood apart. If it doesn’t fully succeed one must pump the handle to loosen the head and hit it again.
After years of keeping an ear open for an occupation that would have many wonderful facets, including being enjoyable, environmentally oriented and horse related, my husband, Jim, and I decided to embark on starting a horse drawn carriage company of our own in October, 1994. We had heard quite a bit of positive information regarding such an endeavor and felt that we were in a position, at this point in time, to take this on ourselves. The romance of it all lured us on this wonderfully positive, happy and yet bumpy road!
Farming and ranching internships seem to be the twenty-first century’s answer to the need for hands-on, person-to-person education on the art, science and business of sustainable farming and ranching. Well-designed internships can provide interns with basic skills and experiences necessary to make a start in farming as a profession. For established farmers, internships can provide an opportunity to foster and inspire a new generation of producers.
How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.
Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.
You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.
Shortly after we moved in to our current house, our then eight-year-old daughter, Stella, looked at the scraggly, empty lawn of her new home and asked, “Could we turn it into a food garden?” Stella’s food garden provides a little more than 15% of our family’s annual food. Many reading this will laugh, as our largest piece of antique farm equipment is a now 30-year-old rusty and rebuilt pale-blue wheelbarrow. But we look forward to our copy of Small Farmer’s Journal and page through the images of livestock, fields and crops with a curious and magnetic fascination as if it were an old family album, and this amazing feeling of connectedness to all the others who coax things from the earth in America had me pen this letter to all my brother and sister farmers.
The Strawberry is an herbaceous perennial. It naturally propagates itself by means of runners that form chiefly after the blooming season. These runner plants, either transplanted or allowed to remain where they form, will bear the following year. Usually the plants will continue to bear for five or six years, but the first and second crops are generally the best. It is therefore the custom to plow up Strawberry beds after they have borne from one to three crops. The better the land and the more intensive the cultivation, the shorter the rotation. In market-gardening areas and in some of the very best Strawberry regions, the plants are allowed to fruit but once. The plants therefore occupy the land only one year and the crop works into schemes of short rotation cropping.
One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.
It’s the sweet smell of Spring that drew me to the Hedmark Farm in Fence, Wisconsin. An immense cloud of steam billows from the sugar shack. It’s sugarin’ time! Here Milan and Vita Hedmark, along with their whole family (three generations), work to drill holes for 1,100 taps. They tapped a week before the sap ran this year. Sugarin’ requires a combination of freezing nights and warm days to start the sap flowing.
It’s fascinating to learn how the technology of sugaring is always adapting and reforming the methods and practices from over 200 years ago. However, given all the technological advancements and re-workings, the process is pretty much the same regardless of the industry’s technology. You cut into a sugar maple, put some sort of collection vessel beneath it, and when the warm days and cool nights in late February and early March arrive, the sap flows. You collect, you extract water and this incredible natural ingredient, preserved by its own sugar content, is ready for you to eat.
Picking apples is a specialized operation for which there is a special technique. Inexperienced pickers do not have this technique but can acquire it. How well they do so and how quickly they become smooth pickers depends largely upon how painstakingly the orchardist and foreman teach them in the beginning. To fail here may mean to fail completely.
The demands of summer on the farm often stretch us to our limits. Haying, gardening, preserving, machinery breakdowns, visitors – at times there seems to be no end to the ocean of work and unexpected obstacles. And if this farming life is new to you, and you are having to be responsible for tasks you are still mastering, it can be overwhelming. While it’s not possible to avert very long and tiring days with a variety of things going awry, it is possible and advisable to develop a system of order and preparedness which will carry you through even the most challenging of days.
Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.
After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.
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.
There are exceptional books written by the British agriculture historian George Ewart Evans among which are “Horse In The Furrow” and “Horsepower and Magic”. In these he recounts stories from the British Isles of the extent to which the teamster’s craft was magic and mystery to be protected. He talked about the fact that when somebody in the British Isles had the obvious and complete mastery of the craft of working those big horses, the tricks of his trades, the little secrets, he had to keep to himself, because when he gave up those tricks and those secrets, he gave up his power. He gave his position in the community. If everybody could do this then he would no longer be special. This became a community dynamic so that there were literally secret societies of teamsters, and they were forever playing tricks on each other and on outsiders, but especially on the novice.
Well, I don’t put as much emphasis on age as far as my preference but I would much prefer to have a horse that hasn’t been touched as one that’s been spoiled. And it doesn’t have as much to do with who does the training because I’ve gotten horses that have been previously owned by people that do a very good job of training but they don’t do everything just the way I do, maybe they do a better job, but they do it a little different. I like to start out with a pure, unadulterated mind and the age doesn’t make as much difference to me as that.
Okay what we’d like to do, just following right on the heels of that perfectly, is start with a question that somebody submitted and it’s a very good question but it wasn’t one I was expecting. I was expecting technical questions, training questions, access questions. This question is very simple and should be pretty helpful in getting us introduced to you. This question reads as such: What is your favorite memory as a horseman?
Last year we were going up on the wagon train and we were going up this real steep hill and I’ve got stay chains on my wagon, back to the wagon from the singletree and Lori was sitting there by me. There was a big team of Belgians ahead of us. They had stopped. They had played out. The guy had to take them off and Morris Elverud came back and pulled the wagon up the hill for him. Well, anyway, we were going up this hill right behind him and I told Lori I was just going let loose of these lines and see what happens. And that mare pulled that wagon herself up that hill. I didn’t let her go but for twenty or thirty feet but she’s just that type of a horse. So it all depends on what kind of horse you got.
One time I had a horse in there at the clinic and I asked Addy Funk to come out and take a look at it and I said, Addy, what do you think of this horse? And he looked it all over and I’m not sure but I think I had to ask him a second time what he thought about it. And all he said was, you can’t tell by looking at a frog how far he can jump.
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.
Every year my family has to alternate between two methods for how we get our Christmas tree. My husband, having grown up acquiring trees from regular Christmas tree farms, loves the perfectly pruned and bushy variety. I love tromping around the forest to find the perfect Charlie Brown version to take home. The farm owned and operated by Emmet Van Driesche in western Massachusetts might have the best of both worlds. It is a wild place, yet cultivated. His Christmas tree farm is unusual – as stated in the title – because it is a coppiced Christmas tree farm. Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management where the trees are periodically cut down to their stumps in order to entice them to put out new shoots that form into trees in their own right, given proper care and time and space.
The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.
It is light tan or blond in color; light and flaky in texture; mild in both scent and flavor; all in all quite palatable. In action it has by long tradition been credited with a variety of cures and preventions. And although its popularity as an equine health panacea may be slightly on the wane, many still consider it to be virtually a “cure-all” dietary health aide for humans, according to some nutritionists who advise adding it to all meals. What is this fascinating, all-purpose, apparently healthy substance? Bran – or, the hull covering a cereal grain. It can be milled from corn, rice or whatever, but among horsepeople wheat bran is considered to be the highest in protein and quality.
Artificial insemination is not new. It’s been around in one form or another since the late 1700’s. Whatever ideas or prejudices you may have come from over two hundred years of practice. AI is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. You can use it to improve your herd, or misuse and damage it. You may not need it at all. The purpose of this article is to provide the information you need to decide whether AI has a place in your livestock operation.
The family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its one time role at the center of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before in history, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods that are produced far away, and are likely to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.
This morning, I awoke to another depressingly beautiful January day – clear skies and an expected high temperature here in Auburn of close to 70 degrees. I say depressing, because we should be in the midst of our rainy season here – but since December 1, we’ve measured less than one inch of precipitation. And there doesn’t look to be much moisture in our future, either. Even the television “meteorologists” have quit using words like “beautiful” to describe our weather pattern – which must mean this drought is getting serious.
A while back, with the farm slumbering under a full moon and a clear winter sky, my husband Mark and I decided to take a stroll down to the mail box, ostensibly to see if the outside world had delivered to us anything of interest, but really just to enjoy the night. Jet, my one-year-old English Shepherd, was with us. Just out the door in the driveway, Jet suddenly puffed up and let loose with his woo woo woo bark that means, in his language, something’s wrong here, folks. Then Mark and I saw a big black shape lumbering toward us.
Some windbreaks have failed because of the wrong selection of trees or because of the very location of the break. The full benefits of other windbreaks have been delayed many years, although a moderate amount of cultivation and fertilization would have made them serviceable much earlier. There is more to windbreak planting than just manual labor, and that is a carefully made plan which must precede the setting out of the trees.
In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.
To me, the raw versus pasteurized milk debate is easily settled in my mind. If I am going to drink milk from a cow with a number, lined up in her place in an industrial dairy, you’d better believe I want that milk pasteurized. For most of my life I drank milk from a cow with a name. When you only have a handful of cows, if that many, you do notice when something isn’t right. No one in their right mind knowingly drinks milk from a sick cow. I have never gotten sick drinking raw milk or personally known anyone else who did. I have every confidence in the farmer selling the same milk he or she brings to their own table.
Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.
Flax is a native species of the Pacific Northwest and was widely used by Native Americans for basket weaving, rope making, and clothing. With the coming of Europeans the flax industry began to flourish around 1868 when numerous flax mills were established in the fertile Willamette Valley. These mills produced high quality linen, linseed oil used for paints and finishes, oil cake for cattle feed, as well as twine and rope, among countless other products.
It is always advisable to place coldframes and hotbeds in a protected place, and particularly to protect them from cold north winds. Buildings afford excellent protection, but the sun is sometimes too hot on the south side of large and light-colored buildings. One of the best means of protection is to plant a hedge of evergreens. It is always desirable, also, to place all the coldframes and hotbeds close together, for the purpose of economizing time and labor.
By proper methods of tillage, crop rotation, or green manuring, and even by the application of fertilizers, the interaction between prevailing soil conditions and biological phenomena may be modified so as to promote the activity of desirable micro-organisms and retard the development of the undesirable ones.
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.
When you watch a field of wheat turn from green to golden and wave lightly in the wind, see the shocks lined up in rows as you pass by on the road, watch a load of grain auger into the grain wagon, and then see the cycle begin again. It is beautiful and worth it all.
WHOA (Working Horse & Oxen Association) is attempting to demonstrate, through the use of affordable, low-tech harvesting – in this instance the harvesting of hay – how draft animals can partner with small farmers in accomplishing many farm tasks using traditional techniques, low impact practices, and non-fossil fueled equipment. The goal of the Haystack Project is to research the techniques required, to collaborate in designing and building the infrastructure, to mow, rake and gather hay on the MOFGA fairgrounds, and to pile the hay in the traditional, efficient techniques of building a stack.
In comparing two compact vehicles, the stud cart and the Geo Metro, there were interesting differences in speed, fuel efficiency and maintenance. In the horse world of compact vehicles, the stud cart could best be compared to the small two-seater passenger car. The stud cart was originally used to transport a stud from farm to farm to service mares. The lightweight structure of the cart didn’t burden the single horse and allowed the farmer to clip along at a nice pace.
The point is that the Knepp Estate is pioneering, they are trying it, and something is obviously working, although perhaps not everything as you might wish. But that is also the point, because we don’t know how to rewild, we don’t really know what a wild Britain was like, or could be like, even in small pockets. We don’t even know what conditions various species prefer because the baseline data was already skewed by people’s activity when the textbooks were written. So it is one big experiment, but fortunately it has generated enough interest and excitement that the changes are being studied in detail.
I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.
When Andy Neufarth came to work for us twenty-five years ago, we knew we were getting a good man, but we didn’t know we were getting the moon, too. From that day until he retired, almost everything here on the farm from planting to repairing roofs was done according to the phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Andy offered no sympathy when jobs we’d hurried him into doing at the wrong time – like the fence posts that the frost heaved out of the ground – didn’t work out. “Done it in the wrong sign,” he’d say. “Set ‘em right and they’d’ve stayed down.”
Rostrevor is where ‘The Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea’ and we here on the shores of Carlingford Lough had an abundance of wrack. Storms wash huge banks of seaweed up on the shore. In the past this was a valuable source of fertilizer for the land and when the wrack ‘was in’ entire townlands transported it up the valley with horses and carts. We used wrack in the alleys of drills when planting potatoes and we spread it on lea fields to give a flush of spring grass. It was noted that grazing cattle preferred the seaweed–treated sections to those heartened with farmyard manure. Perhaps it was the trace of salt that attracted the stock.
The successful use of herbs in the treatment of disease and sickness in mankind is well documented. Herbs can be equally successful in treating the various ailments that affect livestock. These herbal treatments are economical, and will not leave the residue nor the harmful side effects as some chemical remedies do, thus leaving your farm products un-useful.
Used to be that farm cooking meant an eggs-and-bacon breakfast cooked by the wife before dawn, followed up with a meat-and-potatoes lunch and a hefty slice of pie. The archetypal farm wife was an accomplished cook who did simple, stick-to-your-ribs home cooking, fuel for the men who toiled 15-hour days in the fields. Today, everyone cooks and eats differently from a generation ago, including farmers. So we went back to the farm to take a peek in the kitchen.
The sun shines on the plow as its share slices through the dark soil. The farmers hands tighten on the handles as the strong horse lurches forward starting another furrow. After finishing the row the farmer stops and wipes his brow on his shirt sleeve and fans himself with his straw hat. As he stops to rest for a minute or two, the farmer looks up at several smiling faces of young school children who have come to watch him. Is this a scene from the 1880s? Yes, but it is also a scene from the year 2003. The place is Carriage Hill MetroPark Farm, an 1880s recreated living history site in Dayton, Ohio.
Maple sirup and sugar are produced during a period of from four to six weeks in the early spring and interfere but little with the other farm crops. The sugar season usually forms a welcome break between the comparative idleness of winter and the early spring plowing. It comes at a time when little else can be done. But after considering the long hours of tending the evaporator and the work of gathering the sap, many a man has asked himself if the results are worth the effort. Most of the producers of maple sirup and sugar tap less than 500 trees. Considered from the point of view of the bookkeeper who figures overhead, depreciation, labor costs, and interest, very few of these small groves can show a profit. But is there anything that can be done to better advantage at that season of the year? Faced with such a question, nearly every farmer who owns a maple grove will decide that sugar and sirup making is worth while.
Most farmers take it for granted that hybrid corn will yield more, acre for acre, than an open-pollinated variety. However, as advocates of OP corn have always been apt to point out, yield isn’t everything. OP corn is well known to be more nutritious than hybrid strains, having more minerals, free sugars, and protein and less plain starch. Even animals will almost always preferentially consume OP ear corn if given a choice between it and a hybrid. Moreover, the wider gene pool of OP corn makes it resistant and/or tolerant to a wider variety of microbial diseases and insect pests.
After a hard day’s work, we all like a restful bed in a comfortable environment. What about your horses? Should or shouldn’t horses be stabled? If they are stabled, what issues are of major concern to horse owners? Are there risks to stabling a horse? Does the length of time a horse is stabled impact these risks? If so, how do we address and minimize these risks? There are a number of incorrect precepts regarding placing horses in stalls. This article will dispel these incorrect ideas and aid owners in managing stabled horses.
The principle here, shared by both flowers and most vegetables, is that plants bloom and fruit to set seed to further their species. If this attempt is thwarted, it stimulates the plant to produce more flowers/vegetables. Whereas if it fully succeeds in seeding the next generation, then it has no drive to remain productive. Vegetables need to be picked regularly to remain productive. Not only does the plant need motivation to keep growing, but having over ripe vegetables promotes disease, spoilage and attracts insects. Let’s walk through the garden and talk about some of the vegetables and their unique needs. Most of this you’ll already know, but everyone likes to visit the garden this time of year. Especially for a watermelon.
When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.
South Sudan, a new equatorial nation in east-central Africa, is a paradox wrapped in opportunity. It is a poor country and it is a rich country. It is a country threatened almost daily by tribal unrest. It is a vigorous nation which needs help. An answer to their need might contain an opportunity for it to contribute widely to the stability of the region and by example to peace in the world. South Sudan does not now feed itself, it is dependent on less than stable imports from neighboring countries. People there are hungry. A few in positions of leadership in that struggling democracy believe that the best ways to solve this problem also offer up excellent patterns for a rich scale-specific economic development
What of the squirrels, grouse, frogs, mice and fur bearing animals that call this home? They were betrayed by the ones who studied them, lived off them to either be trampled by the machines or try to find a new home as winter set in. Their food supply and homes are gone forever so may many of them be gone forever. What greed does to us!
We recently had to move the Miller archive of old books and magazines, and we had to do it in a relative hurry. Fifty years worth of accumulated reference materials, with many, many boxes of items long thought lost. Four of us packing, loading and unpacking – our urgency challenged by the discovery of hundreds of forgotten goodies. Two such items were large format, catalog-type magazines covering a certain region’s ox heritage. These were sent to us decades ago by Philippe Berte-Langereau of France. When we learned we would be able to print Rob Collin’s excellent MODA report in this SFJ, I immediately thought it would be a grand opportunity to share just a little bit from Philippe’s magnificent work.
One place to start is to look at how you relate to your community. If you stay on your homestead and don’t connect with your larger community or neighborhood, you deprive yourself of opportunities for many kinds of mutual support. On the other hand, if you freely help and/or fairly barter with your neighbors and local businesses, your chances of long term success will be greater, and you’ll have a community that actively cares about your well-being.
Tomatoes should be started in hotbeds. To make the beds, select a sheltered place on the south side of a bank or erect some shelter on the north side from where the hotbed is to be made. Dig a hole about a foot deep, 8 feet wide and as long as needed; 18 feet long will give room enough to grow plants for twelve acres of Tomatoes. Use fresh stable manure; cart it out in a pile and let it lay three or four days, then work it over until it gets good and hot, then put it into the hole prepared for it, 8×18 feet, about 18 inches thick. Then place the frame, 6 x 16 feet, on the manure; that will leave one foot of manure outside of the frame; by this means the heat will be just as great at the edge of the bed as it is in the middle. Then place 4 or 5 inches of dirt on the manure and let it lie for a couple of days to allow the dirt to get warm. The sash is put on as soon as the dirt is placed. When the dirt is warm, rake it over to get it nice and fine, then sow the seed in drills which are made about 2 inches apart by a marker.
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.
It’s a cool morning on a nature preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County. I’m scouring a shady hillside with John Rucker and his four Boykin spaniels, looking for turtles. “Find turtle, find turtle,” Rucker calls to his dogs. He turns to me and says, “did I tell you I’m the only person in the world that does this?” When he’s not living off the grid in rural Montana, Rucker travels the country with his specially-trained hunting dogs, helping scientists and conservationists find turtles.
Why plant pawpaws, gooseberries, shipovas, and other uncommon fruits on the small farm? These fruits are easy to grow. They’re generally pest-free so don’t need spraying, and even their pruning needs are minimal. Because sprays are not needed (not the case for apples and many other common fruits over much of the country), they can be grown organically and sold as such to command premium prices. These uncommon fruits also have unique, delectable flavors. Consumers are now, more than ever, interested in “new” flavors, making these fruits very appealing and, again, allowing them to command top dollar in markets.
Whether a bird is beneficial or injurious depends almost entirely upon what it eats. Birds are often accused of eating this or that product of cultivation, when an examination of the stomachs shows the accusation to be unfounded. Accordingly, the Biological Survey has conducted for some years past a systematic investigation of the food of those species which are most common about the farm and garden.
In this series I will attempt a preliminary vision of a relocalization of food production designed to feed the population of Tompkins County, New York. A project of this scope implies a reorganization of food processing and distribution that, while not included in this first iteration, will need to be integrated in a later, expanded overview.
Some of the most durable and productive low external input farming systems in history are designed around animals that can accelerate the growth and conversion of plants to fertilizer. Because they are highly multifunctional, ruminant mammals rank highest among these. Beyond their manure production function, they can consume fibrous perennials unusable for human food. These perennials can grow on hill land too rocky or too erodable for many types of food cropping. Used as work animals, ruminants multiply the energy input from human labor many times.
How relocalized does a food economy need to be in the energy descent era? Throughout history, food security everywhere has been heavily dependent on a reliable supply of staple foods, especially starch staples like root crops, pulses (beans, peas, etc.) and grains. Our region once was self-sufficient in staples but gradually imported most of them. To regain food security, we must establish a measure of food sovereignty as local policy, especially in staple foods.
The high institutional and population density of urban areas promotes labor-intensive production methods, community regeneration through cooperative management, and transport efficiency for agricultural inputs and products. The ability to have more farmers/acre permits the kind of management-intensive system that maximizes productivity achieved by close monitoring and good timing throughout the growing season. It allows a division of labor to manage diversified production integrated into one system.
Ideally this process would be part of a general physical redesign of both the urban and hinterland communities according to the model that emerged in Europe, where centuries of higher population densities have dictated more careful land use planning. Even today, European towns large and small are characteristically dense clusters of buildings that end abruptly in agrarian vistas.
Urban and peri-urban gardens can provide quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits, but only rural farms have the space to grow enough of the starchy staples like potatoes, grains, beans, and rice that have historically supported urban population densities. Moreover, only rural farms can supply enough of the materials like oils, fibers, and wood that are basic necessities in our cold climate. Agrarian villages, not the urban center, will again become the heart of a relocalized county food system in the coming years.
While we visited the allotment, we all pitched in with a hoe or a trowel to remove some of the weeds, but we also took a little tour around the two-acre allotment site, sandwiched between a railway line and a sports field. I have always liked allotments; some people might see them as messy and untidy, with old pallets, wonky and fading sheds, plastic cups and food containers, wooden boxes, old CDs and other junk pressed into service to hold up netting, to shelter plants, collect water or scare the birds. But I like the variety and the fruitfulness, the ingenuity and attention, the money saving and the commitment, and I love the atmosphere of quiet and companionship as every allotment holder shapes their plot in the way they think fit.
When my husband, Steve, showed the request for a pen pal to my daughter, Addie, five years ago, I could never have envisioned the experience that has just taken place. There in the SFJ “letters” section was a request from Owain Price of Wales for a pen pal. He was an 8-year-old, home schooled, farm boy, looking for someone to write to. Addie was experiencing a similar lifestyle across the Atlantic. Both sets of parents looked at it from an academic viewpoint, thinking what a great opportunity to practice writing.
Let us remember: We all come from a great lineage of farmers, seed stewards and plant breeders. From ten thousand years to a century ago, to be a farmer was synonymous with being a seed saver, synonymous in turn with being a plant breeder. Keen observation, thoughtful selection and an appreciation for diversity across the millennia have surrounded us with all the agricultural crops we now know, love and depend on. Countless generations and entire cultures were plant breeders before DNA was even described. Indeed, modernity has thoroughly rogued human interest from our food system.
There are links between insects and a healthy environment that are so vital to life as we know it, it should be taught in kindergarten so everyone learns the facts at an early age. In that light, you can thank an insect pollinator for one out of every three mouthfuls of food that you eat. That’s what makes spraying chemicals to kill insects in an apple orchard so deadly. Without insects to pollinate fruit crops you don’t get healthy fruit to eat.
D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.
As a young boy, Wes Jackson could be found hoeing rows of vegetables — as a teen-ager he rode the untamed prairies of South Dakota, and in school he played football. Sounds like a typical Kansas farm boy — but Jackson is anything but typical. Tanned from the Kansas sun, Jackson’s broad-shouldered husky frame stands tall, and sports a smile the size of his 370 acres. From appearance one might assume that his comfort level may well be mending a fence, harvesting wheat or breaking a horse — but appearances are often deceiving. Wes Jackson is a scientist — a McArthur ‘genius award’ recipient, and alternative Nobel Prize winner.
Less than a year ago, while my husband and I were picking lettuce, a hot dry wind brought a cloud of smoke over my farm here in the Capay Valley. The wind didn’t die down, and neither did the smoke. For weeks afterward, we harvested produce while covered in the ashes of California’s most deadly wildfire. We cried for the dead, gave thanks for our own survival, and adjusted to a new California reality: Fire will always be knocking at our door.
I help to teach a class for aspiring farmers in the Sierra foothills. Invariably, we begin talking about when a new producer should purchase his or her first tractor. This seems to be a “guy” thing – the male of our species can’t conceive of a commercial farming enterprise without a tractor! For most start-up crop farms, however, a tractor shouldn’t be the first capital expenditure. Things like deer fencing, irrigation systems and hand tools are far more critical to a small-scale vegetable grower – buying a tractor to cultivate an acre of crops just doesn’t make economic sense.
I grew up in a German village of some six hundred inhabitants. Several farms and smallholdings had been our family farm in the first part of this century. Besides a large dairy herd, pigs, poultry, and sheep, it also had several teams of horses and one or two teams of oxen. It was often an impressive sight, on the way to or from school, to see these teams going out to work in the morning and returning back at noon. Such experiences meant a great deal to us as children. My experiences also included observing some eighty to one hundred children suffering from developmental disability who lived right next to us, in a home that was one of the first places for Curative Education and Social Therapy based on the insights provided by Rudolf Steiner. This home was under the guidance of some of the founders of the Curative Educational movement, including Dr. Karl Koenig, the founder of what is now the worldwide Camphill Movement.
A couple of years back I spent a couple of days logging with Donnie Middaugh. Since the log job was closer to my house than his, we used my horses to skid the job. Roy and Libby was the team. This team had skidded more timber than most Timberjack 230’s will ever hook onto, but at this point in their lives, they hadn’t skidded logs in a couple of years. I was pulling the team at horse pulls and kept them hard with occasional farm work, but mostly pulling an exercise sled to keep in shape for the pulls.
After finishing one field, it was our custom to loosen the wires between two fields and staple them securely to the bottom of the posts, driving over the wire into the adjoining field. In my haste, I was careless in properly fastening the wires on the bottom of the posts and one of the horses struck the wires causing them to fly up and before I was finished, the pole of the rake, which had cost in the neighborhood of $2.50, had been broken squarely in two. I think I would just as soon have reported to the sheriff that I had robbed a local bank as to be faced with the responsibility of reporting this difficulty to my Uncle. His only remarks were: “Kid, it isn’t what you make that counts, it’s what you save.”
Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.
We realize that there are also other important factors such as Total Digestible Nutrition and Relative Feed Value to consider, but the most influential for us has been crude protein. We have found that over the years, if we can, as cheaply as possible, bump the protein level of the grain portion of our ration to 16% for the lambs and 12-14% for the ewes, the ewes winter quite well on whatever hay we have managed to grow. The lambs also manage to gain weight and go to market. We are also very careful to feed them free choice cobalt iodized loose salt and a mineral that has been formulated for our region if we find that our hay is of poorer quality.
November 31st: Beautiful out. Horses are going now. Just for the record, I pulled some logs in for firewood yesterday and that calmed them down a bit. Today, early, I built a stone boat and they pulled it, no problem. So we went up to the shamrock meadow and got an 800 pound bale of hay, which we pulled onto the stone boat with the horses, then came home. Real fun, feeding with the horses. So now we’re in gear to do it. Just about! Not feeding with the sleigh yet.
In the eastern part of the country rolling hills and wide valleys form the landscape. In this area the farms are a lot bigger than the average Norwegian farm of 25 acres. Grains and potatoes are mainly grown in this region. In the west mountains, lakes and fjords dominate the landscape. The farms are small and often situated on steep hills. Milk production is dominant in this area, with milking goats where the land is too steep for cows to graze. Until the end of the 50s the majority of the farms were powered with horses. Fifteen years later tractors had almost completely replaced the workhorse. Today most of the workhorses can be found on smaller farms and in the mountains.
In Thailand, the role of the elephant as a work animal has diminished in recent years. In 1976 there were about 12,000 working elephants in Thailand. Current estimates put the number at about 5,000. In an increasingly modern world the number of Thai elephants continue to decrease, both in captivity and in the wild. However, they are far from being a sentimental fixture of the past. Elephants are still used extensively, particularly in more remote areas of the country. Whether performing in touristy elephant shows or working in tribal villages, the elephant is still being worked throughout Asia.
I have a thought for another circle letter discussion. I would like to hear what folks feel it takes to work successfully with horses. How folks deal with their horses in all their moods and in all the different situations presented to them. When I started driving I found the hardest thing for me was working with my horses when things were just not quite right. Many of my attempts seemed to make things worse, though we would always seem to get through the day. I found my ideas on what it takes to drive horses successfully to be changing almost daily as I feel I am slowly stumbling onto an approach that works.
On the delivery route, I always carry a pocket full of dog biscuits. It didn’t take long for all the dogs on the route to look forward to my deliveries. They obediently sit and wait for their treats. One hound, Sam, follows our truck to three houses side by side, pretending he’s three different dogs just to get multiple treats.