The 13th Annual U.S. Draft Horse and Mule Plowing Contest was hosted again this year by Mike and Joyce Downs on their farm located in Olympia, KY. This is the 2nd year for the competition to be held on this majestic piece of land located in Bath County, KY, where teamsters did not have to do the dead furry mambo in the back part of the field. This year’s competition was held in late October 2017, hosting 21 teamsters from six different states.
Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Life and Legend of Folk Artist Paul Seifert, by Joe Kapler, is a superb 2018 art book from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The extensive spread of the fascinating and beautiful Seifert paintings would be reason enough for a lover of art to search out this volume. Add in the wonderfully researched and written story of this illusive gentleman and his life’s work and you’ve a double treasure.
Gary, hoping that that was the lot, revved up the big yellow machine in eager anticipation but once again I called a halt and disappeared in the direction of the house. When I reappeared at the graveside holding a dead cat by the tail Gary shut the machine down completely, remained totally silent for what seemed like a long time, and then leaned out of the cab and with a look of mock concern on his face said in his dry manner, “Where did you say the wife and kids are?”
The key to most of Ben Green’s stories is meeting a stranger on the way to or from somewhere new and strange. Is this a friend, an adversary, a rival in an elaborate charade? A farmer down on his luck, or a fellow trader addicted to the thrills and rewards of sharp practice? Green has the knack of traveling incognito, of gaining valuable information by sharing meals and swapping favors.
And we danced. How we danced! Light on our seventy and eighty year old feet, we leapt lightly over the heads of the multitude of those green capped tiny folk. Violins, small but vibrant, played under the Clapps’ Favorite and Sweet 16’s. The Jonathan, William’s Pride, and Jennifer sounded a high pitched chorus on the western breeze. The trees themselves seemed to shake and shimmy under the stars swaying in the gentle starlit southwest wind.
Having animals to tend again, chores to do, is a kind of rebirth for me; a second childhood, a return to yesteryear. Like a new blade of grass, or a fresh sprout poking up through the brown, winter-soaked leaves at the edge of a field, I am coming alive once more, feeling a sense of déjà vu, a usefulness and sense of value and accomplishment that was sorely lacking during all those years working at the prison. Living things are depending on me again for sustenance, understanding and compassion, patience, maintenance and punctuality.
I run my small farm with draught horses. Four of them. Bella, Albert, George and Joey. They are the motive power on our land. We do not own or use any tractors. I came to this way of being from the tattered detritus of a former life. It had always been a dream with me, for as long as I could remember, to return to a horse drawn past. It was a life I felt would be more fulfilling than the barren and boring existence that so much of modernity offered.
I write the first draft of this story with a special pencil — white with green lettering and a green 4-leaf clover. Each leaf is imprinted with a white H. Below the clover is this motto: “To Make The Best Better.” Further lettering states: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking – my Heart to greater loyalty – my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
There were two irrigated fields, adjacent to one another, and totally 25 to 30 acres. With only a couple of minor mechanical adjustments we mowed pretty much uninterrupted (except for water breaks and photo ops) and finished the job in under 3 hours. (For those of you who are interested in the applied math: These outfits can cover 9 to 10 acres each in one day. Using 9 as an average that means these 5 mowers can drop 135 acres of hay in three days.) Mike told me that when the hay was ready Nick would spend a six hour day with forecart and rake just ahead of the baler.
It is my opinion that mowing hay, on the horse drawn farm, is one of the more pleasant jobs to be done there! You wait for a period of fair weather and when it comes there is often bright blue sky, high moving clouds and a small breeze stirring the tall grasses as you enter the field! The mowing, when using ground driven equipment, is a relatively quiet affair. There is the subdued noise of harness and chain, the deep breathing of the animals at work, the snick snick of the cutter bar in the hay, the murmur of gears and cogs meshing in the gearbox and the flow of the cut hay across the cutter bar as the mower advances. For me there is the pleasure of watching the play of muscles across a broad rump and the rise and fall of hocks and hooves on a strong pulling horse! I like the feel of the leather in my hands and the ebb and flow of contact with the horse’s mouth as we move across the field.
Dr. Mark and their mother Becky had recently bought a home in Spokane that was situated on five acres and had a barn. The previous owner had to move away, but couldn’t take his horse. It would be theirs if they wanted it. Laura’s daddy hadn’t told her about the horse until he had talked it over with Becky and they had decided they would keep it. Now the secret was out. Dr. Mark would learn to ride and care for the horse and would teach the children as he learned. It would be fun and recreation for the whole family.
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.
The Raquette Lake Railway was in its first year of operation, making it possible to travel by rail from New York City to Raquette Lake. The force behind this new rail service was Mrs. Collis Huntington, who announced to her wealthy husband that she would no longer endure the buckboard rides necessary to get to their camp, Pine Knot, on Raquette Lake. Like any new enterprise, railroads had start-up bugs. So, it was no surprise when the telegrapher from Raquette Lake sent this message to his counterpart at Clearwater: “WHERE NUMBER SEVEN? ONE HOUR OVERDUE HERE.” The resulting dialogue follows.
Living in the country in the 40’s and 50’s was a joy and delight for me and my friends. Most kids our age who live out in the country or in town weren’t aware of hard times or of the sacrifices our parents made so that our lives were comfortable. I can’t really say we were poor as we ate well and between Mother and Grandma sewing all our clothes, we were always cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Horses that are used to being in a herd have a few things in common: they do not like being separated, they are jealous when one leaves, and they almost always are at the gate to welcome the leaver home. Knowing this, I should have seen the red flags flying all over that steep, rocky hill. Instead, I merrily plunked my saddle in the back of my car, turned the mare out, locked the gate, and headed down the hill. It was then that I saw what was to turn this day completely upside down: two horses were jauntily trotting down the old railroad bed, straight for busy Highway 8 and Main Street, Troy.
I live in Wendland, a small area between Hamburg and Berlin, and I work with horses. I’m a full time horse logger and I cooperate with a CSA garden. My mares, Polka and Mairun, work there all the year and I work in the forest with my stallion, Peer, and my gelding, Konrad. Here in Germany horse-logging is not very common, there are only 20 full-time horse loggers in the whole country. On the other hand, it seems that in agriculture horses are getting more and more popular, mainly in CSA projects.
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 I was 10 my parents acquired a small acreage in a canyon up a creek near Salmon, Idaho, and 2 years later started buying the neighboring ranch. This was a dream come true, because now our family had cattle and horses. During my teen years I worked on the ranch – irrigating our hayfields with water ditched from the creek, building fence, riding range to look after the cattle – to earn some cows of my own. The annual calf crop from my small herd helped pay my way through college.
I was seven years old, but I knew times were hard in 1937. Momma told me not to expect a visit from Santa that year. Like us, he didn’t have any money either. But we would be going to Great Grandma’s house Christmas dinner. On that cold grey December day, my tall thin Great Grandma held the door open wide, waiting, while we piled out of our Model-A Ford after a long ride from town. She kissed us a cheery hello, smelling as usual of dipped snuff. I remember how she leaned down to hug me in her long dark skirt and long-sleeved shirtwaist with her high black leather buttoned shoes peaking out from underneath.
Strange things happen when new equipment arrives on a farm. Feuding neighbors call a truce to hostilities. Bedridden old men suddenly find the strength to put on pants and comb their hair. Even cows gather along the fence to watch the arrival of a new piece of scenery. By new, I should specify “new to the farm.” In fact, rusty pieces of farm equipment draw the biggest crowds. Sometimes the crowds grow unruly as onlookers jockey for position to ogle the equipment, declare make and model, enumerate defects, and place odds on the piece ever running again. Illegal betting may occur, which is why a police escort of the equipment onto the premises is advisable. If a spontaneous parade forms behind the escort, no prouder moment occurs in a farmer’s life.
A seed is a fitting symbol for an organization inspired by a fallen trailblazer of the local, organic food movement. The People’s Seed was founded by the late Tony Kleese who, despite the onset of a terminal disease, committed to his own period of reflection in order to understand the challenges of the organic seed industry.
A portrait of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven, a unique farm and restaurant on Orcas Island where the farmers are the chefs, A Reverence for Excellence strives to be an honest portrayal of the patience, toil, conviction and faith required of an agrarian livelihood.
Situated a few blocks from the French Quarter, the Mid-City Carriage Company stables 28 mules and 12 head of horses along with a wide variety of carriages, the staple of which is the Vis-a-vis. They hold seven hack permits for the Quarter which is the cornerstone of the service. Along with this they do weddings, funerals, and special events. There are twenty drivers and ten support people including office help, checkers, a full-time farrier and a wheelwright. This is a busy and successful enterprise which was built slowly and deliberately.
My fingers are purple tonight. We just came back from picking blackberries at the base of the Blue Mountains. It was a great Sunday afternoon and I enjoyed spending it with my family. We have four children between the ages of 5 and 11 who have gotten much better at helping us fill the containers! We do this every August, just before the local county fair. “Our place” is on private property that my uncle rents for summer pasture. I have spent many days in that pasture, chasing cows down the long ridges and out of the brush in the bottoms during fall round up on my saddle horse, Peaches. Mostly I enjoyed these times, but I haven’t gone the past year or so. We all get so busy with our own plans and life fills in the gaps…
Señora Berta is a small farmer in the “ejido” or village of La Tapia near Santa Isabel. Berta and her husband Isaias cultivate about 15 acres of land with horses and run about 15 head of cattle on communal pastures. She also raises turkeys, chickens, pigs and a garden. “Don’t you just love animals?” she said to my wife. She seems to me to be an individual who is strong and hopeful, but discouraged.
We shared this video a while back, and now it has been released on Netflix. Check it out! — “A Small Good Thing” explores how the American Dream has reached its end and how for most of us, greater material wealth and upward mobility are no longer possible. To find out what is taking its place, this feature documentary follows six people in one community who have recast their lives so they can live with a sense of meaning.
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.
It should be noted that, much to Bunyan’s amusement, Poka had a vocabulary that would make a sailor cringe, a highly peculiar asset in a day and age when women rarely swore. To Bunyan’s way of thinking, to hear her let loose was well worth the sacrifice of a few stalks of rhubarb, so every spring Queenie and King “accidentally” trampled Poka’s rhubarb patch. Beholding the ruins from her kitchen window, Poka would come tearing out of her house, her apron flapping in the wind. Wrinkled jowls jiggling with intensity, black eyes flashing with vehemence, she would lob a volley of cuss words toward Bunyan and his white horses.
Westmoreland County, in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the late 50’s and early 60’s was largely an industrial area. But backed up in the hills and valleys and eastward towards the Appalachian Mountains were some of the prettiest little farms to be found anywhere. Two hundred year-old farmsteads were testimony to the hard work and persistence of those who had been before. The tractor had largely replaced the draft horse throughout much of North America by that time. But tucked back into those hollows and on those steep hillsides could be found a surprising number of “big horses.”
The old cat died two days before Christmas. The man reckoned that she was at least 20 years old, which is a lot of days to pad coyly along the hay stack while watching him flake alfalfa into the feed rack in the morning; to rub the rough cuffs of his Levi’s when he returned a few hours later to rake in the leavings that the calves had nudged out of reach. It was a lot of days to stretch out on a hay bale, paws curled under and tail twitching, and watch as the man fed the calves a second time in the growing shadows of late afternoon. A lot of days to stride next to him in the dark, tangling between his feet, as he raked the hay in again, a flashlight strapped to his head, light piercing the night’s obscurity.
I soon found out that Whitey knew more about dragging pulpwood than I did. So, I quit driving him in the woods. I would drive him on the first drag and from then on I could turn him loose and he would take every drag to the first one. I would be cutting and limbing while he was on the way to the landing with his drag. If he got hung up on the way, he didn’t panic. I’ve watched him get hung on a stump. As soon as he realized he was hung, he’d swing right, if that didn’t work he’d try left. All this without being guided and me not even close. Working with an animal that smart it doesn’t take long to drag out a truckload of wood.
Parents. The very word is enough to evoke memories that can strike terror, nostalgia, tears and smiles. Being a plural noun, it is assumed that more than one person is responsible for these memories. Yes, it takes two people to be parents, and in my case, no two finer people are to be had. Oh, we had the regular spats and disagreements, but in these two people I have found the definition of devotion, the meaning of work, the absolute and complete knowledge that life is about responsibility and commitment. In short, from my parents I found out why farming is a way of life, not just another job.
Norway is a beautiful, rugged country, which has produced several breeds of hardy, versatile horses. Until the Second World War, horses were a primary source of power on the characteristically small, remote farms, and in the immense forests. The steep land and long cold winters created strong selective pressure and contributed to the development of tough, intelligent horses that generally thrive with minimal care.
Funny, I had just read Lynn Miller’s description of dealing with runaways in the Training Workhorses text and had discussed it with Jim in passing. That knowledge was nowhere to be found as we accelerated to a gallop. I had tension on one line as Nelson’s bridle fell around his neck. The faster the wagon went, the faster the horses galloped to get out of the way. Was this really happening? How could confidence and a nice easy sunny morning turn so suddenly into a completely uncontrolled, raging race down the hill and what was sure to be a humongous crash and ensuing mess.
Sure, the hands thought they knew all about broke horses, and green-broke horses, and those that had never felt a rope or bit. Being broke was mostly a deal the horse made with you, some easier than others. If you quit riding them, they got harder to ride till eventually you were back where you started, having to catch and subdue an animal who was far from curious, intent on just running away. Nobody could blame them, and there were only a few tricks — what else but patience to calm their fears, touches and treats to reward their curiosity, and for their ears a nonsense lullaby.
Irricanna (Alberta) Pioneer Historical Park preserves a period in history of the early prairie settlers of Western Canada. From tours of the big two story farm home to antique cars, trucks, farm machinery to the working carpenter shop, boiler room, and blacksmith shop there is lots to see. In 1999 this park celebrated its thirtieth anniversary by driving a thirty horse hitch, three consecutive days in August. There were twelve Belgians and eighteen Percherons driven by three drivers pulling five grain tanks.
There are many working definitions of art, and doubtless there will be new ones in the future. The definition that encourages me to see the clear relationship between farming and, say painting, is the one which places looking and manifesting what is seen, felt and encouraged into imagery. Photo realism as a genre has a rich tradition stretching back to Hans Holbein the Younger and Johannes Vermeer, a tradition which has challenged individual artists to discover and instill the tricky visual elements which embue the images with a living vitality. Alexandra Klimas has discovered her access to the living image.
In 1976, after reading the memoirs of a much-lauded veterinarian/author from Yorkshire England, I got it into my head that I would make a good DVM myself. It was a rather bold aspiration inasmuch as I was a thirty-three year old high school dropout with few credentials and no visible means of support. It was a shot in dark: I hadn’t been in a classroom for fifteen years, but I made my way back to Guelph, Ontario, where the only veterinarian school in Canada was located.
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.
On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.
And then there were the quilting bees. As long as old-time quilts are used to grace and beautify beds, just so long will the memory of these bees remain. It was a slow task to transform countless bits of calico into a quilt of varied patterns, a thing of beauty and taste, but it was a loved one, for therein lay almost the sole outlet for the artistic genius of the countryside. Many are the treasures of this art still in existence, and art it surely was.
As a great way to finish off the century, Clyde Keyes had the idea to compete horses and oxen against each other, the same day at the same fair, in the same drawing ring. Clyde is well known throughout New England and beyond as an organizer and announcer of such events. He also had his own team of horses 42 years ago. He’s now planning retirement and thought this competition would be a unique way to highlight his career. The teams of heavyweight horses were already scheduled to attend so Clyde arranged for six teams of powerful oxen to be on hand.
Dad was always a firm believer that the best way to train an animal was real work. As a kid, I always liked to take them out and take them for a walk down the road, and if dad would let me get away with that, that’s what I did. I still tend to do that, but he’s absolutely right: the best thing for training is real work and probably the best real work for them, that I can find, is picking rocks. We’ve got plenty of them around here. You know, you take a stone boat out. We generally kept a horn tie on them if nothing else but an insurance policy, but dad whipped on us very hard to manage the rope correctly.
The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”
As I walk to the pasture, I pass Arnost, one of my guardian dogs, dozing in the morning sun. He moans a bit in his sleep, a sound that always makes me smile. Behind him, the does graze while their kids mostly sleep. They all look fine. But I still don’t see the kid I’m looking for, so I walk through the pasture gate and check one pile of napping baby goats after another. Behind me, a savage growl interrupts the quiet morning. The hairs on my arms stand up. I swing around. Arnost is fully awake and looking skyward. In one graceful movement he leaps up and runs hellbent past me into the field. His growl grows into a warning howl as he follows something in the sky. I shade my eyes so I can see what has made Arnost so upset. Eagles circle above us. “NO!” I yell.
The rising sun had not yet drunk the dew from the grass in the dooryard of the line cabin when the man mounted the forward hub of the prairie-schooner and bent a final glance into the dusky interior to make sure that nothing had been forgotten. He inventories the contents with his eye: a mattress for his wife, baby boy, and little Nellie to sleep on: blankets and comforters – somewhat faded and ragged – for himself and Roy to make a bunk of, on the ground; a box of extra clothing, cooking utensils, a lantern, rope, shotgun, family Bible – badly tattered – and a hen-coop, containing seven pullets, lashed to the end-gate. A wooden bucket hung from the rear axle-tree, to which was also chained a black and white setter. The only superfluous article seemed to be a little mahogany bureau, battered and warped, but still retaining an air of distinction which set it apart from the other tawdry furnishings, and marked it as a family treasure.
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.
I’ve never been much of a traveller and in recent years I’ve been doing even less. Covid in one way has been a blessing – an excuse for me to go nowhere at all. So whatever came over me last weekend I decided to go (where in my terms is the far ends of the earth) to Ballinasloe.
The next morning we thought about taking her out to the barn to live with the milk cows’ calves, but the weather was still very cold. We were soft-hearted and decided to leave her in the house a little longer. Baby Michael was glad; he was fascinated by the calf and delightedly petted her like a big dog. As the day progressed, however, Bandit Eyes became livelier, bucking around and crashing into everything. Anyone going into the bathroom for any reason was immediately attacked by a bunting, slobbering calf.
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…
Our hillside cellar was dug in the late 1880’s and is still in good shape today. An entry-way with double doors creates some dead air space between the cellar and the outside environment, making excellent insulation. It’s a big cellar, and several of our neighbors have used it for storing apples, potatoes, onions, etc. But one year some adventuresome wild bees decided to make their nest between the double doors, creating a major obstacle for anyone trying to go in or out.
In the corner of my living room is what some would call folk art. Of course, one man’s art is another’s trash. I’m not big on metaphors, so it’s neither trash nor treasure to me. It simply reminds me of all the years I made my living logging with horses. Evidently some long ago horse logger was having a bad day and broke a drive grab. Breakdowns happen. You fix them; you keep on keepin’ on.
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.”
We lived close enough to the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana for my Dad to use them to predict the weather. They also provided a huge expanse for a fertile imagination to grow wild and free. Every coulee in our area of the prairies was a mystery for me to enjoy. Every living creature scraping a living through the dust, the mud, the blizzards and the blue skied “I can see for miles” warm spring days instilled my respect. I loved the prairies and still do. The few miles from our place in Canada across the border to the States held for me lands filled with outlaws, buffalo and ancient peoples all filling my childhood imagination with the magic that only wide open spaces can.
Mother was, and is, an utterly divine cook. Just as there are artists who paint, sing, so there are also artists who cook. There are Carusos, Pavlovas, and Michelangelos. There is also Mother over the cookstove. And like any artist she needed a public. She had it in the boarders. The curtain went up three times a day, and she took her applause in the chorus of appreciation and also in the visible poundage that went on the eaters.
In the span of his seventy years, Bob Anderson has pretty much done it all, and I daresay done it all pretty well. Over the years he has trained innumerable horses, during the past decade he has started judging draft horse shows, and he remains a showman himself. Overall, Bob has the credentials of a teamster, trainer, judge, and it certainly seems, a gentleman. Here in central NYS, if you hear someone who has a problem with horses, the advice that is usually meted out is, “Go talk to Bob Anderson.” I’d like to share the opportunities I had to talk with Bob at various times one summer.
Farms and families who have worked them for generations are the essence of Armstrong County. Most of our farmers turn to modern technology to lighten the workload a bit, but some, such as Bob Schall, choose to farm using the methods of their ancestors. Schall lives and works on the 70-acre farm in Plumcreek Township that his father, Roy, purchased in 1959. And even though he still has the tractor his father bought, also in the 50’s, Schall prefers to work the fields of his farm with his Belgian draft horses.
On Saturday, March 30, 2013 in Orange, Virginia, members of the Virginia Draft Horse and Mule Association (VDHMA), Old Dominion Draft Horse and Mule Association and Virginia Percheron Association trailered in to support Bob Brennan’s annual Farm Day. Other teamsters traveled from various parts of Virginia as well as North Carolina, West Virginia, Massachusetts and New York to demonstrate their skills in tilling a large field supplied by one of Bob’s neighbors for this public event.
A little sign of life from France. Everything is going rather well at the tiniest of farms. Besides the veggies I have been plowing in the vineyards of the Bordeaux area to add some extra income. The drafthorses are back over there, so they need horsemen.
The tale started in 1980. For some time, I had had two good horses, but needed a third to make a three horse hitch. I never seemed to have any luck finding that third one without health or behavior problems. So it was that I decided to raise and train some young horses from the ground up. Opportunity presented itself when I found Bonnie, a 7-month Belgian weanling, and learned that her mother was carrying another foal. We brought Bonnie home in January 1980, and since I needed to borrow the mother to work, she came in mid-June 1980 with Mayday, Bonnie’s half sister, born, as the name suggests, on May 1. With these young ones, I could try my hand at training from an early age, and had some assurance that as half sisters they would match up pretty well.
The dark stillness of the night rushes out to greet me as I step outside. It is midnight as I make my way to the goat barn for yet another routine check of the pregnant does. I peek my head inside, flashlight in hand. I notice a doe off by herself and the slight rustle of straw as she paces. As I walk to her, I see the visible signs of birth on the way. I stroke her gently and murmur to her quietly. My breath quickens as the reality of it catches up to me. I bustle her into the pen already set up for kidding. Once she is settled, I turn from her and quickly grab my kidding bag from the garage; this bag is my lifesaver. Birth is never clean. Then the waiting begins. I go to and from the house, leaving her for a while, only to come check on her a few moments later. My heart beats fast, but I am outwardly collected. I mostly just sit with her, and occasionally talk to her reassuringly. This helps to calm us both down.
My aging stock dog and I were bickering like an old married couple. It was raining lightly on a cold and blustery day. I hurried across the yard looking for a staple gun in a tool shed. Out of habit, I called my Border Collie/ Aussie cross dog to follow me. Halfway across the yard, I realized she wasn’t tagging along. Turning, I gestured for her to come with me. She’s trained in voice commands as well as hand signals. However, her body language indicated she wasn’t sure I “really” wanted her.
Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.
It was early spring when an old friend of my Grandpa came by to visit on his day off and brought Grandpa a beautiful white Leghorn rooster as a gift. He was magnificent with his white feathers, bring red large comb and wattle and when Grandpa placed him in the chicken pen, he stretched his wings and began to prance around the yard obviously attempting to impress the hens. He made a strange calling sound as he paraded around and stuck his beak in and out. Grandpa swore the sound he made was, “buck, buck, buck,” and Grandpa declared that his name from now on was Bucky, because he seemed so proud of his sharp yellow beak. So, Bucky, it was.
One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.
Amy Andrews and Ethan Van Kooten had no money. How could they build a house? The Central College students, both environmental studies majors, wanted to build a small, sustainable home for their senior project. They proposed a $3,350 budget — but when no grant money was available, they became scavengers to complete the project as cheaply as possible. With truckloads of reclaimed materials and 10 weeks to build, the students created a house for $489. “Everything we used was on its way to the landfill,” Andrews said.
Saturday morning at the breakfast table my husband, Keith, announced to our three children eating cereal, “today we are going to butcher the chickens!” Their spoons froze in the air; they stared at him with mouths opened. He quickly added in a much softer tone. “I mean dress out the chickens.”
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:
The long winter finally ended and our hill became green again. This time the old man had got a head start on his farming. Although he and the hands had hauled many loads of rocks and had built dams about thirty feet apart all the way up the slope, he had found time to do other things. In the fall he had cleaned out all the stables and scattered the manure over the garden spot and the land he intended to put in corn.
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.
“Thank you for taking the time to visit our farm.” This is one of the responses that I give to the many visitors as they prepare to leave Carriage Hill Farm, an historical farm which is part of a much larger system of 24 parks within the Five Rivers Metroparks system. The main emphasis of our farm is education and interpretation of an 1880’s family farm with all the equipment and animals from the 1880’s time period.
Mac was a friend and example to every member of his large family and to many hundreds of people with whom he shared life’s adventures and hardships. And he was a living legend and folk hero in his time. Across the mountain west he loved, he was the homespun humble circuit riding ‘preacher’ of choice to devout Christians as well as those without church membership, those who just naturally sought comfort and understanding. He was also that quiet sort of horseman, without splash, who some might think got lucky to have had so many willing, comfortable, calm, grateful equine working partners. It wasn’t luck, he made them that way so artfully that you were hard-pressed to see how he did it. Often the only evidence of intent was a twinkle in his eye.
Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.
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.
Whether picking flowers from a tulip tree in Kentucky or swimming in a muddy Texas pond, children can always find something to do in the country. It is January. This time of year with fair weather and sunny days in Texas (no snow in the south!), my brother disked the garden area for planting. Yesterday the younger children set out half a crate of onions, which grow well here. Joshua and Bethanie laid out the rows and Josiah pitchforked manure into the galvanized tub in the small wagon. The little ones helped. Hillarie and Gideon planting while Samuel filled the tub with water and poured manure-tea on the newly set onions. I helped Samuel to speed the job along. He did a very good job even if he is a little fellow.
Chuckwagons have become quite rare, although they can occasionally be found on large ranches, but most often in a parade or museum, such as the one owned by Vern Krinke of Auburn, Washington. Krinke, a ruggedly handsome man in his 70s, is a chuckwagon cook of extraordinary talent who prepares sumptuous dinners from his 80-130 year old Studebaker chuckwagon that he restored after finding it in a junk pile on a ranch southeast of Saratoga, Wyoming.
The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.
Our white garage faced south and here were stakes of tomatoes. The stalks were tied with twine. We stopped. My dad reached in to the front pocket of his khaki pants and pulled out a saltshaker he had grabbed on our way out of the kitchen. He picked a tomato, salted and bit into it, testing its taste and juiciness before passing it to me for a pre-breakfast treat. Each of us leaned forward, the juice spilling harmlessly on the grass.
The world had changed so much in the name of progress but how much better was it now? “Get big or get out” summarized how farming had changed during his life. People hardly went outside anymore and became fat sitting in their homes avoiding the weather. Children stayed inside, constantly watching TV or playing video games. When he went to the store, strangers would hurry by without even looking at him or each other. And families were disconnected and broken. Young adults couldn’t wait to leave their parents and their parents couldn’t wait for them to go. Instead of walking to neighbors houses to visit, like Sam had, people only connected online.
First off these days I usually refer to myself as “that Bozo with the lines.” I like to tell people that up till now everything that I have done with horses was wrong. It is time to do it differently. I hope that my horses can forgive my explosions and dubious communications. I have had horses for 8 years now. There was a time a few years back where I actually thought that I knew what I was doing.
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 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.
The first balers were so large and clumsy, no one ever thought you could pull them with horses. So the church never put a ban on balers. Then the small pick-up balers came in and the farmers pulled them with their horses. The Amish have adopted just about everything that will pull with horses. It’s hard to say why one settlement made certain restrictions and others didn’t, why some have worked and others haven’t. I guess you’d just have to say it’s the will of the people.
Sugar season started a fortnight ago. The sap is flowing slowly, but steadily. Bright sunshine in the afternoons compliments nights well below freezing. With a few feet of snow still on the ground, it would seem that we are in for a long season. I have 112 taps in, with buckets hanging beneath each one. Our sugaring system makes use of strong arms instead of lines of tubing. Sap is stored in drums and buckets next to our simple sugar shack; inside the rickety door liquid gold is boiled down thanks to a rusty evaporator and four pans set atop the flames. Not the most efficient, but certainly effective.
The art and science of plowing soil is a culture mostly lost in today’s society, where a great number of people are disconnected from the land and from how their food is grown. The number of rural folk actually growing crops in this country is at an all time low, and even among them the theoretical knowledge and physical finesse required of plowing in its various forms has been largely replaced by the faster speeds of higher horse power tractors and more plow bottoms. On a weekend in April, 2012, twenty people gathered in Abington, CT for the Draft Animal Power Network’s Spring Plowing Clinic with Sam Rich. They came together to learn the finer points of using draft animal-power to turn land in order to form a seedbed.
Spring 2000 found David Baker harrowing a five acre field in Ovingdean, England with three Percherons and one Suffolk Punch. The church in the background was built in 1086 AD. and the flint wall was constructed by French prisoners of war after the fall of Napoleon.
Whilst on a trip to Germany at the end of August I took the opportunity once again to visit Pferdestark, the biggest gathering of work horses in Europe, which takes place every other year in the north German town of Detmold. Pferdestark is a honey pot for people from across Europe interested in the practical application of live horse power, as well as those who just like to see the big horses, so by the time I arrived half an hour before the start, visitors from far and wide were already flooding onto the site around the old post windmill overlooking the open air museum and the town.
In that valley with the ocean beaches to the west and the crest of the Olympic Mountains to the North is nestled Crestview Farm, home of the legendary Doctor Donald Mustard, D.V.M. Doc is well known in the area as the big horse veterinarian, and his reputation is excellent and well deserved. An “old-fashioned” vet, he answers his own phone and is generous and sensible with his advice. He has saved countless pets and livestock from prolonged illness, and saved their owners countless dollars with good over-the-phone advice and do-it-yourself animal care wisdom.
Cara O’Conner heads up the Michigan State University Draft Horse Program. She has been doing this for several years, picking up where Russ Erickson left off. Mentioning Russ, he was the right guy at the right time. He was ready to retire from 30 years of teaching in the Dairy program at MSU, but he could remember how to harness a draft horse from his days of growing up on the family farm. Instead of retiring, Russ moved to the MSU Draft Horse Program when MSU accepted a team of Belgians back in 1999. These Belgians were the first drafts on campus since 1963, when everyone knew that they were no longer needed in our society. What wisdom!
Saturday night I had just come in from playing basketball, and I was sitting on the porch eating watermelon. I was covered in sweat and watermelon juice and was planning on taking a shower as soon as I finished. Joy came out on the porch to tell me that I had a phone call. I said hello and heard, “Hello, Dr. Tharakan here. Just you get ready for a long trip. There is one elephant out of control near Kotayam. So, you just get ready and be at your guest house gate.” Click.
I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the frozen swamp. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground.
I, a very young man and hungry to have a farm of my own, was managing a small goat dairy for an absentee owner. The farm paper was on the table at the neighbor’s house. I read the ad over five or six times and felt a terrible magnetic itch. I didn’t have any money to spare, a few bucks waiting to swell to enough to pay for a new coat and some groceries. I didn’t know anything about auctions except what I garnered from little snatches – of how a guy could get caught scratching his nose and end up buying something, slices of the singsong banter of the auctioneer pulling in people’s attention, the air filled with an urgency like a race underway, a woman walking around in front of a gathering of folks with a lamp held up high for viewing.
I soon had both of them on a bed of fresh straw, with a roof over their heads, and I was able to watch the calf take her first tentative steps. I could finally enjoy the sense of accomplishment that we cowboys thrive on, knowing that, in spite of the laments of nature, we have triumphed in rescuing a new life which otherwise would have succumbed quickly to the now thwarted weather outside. It is a wonderfully satisfying experience. Then Evil Sue wobbled up to me and bit my kneecap.
“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.
Held the last few years, this October celebration has been a success because of a precise and combined effort of family and friends: Gary Moyer; Kathy Moyer, his wife; their sons, Matt, Gary, and their girlfriends; Gary’s mother and brother; friends Sally and Mark Shaw; as well as additional family and friends. The celebration offers homemade food and two corn mazes: one walk-through and the second a drive-through/spook ride where two teams of Haflingers carry visitors through the attraction, day and night. All in all, customers have found the drive-through to be particularly enjoyable.
Every October a small farm in Eastern Missouri comes alive with vintage farm and barnyard activities reminiscent of a bygone era in the Ozark Hills. Eight years ago, what started as a small pumpkin patch and horse drawn hay rides has evolved to a unique demonstration of vintage farm and barnyard equipment common on the 19th and early 20th century small farm. Thanks to a small group of family and friends, the collection of vintage equipment is operated with our farm animals on weekends in October to the delight and amazement of many people.
She was a devoted cook and frequently told us the recipes she would use in her weekly meals. We saw her every week at the market and she was the kind of person that would tell us if she was going to be out of town and not be at the market the following week. We have a lot of customers like this, people we see every week that love our food and it becomes a serious reason for doing what we do. The feedback is generally very positive and in kind, rewarding on many levels.
When I can pull myself away from the farm and I’ve got a few dollars to burn I’m an avid auction-goer. To me, a good farm auction is a fun social occasion and an educational experience to boot. And if I can get a few good deals while I’m there, so much the better. So what follows are a set of tips and tricks I have observed and used in my own auction-going experiences. May they be of good use to you as well.
On November 3-5, 2011, the Farm Based Education Association (FBEA) hosted their 5th Farm Based Education Conference at the idyllic Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. This was a gathering of farmers, teachers, non-formal educators, food and farm advocates, community organizers and land conservationists, amongst others, all brought together by their collective passion: farm education. The setting could not have been better. Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit education center for sustainability, a 1,400 acre working farm, and a National Historic Landmark.
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.
Two farmers. Two paradigms. One questions everything. The other values tradition. Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall,” the poem that captures the interchange between two very different, but neighboring farmers, in 1914. He could easily have written it in 2014. The fact is two types of farmers and farming still struggle to coexist.
Jim’s sculpture is preserving a nearly bygone era of family farming. When he looks at an old, worn, pitted piece of metal he thinks of its history: the ox yoke ring, a plow blade, hay rake, buggy spring. He feels emotion for them and it shows in his work. He uses lots of shovels. He says, “Years ago, if the handle broke on a shovel, the farmer made a new handle. Nowadays, most folks toss the shovel and buy all new. A cheap one for 7 or 8 dollars. Once every farmer had to be able to fix whatever broke down, especially during the Depression. They would use whatever was handy like bale hay wire. My favorite place to get metal is from a farmer who lived through the Depression. They didn’t throw anything away. It’s a treasure trove of stuff. Even if it’s broken. I love to hear the history of the piece and the animals.
The historic problem has been the short window of time in which fields must be worked and planted and then later harvested. A large labor force was needed, but only seasonally. The persistent problem was then and still is that there is really no livelihood for the farm laborer, without migrating. An agriculture which allowed the general society to settle and build urban centers still required a farm labor force to migrate to sustain a livelihood.
For me, farming is a blood knowledge. Diluted as it is, under my skin I carry a knowing; a pulse rippling through me sent from generations before. The pulse is partnered by images collected over my life from time spent in farm country of southwestern Ohio. I have witnessed soil filled cracks on wide, muscular hands, brilliant eyes set in deep creases and broad smiles despite fatigue. I’ve watched the frail, ninety-year old body of my great grandmother bent over tending her 20’ x 20’ garden. I’ve witnessed my father lose his 88 acre patch of family held soil, his dream piece of tradition. I’ve been warmly welcomed to huge mid-day feasts, an unexpected guest, and hugged close, smothered in the breasts of hard-edged, full-bodied women upon my arrival.
The next day I had to go back to the area to return something to a Fleet Farm store just south of the farm area. I did my business there and headed north just a few exits to Exit 57 Holy Hill Rd – Hwy 167 West, the farm exit. Upon approaching the exit, catching glimpses across the road and to my right a quarter mile down the road, I was shocked to not see one single familiar thing. It was gone… totally GONE, ALL of it. The massive old large family farm home from the 1800s, the newer ranch from mid century 1900s. The road was tore up for construction, the road was one lane in some areas, there were large many acre parcels of newly cleared land. Land not to be toiled upon to raise crops, but land stripped of it’s top soil and in some stage of preparation to be parking areas or mega building sites. Upon where I surmised as best I could, upon the space where the farm actually stood, was a massive new building, a distribution center for Briggs and Stratton. Briggs has a treasured history all its own, but I was not at all receptive to it stealing our family history.
By the time I get to the farm, the sun has set – leaving a soft yellow glow hanging over the yard. I park by the house and step into the brisk Turtle Mountain air. A Border collie slinks back into the shadow of the faded red, hip roofed barn, barking a required warning. The door to the milk room stands open, welcoming me into its offering of light. I had arranged to meet Larry and David Black here, specifically because David, Larry and Susan’s twenty-two year old son, has decided to become a farmer – which at his age and in our parts is a remarkable event. I want to know more about him and his family.
Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.
So, our farming system to feed hungry street boys is to have them farm “weeds”. As we have all experienced, weeds are perfectly adapted to their climate, are robust and need no fertilizer nor any of the insecticides to enhance a good crop. Because we are aiming for long term diversified permaculture (this is a Shea native tree area), we needed some very quick marketable crops while we wait for the trees to mature. These field weeds intentionally farmed have a ready market in the big city 5 km north.
Waking to a white world: three inches or more on the ground with more coming down. Early hay feeding, as generally, before dawn, fat snowflakes on my cheek. Horses frisky. Cows restful on their bed, chewing their cud. Not rising for breakfast, happy for the hay tossed on their pillows. Awhile later Dick and Annie, catching sight of me with halters in hand, go fooling all around the pasture this way and that, up and down. Dick bucking, throwing his head, galloping and farting. Annie playing in her own modest, inward way: trotting fast, a hint of a canter, a glimpse of a neck toss, a smile. I stand in the middle of the field enjoying the show, laughing and waiting. Time after time they roar by, until at last they’re ready to come.
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.
Wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of all that fixing and building on my new place, somehow tryin’ to make a go of it, make a ranch, out of the blue I met someone, and all the puzzle pieces that hadn’t made sense started to drop into place with not much more than a love-tap. I think that’s how you tell if you’re on the right track, when all at once the hard things start gettin’ easy, and the easy things just kinda sort themselves out. You can get awful tired of protecting and defending yourself, tired of treating folks around you like the strangers they’d rather not be, while you shut yourself off, thinking your own silly thoughts. When you feel yourself open like a plant to the sun after a long hard winter, it’s worth takin’ a look around to see what shined on you, that maybe shook you awake.
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.
There are many emotional issues surrounding the care and consumption of animals. Because they move, and breathe, and make noise, we can relate to all animals on a most basic level. Whether cat, or deer, chipmunk, draft horse, or milk-cow, we can empathize with their life experience. It is enjoyable to husband farm animals because we can create relationships with them which enhance our own emotional lives. The recognition of the value of these relationships to my life is what compelled me to start raising a diversity of animals on my small farm.
I was having an afternoon nap in our bedroom and enjoying a wonderful dream when I felt someone nibbling my ear and blowing warm moist air on my check. I rolled over, expecting to see Andrea, and almost had a heart attack when I opened my eyes to a little brown creature with a flat snout peering at me. My Daughter Zoe was draping a small pig by the hind legs over me and laughing. “Look what Jack gave me,” she said, as she scooped the piglet back up and cradled the little bundle in her arms. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to Jack to make him pull such a dirty trick on me.
Of all things folks might do without when they’re short of cash, mushrooms might top my list. Yet Dad chose to grow mushrooms during The Great Depression. He adapted three limestone caves for mushroom farming and presided over mushrooms with the agility and savvy of a ringmaster in a three-ring circus. He cleaned and aired one cave and harvested and marketed from another while prepping the third for a new crop.
We have lately seen one of these implements, represented in the engraving, and we have been so well pleased with it that we have made arrangements for keeping a constant supply at our agricultural wareroom. It is simple in its construction and unerring in operation. Suppose the ground to be prepared for the seed, the wedge-like projection on the face of the wheel makes a furrow of the proper depth, into which the seed are dropped through a small tube leading to it.
I have been a fine artist for my entire life but as my vision of where the world was headed caused my art to become darker I found myself longing for something “real”, something tangible and meaningful in a rapidly disintegrating society. Dirt and food are real so I bought a piece of rangeland in Mendocino County, CA. Over the past 19 years my partner and I transformed ourselves into farmers, the farm into a family business, and a small part of the land into a gorgeous, thriving farm. We raise animals in addition to growing a large variety of fruits and vegetables for our main business, canning, which we do in the commercial kitchen we built at the center of the farm.
After talking to other Christmas tree farmers, who were encouraging, and reading up on planting the trees, I began a plan for a small Christmas tree farm. In February of last year, Jim and I and our work horse, Snip, ploughed up and disked an area to the east of our house. My “field of dreams” became my “field of screams” as rocks and boulders boiled up out of the earth. Only slightly daunted, I tackled the rocks. I raked, scooped, picked and dumped them for days. When the little plot was relatively clear, the fun began. I untied the strings and opened the brown paper bundles that contained my Douglas and Noble tree seedlings, and inhaled pure Christmas, pure magic!
At the end of the day, what is a cow? Is she just so many pounds of animal flesh, a unit in a farm management scheme, a tool to be used and discarded as needed? Is she a mere producer of calves, of milk, of meat? Is she a member of the family, perhaps, or at least of the farm? Is she a pet? At the end of the day, is she still just a cow? These thoughts and more have been at the forefront of my mind these past few days as we deal — and, ultimately, dealt — with the decision of what to do with our beloved old boss cow Gail.
As I enter my “geezer phase,” it is time to reflect on some of the knowledge I learned from some of the very special geezer’s in my life. Please excuse my limited language skills. It is all common sense, cause and effect analysis, and understanding the horse’s communications. REMEMBER YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HAVING FUN.
Anyone who has had a conversation with Geoff about working horses, especially if they work horses themselves, will realise that Geoff, through his work and interest in everything to do with the working horse, has already done a great deal to preserve and pass on this knowledge. After talking with Geoff, I am probably not the only one who is left with the impression that, despite having my head full of interesting and useful information, there is still a lot more to learn.
If you’re reading this you most likely love and admire the workhorse. I do and what I really admire is a man that I met in 1990 on the Wyoming Centennial wagon train, which traveled from Casper, Wyoming to Cody, Wyoming. The Bridger trail was the route and our 30-day excursion was the beginning of a relationship with George Miller, a man that I truly cherish, love and respect. The Billings Gazette, in a recent article about George, quoted me as saying, “He’s the only man I’d ever cook for.”
The first surprise came in the old barn, which had a huge raised level floor and steel beams that spanned its forty foot width without posts. And on that floor were parked three small bright prop planes. Single-seaters — red, yellow, and blue. A look around told me all I needed to know. With his jigs and jacks, saws and clamps he really had built them right here. Did they all fly? You bet.
I’ve found sharing time with others is a good way to brighten their day, and yours. Kids, grandkids, and other family members deserve a regular slot in your busy schedule. Camping, fishing, and just hanging out are great ways to share time with young people. Spending time with kids can also be a great learning experience for adults. One of the best ways to unwind from any job is to spend time with people who are confined to their homes or care centers. They’re eager for news about mutual acquaintances and local happenings. Family life is also a fun subject to share with the rural elderly. They have a treasure chest of stories about traveling salesmen, horse trading, and family reunions.
Mokelumne Hill, the site of our first evening gathering and one of the richest early motherlodes, had been a bustling community of 15,000 by 1850, though its tight little valley overlooked by its eponymous hill, is now home to roughly 800 souls. We drove up and parked in front of the Leger Hotel (built in 1852, and in nearly continual operation since then), and met our hosts, Michael and Diane Kriletich, who were setting up the fundraising dinner for Calaveras Grown, a local farmers’ group, in the town hall across the street. We were quickly involved in a stroll around town with their son, Sean Kriletich, who is a community organizer and self-styled “urban farmer.” We quickly saw why.
Having written this down I must admit to a slight embarrassment. It is not because I worry about admitting to a lack of skill, or fear being seen as a romantic. It is because some of you will have similar stories, perhaps more impressive stories, as this is just the sort of thing that happens when you spend enough time with horses at work. It is at once normal, but also extraordinary.
My grandfather, Will Coolidge, was a thrifty, practical, native Adirondacker who, among his other occupations, was also a producer of maple syrup. At one time or another during his life (all 78 years of which was spent on the land he loved – the farm where he was born, in Jay, NY), he was a taxi driver, dairy farmer, potato grower, mailman and trapper. But the thing I remember him for the most is making maple syrup. And while he went about this demanding and honorable business, he was also passing down little pearls of wisdom to me, his eldest grandson.
Having a not-so-great day, I opened the stall door and called them from outside for supper. Immediately enthusiastic to hear my voice, they came running. In fact, even when they hear my car pull up, they start asking for me. They don’t do this with any other car and I have no idea how they have been able to discern the difference between my engine and anyone else’s. As I hand them dinner, Daisy’s tail wags furiously with delight. They munch away and I watch. I pet them along their ridges, tell them what good friends they are, and then go on to refill water and add more hay to the hay racks. Once the fresh water arrives, I giggle at their silly slurping and their excitement for the simple pleasures of nourishment that exist within our lives: food, water, care. Ah yes, care.
I went to the Great Oregon Steam-Up over in Brooks, Oregon, near Salem. Lynn has been invited and has wanted to attend for years, but this time of year might very well be the busiest time of year for him. He’s always farming or writing or editing or painting or forecasting or businessing or just generally fightin’ the power, yo. It’s nuts, I don’t know how he does it all. So, when I told him I was going to go, he was very interested and wanted a good report.
The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.
It all began 50 years ago when faculty and students appealed to UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Dean McHenry, proposing a garden project that would serve as a central gathering spot on the remote, forested campus. As legend has it, Alan Chadwick, a charismatic, somewhat cantankerous master gardener from England, chose a steep, rocky, sun-scorched slope covered with poison oak to prove a point: If students could create a garden there, they could create one anywhere. And create they did.
The story is getting out that Michael, a local farmer, left his farm and family to join the Rural Life Defence Force (RLDF). And because the story is public now I expect its OK for me to let you in on some of the details – so we don’t go around making this into something it’s not. Michael put on his cleanest overalls a week or so ago, kissed his wife and kids good-bye, left a list of things to do for the neighbour’s boy and went to join his comrades at a blockade.
Gyp was not a dog to invite overly familiar ear-scratches, and with strangers, the careful back of a hand offered for sniffing seemed to define the limits of his comfort zone. His name spoke about gypsy wandering while nosing down a hot scent, and of ‘gyppo’ loggers, the independent catch-as-catch-can lumberjacks of the Western states, who sometimes followed their hounds on midnight rambles.
The old farmer was sitting on the bench in front of his farmhouse, waiting for customers while enjoying the sunshine. He was thinking of the past, all the people in the village he had been with as a kid and as fellow farmers later on. Until recently he had had close contact with most of them, but lately many had shut off (kind of); they were not interested in what was going on in the world anymore, in politics, culture, sports, etc. Not even farming and all the new inventions still interested them. Some had died, most of serious illnesses, but others just of old age, as it was said. The farmer himself was convinced they died of boredom, no purpose in life, nothing to do anymore. He himself was a bit tired most days but still felt very much alive.
Ethel, Washington once again saw the horses move in as teamsters arrived from Washington and Oregon to take part in the now annual Happ’s Plowing Competition. Percherons, Belgians, Shires, Norwegian Fjords, a Clydesdale and a pair of American miniatures all found their way to this small rural community to the ranch of Ken Olsen and Maureen Harkcom. Spectators followed and the day was “off and running.” Or, should we say plodding?
Things are continuing to keep us busy on our ranch in Ethel, Washington, but we were able to take a day off from working on the building of our training barn to host our third annual Happ’s Horse Plowing Competition. We saw many familiar faces, now friends, as most of those who have attended the past two years returned and we made new friends as a number of new competitors showed up.
As we entered his harness making shop it just exuded an old-world atmosphere. A wood burning stove was heating the area and a subtle aroma of leather made it very pleasant. There was a vast amount and array of horse related items hanging, sitting and standing everywhere, which would take several hours to truly appreciate. It lacked the appearance of anything modern.
En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.
Well-known for his long association with draft horses and his driving abilities in multiple hitches, Harry Campbell took on a new and rather unorthodox endeavor a couple of weeks ago. Invited over to Victoria on Vancouver Island to assist Doris Ganton to hitch and drive her ‘four,’ he was rather taken aback to discover that her four consisted of “Major,” a 2400 pound Belgian, “Shan,” a purebred Arabian, and a matched pair of Hackney mares! His initial reaction, “Weeell, they don’t exactly match, do they?”
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.
Whenever I opened the door to the hen house, he’d come at me like a wild beast straight out of Jurassic Park. I hated that rooster. Every morning he and I would go at it. After waking up to his ear-piercing cock-a-doodle-doos, I’d head to the hen house to liberate him and the hens so they could free-range, rake dust baths and lounge in the sun. I think he waited for me by the door since he was always there as soon as I opened it. He’d flap his wings and fly at me trying to make contact with his dagger-like spurs. My only defense was a broom, which I carried with me whenever I was near the henhouse. I’d swat him with it when he attacked me, which was several times a day. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I didn’t want him to hurt me either, so I never went near him or the hens without my trusty broom.
That was my first look at Hercules, a three-month old Maremma male pup. The thick snow-white fur that covered his body stood straight up on the top of his handsome square head and down his back. His black nose was like a piece of coal in the middle of a winter field. He had almond-shaped hazel eyes. He was only a pup, but his instincts were clear to me. He would do what needed to be done to protect whatever was in his care, even if his side still hurt from the beating the buck gave him after the farmer put him in the pen.
When folks ask me how it turns out my wife and I are so fortunate to have a son who takes interest in draft horses and their use in farming, all I can say is that from the time Luke was an infant he encountered the horses on the farm that I had acquired in 1970. In fact, as he grew up, thirteen draft foals were born on the farm. At the time we were raising foals, we kept our own stallion, and over the years, we bought and nurtured three registered stallions. Once Luke’s interest grew, he helped decide that we should buy foals to raise rather than breed them.
I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.
It was the weekend before the fourth of July and ten thousand people descended on Montgomery, Indiana for the 8th annual Horse Progress Days. There can be no doubt that this revolving event is the premiere international showcase for animal-powered agriculture. The previous two years it was held in the Lancaster area of PA. Before that, two years in Mt. Hope, OH and before that Indiana. The governing committee for the event has wisely chosen to revolve or rotate the location through Amish communities.
All the good implements were on hand with a few new surprises. There was a bale accumulator, all gravity – which gathered 10 bales to one spot. And I & J showed a cover crop roller especially designed to flatten and crush thick cereal rye before no-till corn planting. This tool had resulted from research done at the Rodale Institute. Pioneer, White Horse Machine, Shipse Farm Supply, Gateway, Hogback produce and all the other manufacturers put on an excellent field display.
Although this journal goes to many parts of the world and features many interesting features on farming methods in other countries, it is nonetheless a very American publication, so it was with some trepidation that I, as an Englishman, offered to write a report on the foremost work horse event in the United States, the Horse Progress Days. For more than a decade this is the event that I have most wanted to visit, and as it has grown in size and stature, reading the reports, seeing the pictures, and watching the films only increased my desire to make the trip over the Atlantic. So it was with no little anticipation that I arrived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in late June this year, and with great excitement descended the steep grassy slope from the car park above the Henry King farm.
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.
I did not take the temporary editorship of an agriculture paper without misgivings. Neither would a landsman take command of a ship without misgivings. But I was in circumstances that made the salary an object. The regular editor of the paper was going off for a holiday, and I accepted the terms he offered, and took his place.
Close to the village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had an estate of about three hundred acres. She had always lived on good terms with the peasants, until she engaged as her steward an old soldier, who took to burdening the people with fines. However careful Pahom tried to be, it happened again and again that now a horse of his got among the lady’s oats, now a cow strayed into her garden, now his calves found their way into her meadows — and he always had to pay a fine.
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.
Late one evening as I sat, sleepless, wondering how on earth I’d be able to pull it off and manage to hold on to this chance at my own farm, a little door opened in the back of my brain and an idea crept in … “work horses … THAT’S IT! I’ll do it with the horses … Just for this year, or as long as it takes to get started. Sure it’ll be hard work, maybe longer hours, but this is the chance I’ve been waiting for. I can do it! I’ll make it somehow. Horses, yeh that’s it, horses!” Until that time I had been playing with my team of Belgian mares – plowing contests, parades, wagon rides – they were an important hobby for me. I had a few odd pieces of horsedrawn farm equipment. So I made a decision, out of necessity, I was going to farm that first year using horses in harness rather than a tractor.
Just inside the barn door hangs a coil of blue and white rope, and a big scary lesson. The rope is one of those things that doesn’t have a specific job, yet does about everything. It has been used to drag logs, pull cars out of mud, guide a falling tree in the right direction, or be threaded through the come-along on butchering day. It was the first thing I grabbed when Jacinth, our filly, went through the ice.
Because their farm was selling, the horses needed to be moved out, but we weren’t quite ready yet. Our friends who had told us about them generously offered to keep the horses at their farm, with their Icelandics, for a few weeks while we finished fencing and stalls. When we arrived to help move them we were warned “Now this might take a while, because we can’t push Sokkull too hard if he doesn’t want to load, he could go down from the stress.” We were all a bit worried. However, when loading time came, he walked happily into the trailer, almost eagerly. “Oh boy, a trailer ride! Wonder where we’re going?” Prinsessa also loaded without any problems.
I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.
Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.”
Though many of us live in cities, we can still garden and grow our own food. But we associate this with summer, with ripening strawberries in the early season, perhaps red tomatoes later on. And when they are gone, they are gone until next year. What most people don’t realize is that canning their own food is still possible in their own kitchens. Indeed, many supermarkets stock not only flats of glass jars, as well as lids, but also the hot-water baths needed to process the jarred goods, and those crucial tools like tongs to fish hot jars out with.
Here on these twenty five acres a steady transformation is happening, a confluence of fortuitous events, opportunities, and passion that brings me to the righteous work of land stewardship. Dad’s father was the classic outdoorsman. He bought this land in the 1940s. It was mainly a sanctuary for wildlife, and for family too. It’s fair to say habitat conservation is the one thing he began that I have the sacred honor of continuing, albeit in a slightly different form: sustainable food production.
In the last 20 or so years we’ve experienced a “Go Green” doctrine throughout our society. Everyone is looking to reduce carbon footprints, recycle and make a better tomorrow. The Somerset County Jail in Madison, Maine is on board with this doctrine. Upon opening of the facility back in 2008-09 we started a three acre garden plot with two goals: provide work for community trustee inmates, and to augment the jails food budget with fresh salad vegetables and potatoes. A reserve corrections officer was hired who had extensive experience with farming in Maine. In 2009, the garden resulted in a small savings to the jails food service budget of $400. This has increased steadily to around $2500 in salad vegetables and $3000 of potatoes from a five acre garden.
I brushed first the snow and then moss from a deep furrow in the bark, positioned the borer neatly perpendicular to the tree at breast-height and began to turn hand over hand until the teeth caught the first layer of wood. After tearing through the cambium, I set about burrowing my way like a bark beetle into the sapwood, the first twenty years were not hard to press through. I briefly remembered 9/11 and Y2K and realized all at once that the tree did, too. All the chemical makeup of those years was etched into the wood. My memories, too, as far back as 1992. Rings were recording a host of bad boyfriends, an awkward puberty, the time I met Smokey Bear and cried, rug and rope burns.
“I found the undercarriage from a hearse in Brookings, SD. The spindles still had the factory name stamped on them, so it wasn’t used very much. But the wood was all rotten so that all had to be replaced. Loren and I worked together on it over about a year and a half. I did the undercarriage and he did the body. It’s all made out of solid walnut that we cut in the area and planed.”
It is NOT a small world, it is a BIG world, as wide and various as you can possibly imagine. We are not alone. When we feel ourselves shut down, crowded by worry and a sense of failure, it would serve us well to remember Bulldog’s admonition, “Boss, never give up, no matter what, never give up.” Anyway, how could we? Who would put up the hay? Who would unharness the team? Who would milk the cows? Who would wax the cheese? Who would feed those woolly pigs? It’s got to be us, after all it is who we are.
While in Korea, London learned how to put cold shoes on his horse. This was one of the many new experiences Jack had as he rode horseback day and night. He traveled through snow that had melted into mud that was up to Belle’s belly and was proud that he never lost a horseshoe. After four months in Korea, Jack completed his newspaper assignment and wrote to his book publisher, “Can say that I know a lot more about horses than when I started.”
By the time he was 3 years old, Jacko had grown into a big size jack, 13 hands tall and 900 pounds, and was still growing. That summer he ran the singlerow corn planter and raked the hay, proved himself handier with a single row cultivator than a single ox, getting closer to the plants without stepping on them. Gradually he had paced himself to his three educated gaits to fill whatever job Lafe required of him: fast walk for the planter and rake, slow walk for the cultivator and plant-setter, and brisk trot for the buggy.
By the late 1970s, Davis Farm was sailing along serenely, but a seed of discontent had begun to grow in Jerome. His main dairy barn, aesthetically attractive as it was, was not especially efficient. There were too many, too short, rows of stalls, the stalls were a bit small for the contemporary, larger Holsteins, and some of the stalls were even still wood floored, a situation not favored by the milk inspectors. This also made it difficult to install gutter cleaners, pipeline milkers and other labor saving equipment. Chores were involving too much labor or too much time or both. In brief, Jerome was ready for the major investment in a new barn.
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 plowing competition consisted of seven teams broken into two-horse hitch, three-horse hitch and a seven-horse hitch using two-bottom plows. Most plows were Pioneer but spectators along with other teamsters got to see a White Horse plow and an Oliver plow as well. The horses, the plows and the teamsters worked well together turning over the ground throughout the day.
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.
(On a recent) Sunday, a large field day was held for the second time in the surroundings of the Lauresham Open-Air Lab. The main purpose of the event was on one hand to strengthen the public awareness of animal traction systems, but on the other hand also to create a forum for professional exchange on various issues of harnessing, equipment, cultivation methods and animal welfare. In addition, there were information stands and sales booths with products that are characterized by the inclusion of animal traction in the production process.
With a professional career as a black and white artist and then as a major illustrator of the English classic children’s books – Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies and many more – George Soper also enabled his personal passion to play a part in his artistic output by his magnificent portrayals of the working horse. His artist eye was in thrall to the power, beauty and achievement of this powerful animal which, together with the industry of all those handling the working horse, achieved so much in the agricultural and industrial development of our country, applicable in other countries also.
Evan came to Les with many lessons already learned. His father, Ronald Ames, had taught him a great deal about working with horses and how to work in the woods. Sixteen-year-old Evan is smart, polite and enthusiastic, and hopes to become a large animal vet. He values highly the lessons that 80-year-old Les is teaching him about how the old masters of different trades performed their tasks: harnessing horses, building logging scoots, designing eveners and neck yokes. Horse logging, haying and dignifying the horse are other skills Evan is learning.
For this is a farmed landscape, shaped by generations who ploughed the valley bottoms before it became cheaper to buy their flour and feed for the horses, and who ran sheep on the fellsides since, well, who knows when? And the answer is, at least since Viking times, when those hardy Scandinavians colonised the north, leaving their influence in the place names and in the language which I share, the fells, the becks, the forces and the dales; which in southern English are mountains, streams, waterfalls and valleys, or for comparison in Norwegian, fjell, bekk, foss and dale.
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.
I’ve come to the north of Scotland this October almost by accident. And I find myself standing on the windy, rocky point of land that is northernmost on the isle of Great Britain. The sea lies before me: the flooding tide from the Atlantic pours in on my left where it collides with the North Sea pouring in from the right, the opposing currents whipping up a frenzy of white capped, tidal confusion: for sailors past and present, treacherous waters indeed. Straight ahead, across the seething waters of Pentland Firth lie the Orkney Islands, my ultimate destination.
We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.
Farmers in our day tend to be an isolated bunch and we don’t ever seem to get enough good old fashioned farm-talk. So it is that when I travel to another farm to buy or sell, the visit often extends for significantly longer than the required time to make a transaction. I have spent countless enjoyable hours perched atop fence rails or with feet dangling off the lowered tailgate of a pick up engaged in pleasant conversation. Indeed, throw two farmers together in a muddy barnyard somewhere and the conversation seems to flow almost automatically from one topic to the next: animal genetics, breed characteristics, the rise and fall of livestock markets, pasture management, land prices, troubles with neighbors, debt and tractors, brand inspectors, regulations and the raw milk gestapo, and everything in between.
During the summer of 1991 I went to work for a Montana outfit called the Bozeman Trail Wagon Train. For a youth coming of age in the late 20th century it was high adventure. At such an impressionable age I learned a great deal about the nature of horses, of men, and of myself. It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, and those summers of my youth, especially the one spent on the Bozeman Trail, while not necessarily stranger than fiction, were certainly on par with any fiction I have read.
They say nostalgia kills. But I don’t for a moment believe it. Nostalgia is story, remembrance, the past cloaked in a warm fuzzy warmth, and what is ours to keep if not our story? And is it a problem if we color our story rose and dwell there from time to time? The truth is, most stories from most days for most people are mostly forgettable. Mine included. We all have a few though, that stick, that are tarred and feathered with the stuff of adventure, heroism, tom-foolery, tragedy, sadness, loss, heartbreak.
Their bottoms were sore, their throats dry, the high elevation robbed their sea-level lungs of breath. They felt acutely each bump and jolt of our authentic springless farm wagons. Most folks however, took it in stride, and immensely enjoyed the challenge and adventure of it all. That’s why they had come to Montana in the first place, to experience a bit of unvarnished reality. We made it as comfortable as possible, but there is no getting around the fact that traveling 12 to 15 miles a day across open dry country by horsepower alone requires a certain determination and grit no matter the era. Mostly things went along quite well, but there were yet a few mishaps that summer that are worth the retelling.
A livery stable, for the benefit of those who never heard of one, was an establishment which catered to horses. It boarded them, doctored them, and bred them, whenever any of these services were required. It also furnished “rigs” — a horse and buggy or perhaps a team, for anyone who wished to ride, rather than walk, about the town or countryside. It was a popular service for traveling men who came into town on the railway train and wanted to call on customers in cross-road communities.
The dictionary defines “runaway” as a horse or team of horses that has broken loose from control of the rider or driver. The definition sounds kind of hum drum but for us so unlucky, better yet careless, a runaway is not hum drum. The words that come to mind are: terrifying, speed, noise, helplessness, and for me, loco.
On a recent cold, early-March weekend, a small but enthusiastic group of people gathered at Tillers International in southwestern Michigan for a class on “Draft Animal Logging” taught by one of southern Michigan’s great teamsters, Fred Herr. Now 78, Fred has been working horses all his life – on the farm, in the woods, and as a legend in regional pulling contests. In addition, Fred has been teaching classes at Tillers for the last 20 years or so – plowing, fieldwork, logging, training draft horses, etc.
When we finally accepted the fact that we would have to leave our home, we half-heartedly began our search for a new one by reading the want ads for rental possibilities. We had decided that we needed to be within 20 miles of the small city near which we lived or our marketing would be severely impeded. We didn’t find a single farm to rent and even the so-called “country” places had modern houses and very little land to go with them. We realized our only option was to buy a place although we didn’t know where we would get the money.
It was early on a cold March morning when Sarah and I found ourselves driving north beside the Kentucky River. We were hoping to enter the county through its back gate, which we figured was up from the river, now running emerald green and swollen on our right. No road sign announced Henry County so when we sensed we were there we took the next left, which brought us up the Kentucky’s escarpment, through a thick woods, and onto a tangle of narrow, curvy winding up and down roads. They were almost as bad as back home. The state road map didn’t show county roads and our GPS couldn’t find service, so soon we were helplessly, but happily, lost.
When Dani was 5 years old she enjoyed “helping” grandma with the ranch chores every chance she got. Even though her mama and siblings still lived in town at that time, she wanted to come to the ranch and see the animals. She loved the cattle, but was a little afraid of the big ones. One spring day when she was tagging along with me to feed the horses and water the cows in the field above our house, she told me she wanted to pet a cow or calf.
I was seventeen years old when I got my first copy of Magner’s Standard Horse and Stock Book. I found it hidden at the bottom of a box of old books at a farm auction and as I dusted it off and started leafing through the pages I realized that I had struck gold. Every other page seemed to be adorned with beautiful woodcut prints of horses and other livestock: over two thousand illustrations in all. More importantly I could see at a glance that the text was addressing many of the problems that horsemen and farmers encountered when handling and raising various classes of livestock.
Under scattered clouds and surrounded by dazzling fall foliage, small and part-time farmers and gardeners from at least four of the New England states gathered at Highmore Farm in Monmoth, Maine, for the second Small Farm Field Day on Oct. 12, 1985. Sponsored by the Maine Cooperative Extension Service, Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Maine Small Farm Association (MSFA) and hosted by John Harker, manager of the Fruit Research Experiment Station at Highmore Farm, this one-day event is an intensive learning experience in practical small farming.
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.
Over the Independence Day weekend Marvin and Pam Brisk, of Oak Tree Ranch, Halfway, Oregon, hosted a gathering of animal traction professionals and enthusiasts to explore the process of putting up loose hay. While putting up loose hay may be viewed as somewhat anachronistic, even by draft animal enthusiasts, we came seeking knowledge of how haying this way could fit into our lives. And of course, to have fun! Mowing, raking, use of a hay loader, and loading hay into the barn with a trolley system were all demonstrated and many tried out the various facets of the process. With the use of Marvin and Pam’s well maintained machinery and seasoned horses, this little ranch in Halfway served as an inspiration to all who cared to marvel at the elegant simplicity of a job well done using appropriate technology and a bit of help from their friends.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s work is easy to find, but first you have to know it’s there. For starters, he’s the most famous photographer in France. His book of aerial photographs, La Terre Vue du Ciel (Earth from Above), which he called his valentine to the world on the eve of the millennium, was the Christmas gift there last year. Arthus-Bertrand’s animal pictures, however, are much less well known than his other work, even in France.
Maud was the name of one of the family mules that Paps held in very high esteem. The incredible feats of Paul Bunyan’s ‘Babe the Blue Ox’ paled in comparison to Pap’s stories about Maud. Maud was obedient. She responded to the quietest “Gee” and “Haw” and “Whoa, Maud.” Maud was a hard worker and would work for hours on end for the simple cost of a little oats or grass, a little kindness, and a good drink of water now and then. The pride Paps had in that mule – long dead by the time I arrived on the scene – rivaled the pride he showed for any grandchild. And Maud had earned that admiration.
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.
Local, organic, and sustainable are words we associate with food production today, but 40 years ago, when Fran and Tony McQuail started farming in Southwestern Ontario, they were barely spoken. Since 1973, the McQuails have been helping to build the organic farming community and support the next generation of organic farmers.
When my husband Lynn and I were first married, in 1966, we had a dairy. Several of our Holsteins had twins that year and we had fun naming them. I particularly remember Vim and Vigor – fraternal twins, a bull calf and a heifer calf. The next year we moved to our present ranch to raise beef cattle, and even though we had a lot more cows, none of the beef cows ever had twins – until 1977, the spring that our kids (Michael and Andrea) turned 9 and 7.
We were thrilled, this last April, when Mr. and Mrs. Mick Massey came all the way from England to join us for our annual auction and swap meet. They were a colorful addition to the festivities and Mick was an obvious lover of the horses and the equipment. So much so that he purchased a riding plow which we are shipping by boat to the island nation for him. Busy as we were we still found time to enjoy several quick visits with these wonderful folk and it was during one of those conflabs that I got to see a fistful of photos documenting a long and happy life working with Shire horses.
We most enjoy working with horses, but have 200 acres and run from 45 to 100 beef cows, so we must use a lot of modern equipment also. We personally admire the way the Amish farm. We also are sorry to see the small getting smaller and the big getting bigger. When we were young there were small farms all over our county, which is the largest county in our state. After government regulations in the 1950’s we have dwindled to three working farms in the whole county. We have gone from logging, fishing and farming to tourism.
It was the end of an era. Our twenty-eight-year-old Belgian draft horse Miss Mac (Missy) died. Missy was a red mare with a large white blaze and a whitish/reddish mane and tail. She was hard in the mouth and wanted to be the first to feel the weight in her traces. She was a real work horse and the matriarch of High View Farm.
Jack vividly remembers working with his uncle in what is now the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness in the early 1940s, breaking green colts for local ranchers in the spring and summer, packing hunters into the rugged mountains and then trailing the string of mules and horses from Paradise, Idaho, to winter pastures in Hot Springs, Montana, a three-day trip in late November, along gravel roads where cars were the exception not the rule. In a modern world where men have walked on the moon and even children now crawl the World-Wide Web from desktop computers, Jack has remained true to his early love – working with horses and mules.
A couple of years ago I broke the harness horseman’s first rule of common sense. It was incredibly stupid and impetuous of me but I did it anyway. I hooked two young half broke fillies together before they were really ready. As a result I almost got my wife Andrea and me killed, destroyed a wagon and ended up with two spoiled runaway horses. If I’d addressed the problem immediately, as I would have in the old days, I’m sure I could have corrected and reassured the horses fairly quickly but I didn’t. I let considerable time go by; I had lost my nerve; post-traumatic stress syndrome had me in its clutches. A little while after the disastrous event, knowing what needed to be done, I hooked each of the fillies, independently, beside the old Clydesdale mare I had started them with again, but on both occasions I simply left them tied to the hitching rail. I couldn’t find the courage to pick up the reins and put myself in harm’s way again. I was an emotional wreck.
Then, when everyone had about given up twice over, out of what looked like a clear blue sky the rains came. And when the rains came they came hard — it rained a year’s worth in a couple weeks. As with most of the cowhands around here, that first day I just stood out in the rain whoopin’ and hollerin’ and got soaked to the skin. Renaldo and Clyde came out of the bunkhouse to laugh with me or at me, I didn’t care, and we cut a little buck and wing skippin’ around in the puddles. Before I got back in the house, my old everyday boots had about fell apart. But I wasn’t likely to forget, and got busy storing up what I could, and preparing for the next dry spell that might come any minute.
This will only add fuel to those late night discoursians about the relative merits of horses over mules or viciversy. Is the horse the smarter one for hitching a ride or is the mule the smarter one for recognizing the political opportunity which this all represents? In any event these boys know what they are doing, or should, so don’t try this at home without horse tranquilizers. Remember that politics is a luke warm bowl of thin soup.
What is that mysterious magnet that keeps me happily stoking the stove and researching what farm critters will eat ticks? What type of chicken will do well against pine martins, weasels, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, occasional wolves, peregrine falcons, great horned owls, huge seagulls, snakes, cold and probably other creatures that I haven’t yet seen? I have lived on farms most of my life and as of today, January 1 of a brand new year, I have no inkling as to what lure keeps me here.
On March 1st of last year, I lost my best friend and hilarious sidekick, my joy, my precious mom, Betty Gilman. This issue features a few of my mother’s recipes that I grew up with. Mom was never a gourmet cook by any means, but her heart and soul was in loving and caring for her family. After meeting my Dad in college, she chose wife, homemaker, and mother over the accounting career she was pursuing at the time. Keeping a home and preparing a meal for her family was not only a necessity, but an expression of love.
One time, Grandpa told me that when the Creator made the Navajo, he gave them corn for food and pollen for prayer. For this reason, many of the Navajo collect the corn pollen and keep it with them in a small deerskin bag. When they pray, they also sprinkle the pollen. I looked closely at a corn stalk near me, already I could see the ear of corn forming on the stalk. The corn was young but it was already preparing to bear fruit. Our corn seed came from Grandpa, who got it from his grandmother and so on. It is generations old. Dad says this is the way it is supposed to be.
It must have taken Nell 6 months to a year before it dawned on her that this farm was her home and that from now on she would be treated well. About a year and a half later, when Dr. McGrew came around for another small matter, she was 3 inches taller, a lot fatter, with a beautiful heifer calf by her side. “That’s not the little rescue cow is it?” Not only was she as fit as a fat fiddle, she was HAPPY, and she never stopped expressing her enjoyment of and gratitude for all the good that came her way. Good hay! Apples and pumpkins! Rearing her own calf! Wonderful brushings! Fields and woods! Plus she had the cutest Jersey face and everyone loved her.
In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”
Homesteaders drawn to new land were often soon down to guesswork, and learning the hard way. In the early years there had been crop failures and experiments tried that never worked for a minute. The growing season here was short, and the grass wasn’t lush enough even at best for more than a cow to every twenty-five acres. Too many cows on the land might mean the new owner could sell fat cows after a good summer that first year, but then they might starve the next year, on land that had been eaten down to the roots and couldn’t bounce back. Orchards got planted that froze out or were eaten to nothing by deer and elk before they ever bore fruit, by animals that gobbled that tender fruitwood bark like candy.
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.
Some of the cattle we raise become such characters that we consider them part of the family. Norman was definitely in that category. She had a rough start in life but quickly became a sassy, independent critter that really didn’t consider herself a bovine.
Many believe that plowing the land with horses and mules is one of the arts from former times that should be carefully preserved. In order to keep the memory of historic farming alive and to help farmers develop and maintain their skills of plowing with draft animals, several organizations have sprung up in various states. One of these is the North Carolina Work Horse and Mule Association, which sponsors several plow days and other related events each year.
Here are some pictures of a recent field day outing where several neighbors convened to plow 10 acres in preparation for oats, which happened to be the first public display of Tom’s Six in rope eveners. Even without signs advertising, “Caution, Grown Men At Play Ahead” a steady stream of vehicles turned in the driveway to either reminisce or gawk in wonder at the six plows and 18 horses all in one field. While every farmer hopes for – and needs – a bumper crop, shocking 10 acres of 100 bushel oats puts a strain on backs and good will for miles around. All the same, here’s wishing everyone a bin-buster.
Well, we finally did it! The long-time goal of driving his own team of eight well-matched, willing, working Belgians was realized for the first time just last Saturday by Tom on Section #23. As you well know, putting together a multiple hitch becomes more of a challenge than initially supposed, and this one has taken about six years. Acquisition, adjustment, and driving – lots of driving – finally got us to the point where we just had to try it.
Liz Gollen is what could be termed a rural Renaissance woman: She’s a beekeeper; a flower-farmer; a writer, artist and occasional film-maker; a chicken-raiser (for eggs); and, last but certainly not least, a full-time elementary school teacher. She and Archie, her husband of many years, inhabit a beautiful and sturdy hand-built log home on a wooded plot of family land in Sagle, Idaho.
The steady, rainy drizzle on Friday afternoon, September 26th, did not dampen spirits nor participation, as Animal-Power devotees from across the Northeast came to the 2008 Northeast Animal-Power Field Days in Tunbridge, Vermont, to gather around teams, to ask questions, and to watch and learn. Although it did not rain on Saturday and Sunday at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds, Hurricane Kyle and flood warnings throughout the Northeast created significant challenges for folks thinking about making the trip. This may have dampened the attendance levels, but certainly not the spirits of those who did come out. The workshops covered a huge variety of topics and were led by people with expertise in sustainable farming practices, renewable energy, working with draft animals, and issues around food policy.
Kathy watched the colt. It poked its head out between the fence rails. “She’s going to get cold,” she whispered to herself. Opening the driver’s door, she scrambled out and ran through the rain. Reaching the fence, she undid the latch and opened the gate. Wrapping her arms around the colt’s neck, she guided it towards the truck.
A delicate butterfly wing, creamy-white coloured. A yellowing vole skull. A tin dish full of dried scraps of lichen. These rest below a string of dried flowers – pansies, calendula, chamomile, strawflower, pearly everlasting. And below that, on an old, rubbed-smooth shelf, sit crystals and rocks – dull pumice and lava rock, shiny quartz, ethereal satin spar and fluorite. Other curiosities – fragile bird’s nests, aquatic exoskeletons, elegant pheasant feathers – fill the gaps, each one labelled with a date, an observation and a note or two, and two names – common and scientific. This is The Fernskull Conservatory, a museum of naturally-found curiosities.
I couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with The National Young Farmers Coaltion again when they called up about being involved in their Bootstrap Blog Series. In 2013, all of their bloggers were young and beginning lady dairy farmers, and they invited us on board to consult and collaborate in the production of videos of each farmer contributor to the blog series.
I couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with The National Young Farmers Coaltion again when they called up about being involved in their Bootstrap Blog Series. In 2013, all of their bloggers were young and beginning lady dairy farmers, and they invited us on board to consult and collaborate in the production of videos of each farmer contributor to the blog series.
Imagine – a beautiful fall day in the Northeast. The air is crisp, the foliage shining red and yellow and orange under a clear sky. Now imagine yourself surrounded by a phantasmagoria of color and texture, a dizzying array of handmade things combining beauty and utility in remarkably unique ways. Add some delicious food to this picture, and throw in a diverse crowd of enthusiastic folks. Mix all of this together, and you have set the scene for the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival.
The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.
It is my bees, however, which afford me the most pleasing and extensive themes; let me look at them when I will, their government, their industry, their quarrels, their passions, always present me with something new; for which reason, when weary with labour, my common place of rest is under my locust-trees, close by my bee-house.
“Caaaty, come get your feeed. Caty! Caaty!” I rattle the milk pail. At last I spy her on the far side of the field with a sigh of relief. At least she is still in the field this time. With only three strands of barb-less wire to keep her in, she doesn’t hesitate to take off on a jaunt through the woods when the electricity is not pulsating through it.
Some of central Ohio’s finest draft teams and teamsters gathered on the second weekend in October to participate in the Ohio State Hand Corn Husking Contest, held at the Wyandot County Fairgrounds in Upper Sandusky. The fairgrounds and the Koehler-Winter’s farm next to it were humming with activities related to the harvest season and otherwise. Folks made apple butter, soups, and crafts; held a farmer’s market; conducted buggy driving competition; displayed lots of antique equipment and vehicles; demonstrated tractor and horse plowing; and ate and ate and ate.
The drive culminated on the “Bridge of Dreams,” the 370 foot long trestle on the old Pennsylvania Rail Road right of way that is now part of the Mohican Nature Trail from Danville to Fredericksburg. This trail from Danville is gravel and horse and wagon accessible. Although not opened all the way to Fredericksburg yet, the trail is open past Brinkhaven and over the second longest covered bridge in the country, the “Bridge of Dreams” that was dedicated in April of 1999.
One of the most fondly remembered horses was “Old Dot.” She came to the ranch as a young mare and worked there until she was about 30 years old. Dot was probably the most versatile horse the Thomas family ever had. They used her for riding, packing, haying, pulling any kind of wagon or equipment, and for “snaking” logs and poles out of the woods when they were cutting firewood or corral posts and poles.
The “Old Man” had finally bred his Belgian mares enough times that he was out of barn space. This was what I had been waiting for, to work the charm. You see, I had been wanting to have my own team for a long time; but I couldn’t hardly bring in my own horses when Dad was getting new foals out of his mares every spring. I had grown up on horses and broken several saddle horses, but Grandpa and Dad had always been justifiably particular about “just everyone” driving their teams. That meant, for Dad as well as me, that “the boy” got to help but he didn’t get to drive. We both took our turn, but with Grandpa gone and Dad with six young horses on his side of the farm to train and me with an empty barn, I figured it was about my time.
Old Threshers Reunion is a 5 day Labor Day weekend event that hosts a series of horse demonstrations. Among the demonstrations were a Case thresher run off of a 6-sweep horsepower, a smaller thresher run by a 1-horse treadmill, a buck rake and Jayhawk swivel stacker, a grain auger and horse powered sawmill, and more. We were definitely interested in checking these out, so we rode along with Jordan who nabbed Ammon Weeks to ride along as well.
In all probability the “Morgan type” existed before Justin Morgan came to Vermont, in the results of crossing an Arab strain on basic New England stock. What Justin Morgan brought – the one element that fused all the rest and crystallized the type into a lasting great family – was personality. Some call it “spirit” and believe it to be akin to the factor that makes human beings dominant among other beings. Anyway, the Morgan still stands as a symbol of vigorous horse personality, the true blood always declaring itself – usually through the look in the eyes, an intelligent appreciation of people who understand.
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.
We Millers were invited to attend the Fiftieth Anniversary Oregon Draft Horse and Mule Breeders plowing match at the Yamhill County Heritage Center in McMinnville. I was one of the judges (along with Michael Webster). Kristi took photos, some of which you see on these pages. It was a splendid day, perfect weather and a well organized event with lots of spectators.
After a hiatus of more than a decade, the Oregon Draft Horse community has a full-fledged Draft Horse and Mule Plowing Competition once again. Organization president Duane Van Dyke was quite excited about the conversion back to competition from the long standing ‘demonstration’ play days that have been held over recent years. This year’s May event featured a whole lot of animals and a great crowd of participants and spectators all enjoying the emerald green beauty of Champoeg State Park.
At Terra Nova we have worked with a group of high school students to convert a one and a half acre ball field into a working farm with a fully functioning CSA. Over the course of three years 25 students have worked on the farm taking ownership over the program and driving the goals of the farm. We have expanded the CSA to 30 shares, currently grow produce for our school district, and have partnered with a local community college. The work on the farm is closely tied to the students’ education. It has given many youth the opportunity to pursue individual interests and passions pertaining to the farm all while earning credit towards their high school education.
During the fifties, when I was a little girl playing here with my big brother, Tom, we dug in the dirt, building our miniature worlds with sticks, rocks, and little toys. Mom would watch us through the big kitchen window while she fixed supper. We knew the rules: Don’t go past the big gate – and we didn’t, because of the bull. Play nice, don’t fight – but sometimes we did. Supper at 4:00.
Our dear, gentle friend farmer Paul Birdsall had the countenance of an old Maine lobsterman-wood cutter mixed with a toy maker’s spirit. He had that long true visage of a man at sea, it started ‘neath the cap bill and waved out and away just as far as need be. He had the posture of a man poised to turn and move onto the next thing that needed doing. No hesitations, no wasted steps. He had the patient reach and touch of a true horseman, making useful contact and taking sweet rewards.
The other day I offered him another of his favorite summer treats. As the temperature crept into the mid-90s, and the sun beat down on his black absorbent coat, I lifted the hose from the water tank I was filling and turned it his way. Tossing his mane, Ben did what he always does at this invitation: He turned about so that the water soaked both his sides, his eyes narrowing at the deep pleasure of this mid-day cooling. Then he ambled up and matter-of-factly took the hose-end from my hands into his mouth for a long, slobbering drink.
In this Cummington Fair event teamsters must work alone with their team, load an unruly log onto a wood-shod sled and then take the loaded sled through an obstacle course, watching out for tennis balls on pylons. Competitors start with 100 points and lose points for mistakes. Some are eliminated by the judge for reasons such as: tipping the sled over or team unable to load the log or move sled. This is a timed contest which often decides the winner.
As the teams perform there is quite naturally a lot of tension and the polite crowd is quiet. In between there is plenty of good humor, laughter and very good sportsmanship. With so many contestants the Challenge takes all afternoon as each team is allowed 10 minutes to load the miserable log onto a wood-shod sled and take it through the ornery obstacles.
When a pair of calves is carefully chosen to become an Ox Team they should be housed together, fed and watered together, yolked together, and exercised together from the get-go. There are as many training methods as there are teamsters. Like children, love and patience produce the best results. A willing team is a joy to work with for many years.
Oxen are all from the Bovine species which includes Cattle, Buffalo and Kudus. On hand for the 19th Ox Teamster’s Challenge last August were eight different Bovine breeds of cattle: Brown Swiss, Belgium Blue, Chianina, Devon, Holstein, Milking Shorthorn, Normande, and Randall. This turned out to be our best show so far, with enjoyable and not-so-enjoyable surprises.
In 2014 the Cummington Challenge celebrated 20 years of entertaining spellbound spectators while, at the same time, educating everyone about the beauty and intelligence of oxen. In these 20 years upwards of 150 different teamsters have participated in this ever-changing obstacle course with their well-trained teams of various bovine breeds. They were judged and timed and their efforts were always applauded. The SRO audiences were treated to interesting, often comical, stories about each teamster and his/her team. Several bovine beauties were celebrities in documentaries. In all these years there have been only six different winners as some have won as many as six times!
The culture of the ox was rich across New England. On my road alone there were several good ox men for me to learn from, and many more in the surrounding area. Even the men who were too old to still be working cattle, would give of their time telling us stories of when working cattle was economically practical.
The Whiplash Teamsters are a Connecticut based loose collection of people who work with oxen. Their name comes from the 4-H club that they sponsor. The kids seem to age out, but their parents and friends stay active. We keep looking for more kids to join and promote our craft. The Fort Hill Farm owners want to expand plow day into a 2 day event in 2022.
Forty-four years ago I was employed as a mule packer for the US Forest Service. At this time the Forest Service maintained pack mules for packing supplies and food to fire lookout towers, trail maintenance crews, bridge and trail construction and packing supplies for fire fighting crews. I was stationed at the Fish Lake Remount Station on the Clear Lake cutoff road of the Santiam Highway west of Sisters, Oregon.
It all started with a sign. “We Have Worms.” It’s not complicated to make — I tore the cardboard box, handed it to Andy, and he wrote on it with a black magic marker and hung it in the store window. Everyone knows what it means, it means that if you’re not gonna go diggin’ for the earthworms yourself, you come in and and buy bait from him. It’s a seasonal sign; we scrap it every Autumn. No biggie.
My friend Bill Reynolds, of Ranch and Reata magazine, took me for an all too brief visit to a wonderful museum in his neck of the woods. Truly outstanding lineup of fabulous original vehicles with one reproduction Stage Coach featuring gold-plated hardware!
So it might be well to recall national models such as John and Abigail Adams, who when it mattered, knew what to do and did it without fanfare, whether the moment called for defending British soldiers against charges of murder in the Boston Massacre, drafting a state constitution, melting down pewter spoons to cast musket balls—or getting in a hay crop before the rains came. Their values extended beyond expediency and profit to the greater social good.
She sprints over to the half-packed picnic hamper and finds the bag of peanut butter cookies. Mom is still wrestling with Ike when she waves the bag in front of his nose. His nostrils quiver and his fuzzy ears swivel as he takes a big sniff, then nudges her so hard he nearly knocks the bag from her hands. She breaks off a little piece of cookie and gives it to him. He butts her, eager for more. She moves back slowly away from the slope and he starts to follow her, halting, then straining with the weight of the log.
“Free goats?” my husband Henry said, trying to control himself. “You said you’d take on these goats?” He stared at me with the look that made me know I better have thought this out. “You are going where to get these free goats without even seeing them?” He knew that when it came to building a goat herd, there were some things I just did not do because they were far too risky. He also knew that I was about to do one of those things. “This will give me some really important DNA in my herd,” I said, looking at him with eyes full of as much conviction as I could muster. He knew that I always try to have a well thought out breeding plan for my herds of Spanish and Savanna goats.
PFERDESTARK is the European version of the U.S. Horse Progress Days. Nowhere else in Europe can be found more modern horse drawn machinery and equipment than at Detmold, the shop window of draught horses at work on the field and in the forest. Working demonstrations and international competitions in ploughing, logging and driving are part of this two day event, as well as an international draught horse show.
At the centre of the quiet village of Wendlinghausen in north western Germany is the early 17th century castle, Schloss Wendlinghausen. In August last year it again provided the setting for Pferdestark, the biennial exposition of draught horses and modern machinery. If you know Horse Progress Days, but shrink it to a tenth of the size, and swap most of the straw hats and baseball caps for a range of traditional European headgear, then you’ll get an approximate impression of Pferdestark. Though the scale of the two events is very different, what they share is a great atmosphere, lots of good horses and interesting machinery.
I quickly discovered animals don’t need to be raised inside in atrocious conditions in order to provide meat for my family. The farmers that I spoke to were actually more akin to my mind’s eye image of Old Mac Donald’s farmer. These folks, my neighbors, enjoyed working with their animals. They gave the animals names, ensured the animals had comfortable places to sleep, and allowed the livestock to go outside on grass. Pigs were rolling in the dirt and chickens were sunning themselves, soaking up vitamin D. These were the type of farmers that I wanted to support with my family’s food dollars and this was the kind of meat that I could feel good about feeding my family.
Day two of the match: You make your crown or head land, plow 6 rounds total then you wait for the man next to you to get his 6 rounds made, then you go to his last furrow. You have 2 rounds to straighten up his, if need be, but they were always straight. Then plow around till the last 2 rounds, turn to crown or head land side. I came in 2nd place this day. I swear middle mule has GPS. Watch the line.
Corn picking started the first week in October if growing conditions were good. Farmers often harnessed their teams in the dark to be in the field early and bring in a 50-bushel load before dinner and another in the afternoon. Nobody picked on Sunday. Truman Nelson said even the horses knew it was Sunday. They would stand in the far corner of the pasture and stare if you had a bridle in your hand.
Today was the day to dig another garden and plant broccoli. Spring had sprung early, March in the Piedmont woos, peas were already in, fear of frost disappeared with the blush of haze at dawn. I was ready. I had driven to Pittsboro the day before, and purchased old railroad ties for garden boundaries, unused for almost 50 years, ever since the spit of track from Sanford to Pittsboro had been closed by the Southern Railroad.
They advertise “rain or shine” for the Rock Creek Plowing Exhibition and this year they were put to the test. I’m happy to tell you that the horses and teamsters and spectators passed the test with flying, if soaked, colors. But I had forgotten that folks west of the Cascade Mountain range are accustomed to this sort of weather. I think it was my friend Ron VanGrunsven who, when I asked him why he was there, remarked “It’s too wet to do anything else.”
Howell Living History Farm’s 13th Annual Plowing Match was held on Saturday, August 31, 1996. Howell Farm is a 130-acre working farm located in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. It was donated to Mercer County in 1975 by Inez Howell, widow of State Congressman Charles Howell, and it is in the ongoing process of restoration to a family farm circa 1900-1910, when horses were still the main power source. The Mercer County Park Commission opened the farm to the public in 1984 and their first plowing match was held that year. It has been a success ever since.
The fourth annual Happ’s Horse Power Days proved to be a weekend of “dreams come true.” The event was expanded this year as we make steps toward building the event into something “bigger and better” for both the competitors and the spectators. We want to provide additional challenges for teamsters and their horses, as well as the opportunity to show what they can accomplish together. We hope to help the public learn about breeds of horses, types of plows and other horse-powered equipment, and bring generations who have drifted so far away from working the land a little closer to understanding what it means to those of us who still follow that way of life.
I reached away back into the back of the scullery cupboard and ‘hand fishing’ I pulled out a bottle. A small bottle with my name on it – in my Uncle Stephen’s hand. A bottle of poitin he’d given me; it must have been there for forty years. I’ve never been a big poitin drinker preferring a pint of porter myself but Stephen managed poitin very well. He’d put a splash of it into his tea in the morning and rub it on his joints at night.
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.
His name was Possum — perhaps he got that name because he was lazy and often pretended to be asleep. He was owned by a teenage girl who was buying a younger horse. Possum was a bay gelding with a white face and a blue eye where the white marking surrounded the eye. He was calm and gentle (some people would say lazy) and accustomed to being handled by children. He’d been retired from a riding stable in a larger town, purchased by a family with young children. He was resold when those children grew older, and resold again. It would be hard to guess how many children had learned to ride on him.
I got this idea for a hydraulic post splitter in my mind a few years ago and it just wouldn’t leave. Laziness is the father of invention. Twenty-some years of polishing a hickory maul handle with my grub shovelers was beginning to make me inventive. There just had to be some way to turn seven foot cuts off a locust tree into usable split fence posts without spending long sweaty days in too close association with a maul and wedges. We had tried sawn posts some time before and found that they rot out much sooner than a conventionally split post. Fence, on this farm, has to be bull strong, horse high, hog tight, and arrow straight, so sawing was out.
A shrewder Dutchman than Coonrod Sprengel was not to be found throughout the length and breadth of Cherry Valley. In business he was as alert as a chipmunk, being seldom surprised far from his hole. He had been a successful farmer, and since his retirement to New Berlin and his election to the honorable office of justice of the peace he had continued to make money in loans, insurance and real estate.
Not much for romancing Charlie still put on red suspenders and red socks slicked his hair back then fluffed whatall up front he had left into a wave even hung his good hat on a peg to drop by after supper come to find Evaleen alone on her porch swing figured to take this main chance to parcel out his thoughts that had become such a burden like a load of green firewood you need to quit driving around stack some place out of the weather near where you’re fixing to burn
In a town where one is just as likely to see kids walking their 4-H lambs in the warm evening air as their dogs, the Threshing Bee came to life 32 years ago during a conversation between two local men. Back in 1969 and 1970, the Everett Metzentine family from nearby Wamic, along with their friends and neighbors, harvested grain from their fields using horses and horse-drawn equipment. While discussing the enjoyment and curiosity the harvest had generated, Metzentine and Dufur’s Bob DePriest decided a public threshing bee would be met with enthusiasm. Dufur, smack in the middle of dryland wheat country, seemed the perfect place to host the event.
So when he started watching these two horses he’d put out to pasture, he thought he’d better give them more things to look into and mull over. After all, they’d been smart around him, caught onto new things pretty quick, and when he messed up and got them confused they’d seemed forgiving. So at night he started putting things out in their pasture — first was a rusty red pickup with a blown engine.
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.
Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months).
Rainshadow Organics in Central Oregon is a really big small farm. As part of their mission to produce and promote good food, they participate in the Rogue Farm Corps internship program. This season they have 7 interns who made time during their lunch break to speak to us about the program.
We kept our eye on this rooster. He was high entertainment for 3 boys and 3 younger sisters on that farm. We didn’t give him a name, just called him “Rooster,” and Rooster ruled. Other roosters moved out of his way. Hens cowered when Rooster appeared. My dog Browser wouldn’t go near Rooster. Rooster was invincible. Or so he thought.
She was everything we had dreamed of and more: a bit of light at the tip of a small mountaintop. She was old farmland, good farmland; the one lasting piece of cleared land on this one lane road surrounded by wood and state forest. The stone walls were mystifying, the pond perfectly sized, the blueberries just beginning to hold promise of fruit.
“Let me tell you about where I grew up, not so far from here…” and she did. She started weaving images through our brains like the artwork on her walls. She told us of the farm we were on, and how she used to sell her art at the stand, how her husband had worked for years pruning and picking without a single farming bone in his body. ‘Just for the love of apples.’ She told us of the pies she had baked, the farm stand they had built and grown in. She went round and round – a traveler in time sitting right before us. “And now there’s no one to take care of this old place.” She looked down at her hands. “Of course you can pick the apples – go pick them to your heart’s content.”
They arrived the week before Christmas. Coming in the late afternoon, bringing with them encouragement and faith in a project that was still barely begun. We sat around the kitchen table surrounding a freshly brewed pot of tea, and were refreshed by their presence there. Chris, myself, my sister Katie, her partner Than, and Caleb, our two year old son, gathered. And how good it felt to be simply in their company.
I’ve always had sheep on Loughin More. And in summer a pony. Always been on the mountain and never ever passed any remarks on ‘The Bauch.’ It’s a word I’ve said all my life; a word from the north of Scotland (I’m told) to describe a circular wall of stones. I don’t know what The Bauch is but I think I know what it’s not.
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.
I’ve got two teams of Belgians that power all the things on the farm. I don’t have a tractor, I don’t have a truck or anything like that. Everything must be done by them. I have two buggy horses that I use for transportation. I have a one-seater buggy for when I’m going into work or into town by myself and then I have a two-seater one for when I’m with the kids.
From April to October, RIF participants join Brooklyn Grange staff and interns once a week in raking beds, seeding, weeding, transplanting, composting, and harvesting, as well as guiding visitors and CSA members around the two farms. In this way, they contribute directly to the health and ecological resiliency of their adopted community. An entire program curriculum has been developed around environmental stewardship, nutrition, sustainability, small business management, and an overview of New York’s booming “green” economy, with the aim of preparing participants to enter the job market. To that end, the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard Employment Center assists in offering free resume-writing and job interview workshops; many participants go on to find full-time work at the close of the season.
One day in May, I got a call from my father. As a big fan of the Small Farmer’s Journal, he asked me to renew the subscription via internet (technology is not yet his thing). He took the opportunity to tell me that he would like to write an article for the Journal, as he previously did (see photo essay, Volume 40, Number 1), but that the work on the farm limits his time. With my brothers and sisters, we had the idea for his 60th birthday to give him this surprise: to share with you our story and our most beautiful memories we had during our childhood on the farm.
And then it dawned on me – this ewe for all her mothering instincts and supply of milk couldn’t cope. She simply couldn’t contend with two lambs. Well not at first! Because in a very short space of time, three or four in-and-out sessions and one overnight restraint, she was delighted with both lambs and went from the wee garden at the house to further pasture with the rest of the flock. Yes, I know! In a life time of working with sheep, of holding and wrestling and doing ‘the Divil and all’ when I couldn’t, in the end, get the ewe to take up with the lamb – but this time it worked; so Harrah!
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.
The lessons of farming are no different from those of any other study. In order to internalize a lesson and make it a skill, you have to go through the motions, and more – you have to grab the business end of the pitchfork, and sense cause and effect to know what it consists of in this new setting, how it operates. So when one seasoned teamster says to another that driving the buckrake is counter-intuitive, it’s a caution and a challenge for both men and horses. And a thing of beauty when horses and teamster catch on, and it works.
Numerous famous authors have recorded gut wrenching accounts of the loss of beloved animals. Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and Rawlings’ The Yearling come to mind, but there are many others. Those writings were required reading as I experienced secondary English education. Form, content, personification, and symbolism swept over us like a tidal wave. However, living the event of the loss is far more grievous than reading about it.
As he made his way, dust swept itself through the woods, engulfing everything in its path. Sam’s eyes burned and his throat ached with dryness, but he pushed on, calling for the calf. He strained his eyes to see through the trees, looking for the black and white heifer. His heart thumping, Sam broke through a thorny bush and entered the clearing. He looked at the specks of blood forming on his hands, and then he looked up. The calf was standing near the canyon edge, bawling.
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.
I pulled back gently and whispered, “Back, back,” and she responded immediately. When we were in the middle of the pen I moved her around, neck reining her in both directions, she turned without hesitation. Then I gave her the final test – halting her and restricting her forward motion. I applied my right leg to her flank – she did a perfect side passage to the left sweeping the other horses out of her way as she went. “Well shoot, it is you, Peggy old girl!” I said as I slid down off her back rubbing her eyes and making much of her.
Outside my kitchen window, falling leaves gather over the crude nest claimed by a chicken last June. I can no longer see the soft white under-feathers she left behind. I imagine this wouldn’t have seemed at all remarkable to the woman who stood here, at the sink, in the 1930s when this simple home was the heart of the Central Egg Company in Petaluma, California. A rusted remnant of that sign still clings to the main warehouse building. The last of the chicken houses dropped to its knees long ago.
We bought *six quarters, one each year, *clibs we broke-in and sold on. We often bought from Travellers. That was when Travellers travelled round the country in barrel caravans pulled by horses. Solid cobs they had often crossed with the best blood stock in Ireland. Who knew their ‘secret wiles,’ as they passed the stud farms on The Curragh of Kildare? We broke our horses (if broke is the word) very quietly and over time. The magic of the televisions ‘horse whisperers’ instant results is lost to me. ‘Do nothing sudden and do nothing rash.’ That was our mantra.
Becky Zeune keeps about twenty miniature horses, a couple of donkeys, two llamas and an assortment of barnyard poultry on her family’s farm near Danville, Ohio. Becky is not into breeding commercially or showing, she is one of those individuals who find that “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a person.”
Our old barn houses many animals. Pigeons, mice, bats, cats and horses make their home there. But the heart of the barn is an old white Arabian mare named Snowflake. She will live out the rest of her life here. She is almost 33, but I suspect she has many years left to her. She belonged to us once, years ago, when our daughter, Meg, was 14 and a dainty white horse with blue ribbons in her mane and tail, filled her dreams, day and night. When Meg grew up and started pondering the possibilities of her life, she passed Snowflake on to another girl with horse dreams. Alas, that girl grew up too, and Snowflake is back with us once again.
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.
As a little girl living in the suburbs of St. Louis I wanted to live on a farm. It was my all-consuming passion. My favorite books were about children who lived on farms, who were lucky enough to be able to spend their summers jumping into fragrant haystacks, riding dusty work horses to the fields, scattering the yellow corn for the busy chickens, hunting for warm, just-laid eggs. I longed for the taste of warm milk just out of a cow I’d milked myself, leaning up against her warm body, listening to the hiss of the foaming whiteness squirting into the metal pail. I wanted to find newborn kittens in the hayloft, to feel the sloppy sucking of a calf’s tongue on my fingers, to watch lambs jumping and twisting in the pasture.
For one month in the spring of 2016, I had the opportunity to join Alexander Vido in demonstrating the use of the scythe to harvest wheat in India, where the tool has been practically unknown. That country perhaps stands to gain more from the use of scythes than any other, because of the hundreds of millions of its farm workers who still harvest wheat and rice with sickles.
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.
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!
This summer Eric Grutzmacher and Kema Clark from the Journal office, went to Brooks Antique Powerland for the annual Great Oregon Steam-Up. They visited the many displays and Eric took lots of pictures. On these three pages are views of three of the operating steamers. The Case, the Altman Taylor, and the Russell were models prevalent in the PNW.
We conclude our online presentation of Volume 41 Issue 2 with beautiful photos from Walt Bernard’s Workhorse Workshops (www.workhorseworkshops.com) and some hard-to-find info on the McCormick-Deering Plain Fluted Feed “R” Grain Drill Grain Indicator Plate.
If they had their druthers, most hands on the place would sit a tall horse and work cows. But there were always those who could farm if they had to, though they might grumble over the plowing and planting and weeding, coaxing things out of the ground, bucking bales. But as Len says, where else will winter hay and oats and feed corn come from — it don’t grow on trees, and whatever you buy, you surrender the profit.
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.
The Common Ground Fair and Lynn Miller have left me to ponder a few things. They both represent so much that I believe in and want to achieve in my life. I’ve begun to question what the future holds for High View Farm. I wonder where and how I’ll fit into that future and I know it’s getting closer and closer! The pull to get back on the farm is almost overwhelming. When I’m there visiting I don’t have to try so hard to hold onto who and what I am. I just am!
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.
As people on the street of a tourist town pass a team or single horse and buggy, they may be transported back in time and experience a twinge of history as they gaze admiringly at the fancy horses. They may not realize that the horses themselves have a rich history, a past and a story to tell. This is the tale of one such team called Bobbi and Beauty.
The harnesses are like the old saying about having Grampa’s hammer, but you twice replaced the head and three times replaced the handle. Over the last twenty five years I’ve added tail cruppers, changed the check straps, broke both belly bands and replaced them with saddle girths, repaired or changed numerous lazy straps, changed from swivel to D-ring heel chains, changed breast straps, hame straps, changed out the farm hames for aluminum pulling hames, and I’m on the third set of lines.
Bonnie Shields is a living legend in western art circles. And Bonnie is a legendary human being to any and everyone she has touched. She is perhaps most famous for her humorous portraits of mules and her beloved LeRoy in particular but anyone who knows her knows of her phenomenal depth and range. It is her seasonal paintings of spring plowing which grace the cover of this issue. She illustrated an entire year with a different image depicting each month, a series which is powerful in its design and anecdotal energy.
There is a brand-spanking BIG new book on Bonnie, “Bonnie Shields, The Tennessee Mule Artist,” coauthored by Meredith Hodges and Bonnie. This is a lovely coffee table book; huge, in full color, and overflowing. It offers the complete body of Bonnie’s unique, humorous and beautiful work presented in an engaging scrapbook format. Here you will learn, through articles and shared stories, of the impact Bonnie has had on the humor of western culture. Bonnie’s the real deal.
It is prodigious, the amount of work required to make a good axe-helve – I mean to make it according to one’s standard. I had times of humorous discouragement and times of high elation when it seemed to me I could not work fast enough. Weeks passed when I did not touch the helve but left it standing quietly in the comer. Once or twice I took it out and walked about with it as a sort of cane, much to the secret amusement, I think, of Harriet. At times Harriet takes a really wicked delight in her superiority.
Bill’s early life reads like a chapter from Studs Terkel. Born in Sacramento, by the time he was a young teenager he was on the road following the migrant farm labor camps. Picking fruit, digging irrigation canals, any work he could find to stay alive in the Depression Era West.
Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground; indeed, they were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean labour, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labour all summer, — to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work.
Life on the 120 acre sheep farm was a long and quiet grind. Its rewards weren’t monetary, or material. It had been a decade since the days of buying a new European sports car, and a new four wheel drive pickup in the same year. The Saab has been dead, and parked behind the barn for a few years now. The once shiny red pickup is rusted, dented, and will soon be beyond repair. The big purchase in the late 80s was now a Pioneer sulky plow for $500. The hippies might call this going back to the land. The big man, now a married family man again, was too busy being in charge of his family and farm to have a poetic name for the life he was winning.
Although the history of this interesting building dates back to 1823, I have chosen to write about what I have gleaned from conversations with three living generations of the Bisbee/Brisbois families, now closely involved with the museum. Hearing from each of them brings this museum into focus as an important part of the agricultural/industrial history of Chesterfield, Massachusetts. Their stories connect, their memories offer clarity and humor, their hopes inspire. The Time Line, so carefully researched by Kathie Brisbois, establishes an unbroken thread spanning nearly 200 years.
The big horse in the furrow shifted his feet and dropped over on his right hip. The creak of the harness and the soft jingle of the trace chains brought Paul out of his reverie. Almost as if he were waking from sleep he looked around him at the bright world of this field he had been plowing in for two days now. The field lay in a long curve along the hillside, steepening as it approached old man Finch’s woodlot, which covered, completely, the top of the hill, and fell away into the river valley on the other side.
Betty stirred, and bumping Paul’s shoulder, she came partially awake, opened her eyes against the darkness, sighed, and settling carefully against Paul’s side, she drifted back into the darkness of her sleep. The next time she woke there was a rooster crowing in the henhouse east of the house, and a faint light showed in the window, only visible against the darker wall. Coming fully awake, she reached over to Paul’s side of the bed, and though there was a faint warmth there, Paul was gone. She listened to hear whether he was still in the house, and hearing nothing for a couple of minutes she knew he must be at the barn, probably watering the horses in the tie stalls. She knew his routine by now, and also knew that unless there was some sort of emergency in one of the livestock pens or paddocks, he would follow that routine each morning according to the seasons.
Paul’s attention was suddenly arrested by the conversation across the table from him, and he turned and looked at the young man who was sitting there in earnest discussion with Betty. Paul marveled again at the resemblance between the two. Same thick blond hair, same blue eyes the same firm set of chin, and in the young man, broad shoulders, tapering to a slim waist, very capable hands, which had matched Paul’s own, in the easy way in which they had wielded a pitchfork as they cleaned the last of the lambing pens the day before.
And there we were, in open rolling country a few miles shy of Montgomery, Indiana, approaching Dinky’s Auction Center, the host for this year’s Horse Progress Days. This is the 28th year for the event, missing only 2020, that is rotated through the Amish communities in five states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – usually taking place on two days, before the 4th of July. It is an event to showcase the modern utility of animal power in farming, featuring the latest equipment and the best in animal training and performance.
I was still a bit groggy and adjusting my hat, when a shrill ethereal whine hit my ears. It was like a baby with a cough, long, hoarse, high-pitched screams of pain. A Piglet. It crawled towards me, its hind legs bearing no strength, streaked with mud and even some blood, whining at me, blaming me for all my sins, and ready to eat me for sure. The dead had come to exact their revenge. I dropped my milking bucket and ran away. I think that was a very sensible thing to do. Inside my mom and my sister were talking, my brother was slowly ambling out of bed, all blissfully unaware that the dead had risen because of my laziness.
On April 7, we continued our travels, heading for the Pacific Coast in Oregon. First we drove through the Snake River Valley. Immense sagebrush areas, but also good irrigated farmland. Once in Oregon, we drove back into the mountains. We crossed the Blue Mountains in Malheur National Forest and the Ochoco Mountains. Down in the valleys there was some grassland and sometimes a grain field. The last part to Sisters was sagebrush and juniper country. That whole stretch was ranch and free-range area. This practice disturbs the natural vegetation and forest heavily.
Truth be told, we were all anxious to milk our new cow for the first time and thought we’d give it a try. We brought out our pail and a bucket of feed and shooed our cow confidently into the barn. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten two very important auxiliaries: a stout rope and a stick! With the aid of these tools, and lots of patience, we managed to coax a pint of milk into the pail.
In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.
The war between my two farming mentors, Lowry and Tightwood, had escalated since the Canadian Thistle Crisis. Now the men were inspecting Lowry’s just-planted pea patch and arguing over the origins of mere pigweed. Lowry thought our local pigweed variety originated on Tightwood’s farm. Tightwood asserted biblical origins: “It’s in the Good Book. When the Good Lord cast the demons into the pig herd, some got confused and thought he said pigweed. That’s why pigweed is so devilish.”
It shouldn’t have been there, but there it was, a nineteenth-century gravestone partly exposed at the edge of a rubbish pile back in the woods. He assumed some farmer had finally had his fill of always having to skirt an abandoned plot of graves that no one had tended for years. Perhaps he had struck a half-buried slab with his cultivator and broken a tine and, perhaps, after cursing and counting costs, he had hauled away every stone on the site and plowed it all under.
Each episode of Around the Farm Table ends with a meal, made from the products from the farms featured in that show. With the volunteer firefighters, many of whom are also dairy farmers, we had a meal of Wagyu burgers, green bean salad and homemade pickles spiced with horseradish, as we discussed, in detail, the vagaries of putting up hay, and how fires can get ignited in barns. Little did I know that they would soon be coming to my aid.
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.
During this period of withdrawal and rehabilitation, weeds grew. The soil lashed out. It got ugly. I reasoned “Why grow something and make nothing when I can grow nothing and make nothing.” Later, someone asked, “What are you growing?” I said, “Dirt,” which, as it turned out came to be true. The question for me became, “How can I make these natural and historically abundant plant nutrients available to the chemically dependent soil once again?” I had to rethink my farming practices.
A radio sits in the crux of two pipelines at the top of the parlor. It’s mostly tipped to its side and tentatively secured by a piece of baling twine. Dust clogs the speakers and the quality of the reception changes every time a cow walks past it on her way to the free-stalls. It adds to the breathing sounds of the parlor and has a calming effect on both the cattle and the farmer — but more than that, it has a tendency to get us singing, whether we meant to or not.
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.
When I was ‘the young fella’ who took horses to the forge Issac Stoops asked me to get a set of shoes on ‘the foal.’ ‘The foal’ was twelve years old; a lovely black mare of 15 hands he had bred himself. Issac never took the mare out on the road so I gather it was to give her a bit of traction ploughing a very steep brae behind his house. It was at a time in our country when ploughmen took great pride in the uniformity of their potato drills. ‘Straight as a gun shot’ being a term. Issac however was not so disciplined. ‘Your drills are a bit crooked’ a neighbour commented. ‘Aw what odds; sure they’re only for the pigs’ Issac would reply.
The forge in Rostrevor was in a very old street known as “The Back Lane.” There to the side of its entrance was a circular flat granite stone with a hole in its centre for shoeing cart wheels. And to the side of that a mountain of broken ploughs and other horse implements infringing on the road. As a child I was told very solemnly that somewhere in the heart of it was a broken chariot belonging to Brian Boru. An archway between houses led to a small yard and then the forge itself – a truly medieval barn. A high space with slates that could do with being pointed and a floor paved with thick wooden sleepers and flagged stone.
We learned right away the first thing we needed to do was slow down. Chuck is methodical. He talks slowly. He started by teaching us how to adjust and fix our harness. He drilled us on these basics along with ground driving repeatedly. I was itching to get out and do some “real driving,” but that wasn’t going to happen until we were really comfortable, almost bored with these fundamentals. We learned that every detail is important. Through repetition and guidance we began to physically memorize the feel of the correct tension in the lines, the order of putting on the harness, the habit of safety-checking the harness, of attending to the mood of the horses… Learning these things thoroughly up front helped build up a foundation that became imprinted in our muscles and our minds so that as we progressed these skills became second nature.
No sooner was first crop hay “put up” and it was time to “shock grain”. We could see it coming, a sea of green oats slowly turning to a duller, lighter green, then toward a yellow hue. The oats were ripening. It was a beautiful sight to witness the undulating fields turning golden yellow. Dad would walk out into the oat fields of the 238 acre farm out on Oak Grove Ridge in the heart of Crawford County, near Seneca in southwestern Wisconsin. He would reach down and pull a few grains from the stalks. Then he would shuck the grains in his hand and open up the husks, inspect the fullness of the pods, and shake a handful of oats for heft. Dad would announce at the supper table, “Tomorrow, we get the grain binder out.”
It was an early fall day and the weather was still warm. Sam reached for his handkerchief to wipe the beads of sweat dripping down from his face. Many of the local farmers had hired on to use their teams of horses and mules to haul pipe and equipment for the gas company. It was the first natural gas line to be run in this area. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge for the crews that forged through these Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio. Sam, as all of the local crew, was happy to have work. It gave him the opportunity to make some cash, which was a difficult thing to be had in these depression years.
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.
I held the stick across her horns and wrapped the duct tape around them and the stick, crisscrossing back and forth, securing the stick to the horns. The hard part was doing it with a goat that was just a little wigged out under me. Rip, twist, press down. Rip, twist, press down. I wrapped until I could not move my creation off Dove’s head and the stick was too wide to go through the wire fence.
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.
if on the farm you were not strong enough
to dig a ditch fork hay or pull a plow
with no rhythm in the hands to milk a cow
these marginal ones still always had a job
women men girls boys too feeble or frail
sat in orchards or stood along fencerows
like statues with stones in their pockets
to keep crows out of ripening crops
The process of building a wheel begins with shaping the tennons on the end of a spoke that inserts into the hub. They are fit into the hub as it sits on a wheel table and must be tight and true and at the correct angle. A flange is then put into place to hold them all secure. According to the desired diameter of the wheel, all the spokes are cut to the same length and those ends are pointed, again creating tennons, using a tool that resembles a big pencil sharpener.
When Clovis Gold passed away not quite two years ago at the age of 93, he was perhaps the last of a vanished ilk: the tomato growers of Union City and Hurley, Missouri. For half a century this industry was a mainstay of these communities in addition to many other towns. Although some Ozark settlers in antebellum times believed that tomatoes were poison, this notion was about gone by 1870. Perhaps the privations of the war, and the lawless days of Reconstruction, made people desperate enough to eat those “ornamental” fruits… and find them delicious!
I consider farms to be one of those interesting things I was talking about. Isn’t it just so lovely that a small, tilled plot of land can hold so much life? Food for humans, food for animals, bulk and produce, cover crops, an environment for domesticated and wild animals alike. If you were to pause time, think of all the things that would be happening! In the stalky field, a bleary-eyed fawn twitches tired ears. In the hawthorn hedge, a magpie pulls at a thorny twig, artfully constructing a masterpiece of a nest. In the barn, the scurrying of an evasive mouse catches the attention of the draft horses, slowly chewing their breakfast.
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.
When I got out into the long grass the sun was not yet risen, but there were already many colors in the eastern sky, and I made haste to sharpen my scythe, so that I might get to the cutting before the dew should dry. Some say that it is best to wait till all the dew has risen, so as to get the grass quite dry from the very first. But, though it is an advantage to get the grass quite dry, yet it is not worth while to wait till the dew has risen. For, in the first place, you lose many hours of work (and those the coolest), and next — which is more important — you lose that great ease and thickness in cutting which comes of the dew. So I at once began to sharpen my scythe.
The sound came from somewhere out in the darkness. She walked on cautiously toward the sound. That’s when she saw the cow and her new baby. Sarah stood in the cold rain and watched. The mother cow tried to get the calf up. The baby didn’t seem to be trying. Sarah didn’t know what to do. She was afraid of the cow, but she had to do something. She slowly walked to the calf and tried to get it to stand up. It wouldn’t or couldn’t. Water was running all around the calf and it was shaking from the cold. Sarah had to do something.
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.
These days, you realize you’re starting to live the life of a herdswoman. You walk out into a field, tall grasses, the fawn-like ears peeking up amidst the weeds – little noises letting you know it’s time to stop for a quick bite or snack before journeying forward. It’s the height of summer, and the old orchard’s apple trees are starting to show fruit. The doelings discovered apple leaves for the first time yesterday, and now they beg for you to lower a bough so they can munch the tree’s sweet leaves.
It had always been there, crowning the knoll for as long as the boy could remember and even longer than that, for as long as his father and even his old grandfather could quite recall. He had heard it said that the oak was already old when the first New Englanders and Kentuckians came to erect their cabins on Spoon River in the 1830s– and, earlier still, that bands of Pottawatomi hunters had stopped to rest in its shade, or so his grandfather claimed and, as certain proof, produced a small arrowhead from a drawer in his roll-top desk and related how he had found it tucked in the old oak’s roots when he was a lad himself. Which was proof enough for the boy, never mind how the father rolled his eyes.
Her paintings aren’t the more traditional, romantic, panoramic vistas of life in the west but rather true portraits of people she knows, taken from moments in everyday life. Her main goal with her art is the preservation of the ranching lifestyle and culture and she contributes to that not just with her painting but her daily life as well. She can be found just as often riding out to help neighbors with branding and other tasks on their ranch as in front of a painting.
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.
It wouldn’t take my brothers long to make the rounds. I needed to be ready, so I cautiously approached the tree and stepped under the shade of its branches. Then I leaped backward, causing my braids to wave forward like swinging doors. There were possums in the branches — possums hanging from their tails! After the first reaction of surprise and fear, I was overcome with amusement. They were so funny!
The plough guy is close to my heart. I miss getting my bare feet in a furrow as the earth goes back to work. I wonder what my Amish neighbor would do if I pulled over my Jetta, took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my pant legs and fell in behind his plough. He might shake his head, but I think he would understand. He would probably stop his team and look behind him and recognize a 38 year-old farmer’s daughter and say, “Well, if you’re gonna walk in my furrow you might as well be helpful and pick up some rocks.” I’ll let you know how it works out.
Does farming pay? Can a young man of brains and ambition, who has his way to make in the world, find in agriculture a fair field for his efforts? These questions have been asked from time to time for as long as I can remember, though more often and more earnestly of late years, when combinations of capital and the tendency to do business on a large scale have narrowed the field of individual enterprise. Many young people, chafing at the idea of being mere cogs in the industrial wheel, are looking earnestly for some opportunity through which they may become masters of their own business.
A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.
We had all the time in the world, the day was cool and lovely, and there was no reason not to just keep at it. During a short break, Charlie gave me some pointers, but he added that it was mostly a matter of “getting the feel of it.” He said he couldn’t really explain how to hold a plow; the knowledge would have to come to me as I held it. When we started up again, an old memory welled up: that first exultant glide after my father’s steadying hand had lifted from the back of my bicycle seat. All at once I relaxed and felt connected not to a lump of contrary metal, but to the living force that a plow becomes behind a team of horses. And a long cusp of earth curled over like an unbidden line of poetry, all but making music.
Before attending the full blown event in the afternoon I did slip out in the morning to get a few photographs of the scotch cart and the spring van I knew would be there. Truly I marvelled at the work involved in turning out such pristine outfits and more than that the achievement of presenting a horse and cart in the razzmatazz of such a day.
I walked bare-footed behind my dad, each step showing my high arches, and leaving little round toe prints in the freshly worked field. The planter, drawn by old Duke and Dolly, the venerable team of horses, dropped precious seeds of wheat into the furrow, then quickly covered them to just the right depth. The good earth, surrounding each kernel, cradled it lightly until it sprouted. Soon the small blades of wheat would turn the dark field into a sea of emerald green.
That neighborly spirit was strong during the threshing season. Threshing crews were common and necessary in the 1930s through the 1950s. Our Oak Grove Ridge had about 12 to 15 farmers that were on the threshing ring. Frank Fradette owned the threshing machine whose sole purpose was to separate the golden kernels of oats from their stalks. The stalks were spit out a big pipe by a powerful blower and formed a straw stack. The oats kernels were hauled to a granary for storage. Frank Fradette pulled the threshing machine with a big orange Minneapolis Moline tractor.
Working the land was one thing, but this arrangement was something else entirely. Trusting his nephew to care for this land and keep it in the family as it had been for a century — and grounding his faith in Daddy’s hard work and affection for this place — Uncle William set a transition in motion. It wouldn’t be a gift. Daddy would have to buy the farm, and he and Mama would need to take out a serious loan to do it. But they’d work out these details later. Another matter needed to be settled first.
I’ve known a couple of Turkey Vultures that waited for me to do chores in the morning at the hay barn. They knew I would be there every day on time. I named them Harry and Carrie. They would perch on the corral rail, across from the hay barn, watching me the whole time. When I was done with chores, they would fly away. I know they grew attached to me, as I grew attached to them!
There is a lot of value in the produce you sell that contrasts it from what someone can buy at the grocery store. First, you probably sell varieties that are different from what the grocery store sells. As you’ve probably tried dozens of different varieties, you can let the customer know why yours are different. Be brief and talk about things like taste and texture that are easy to get across.
It often seems to me that a good share of life is determined by our own perspectives. I’ve competed in pulls where the team came in last and I was completely content, if not downright thrilled. I’ve had other times when the team pulled all they could and behaved perfectly, and still disappointed me. It’s just my personal perspective on that particular day that led to my disappointment or pleasure. Let’s face it; a day at a pull, with the good people a pull attracts, and the bond shared with horses is a good day that we should cherish whether you finished first or last.
A hallmark of the Pioneer Equipment system has been their superb, field-tested engineering coupled with production-line planning which has resulted, repeatedly, in affordable, durable implements sold now ‘round the world. But I must hazard to offer that ahead of even that, has been vision. Wayne saw a need and a possibility when many, back then in the 70’s and 80’s, saw little or none.
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!
I never collected rocks, but I knew plenty of children who did, and I wonder where those collections are now. I wonder if they lie arranged in cardboard boxes, tuck under beds, patiently waiting to be returned to the ground. Stones are confident in that way, in a way I am not; they know where they came from, and they know where they are headed. There is no end for them, just a slow, steady smoothing of rough edges, a mellowing by age and time.
March 1982 ~ Dad & I have just built a new, smaller sugarhouse on a slight bench above the brook, behind our 120-year-old farmhouse, on the Glen Road in Jay. I’m 27 now, and employed as a Correction Officer by the State of New York at Clinton Prison in Dannemora. This 6-week stretch that I spend making maple syrup with my father every spring is a retreat, of sorts ~ a return to a simpler time, of working with your hands, legs and back, producing a seasonal product, as my family has done for six generations.
While the ‘view’ of old-tyme threshing is most always photogenic, and the beneficial social aspects of a threshing bee – where neighbors come together to share the work and have a good time – are wonderful to experience, we were interested this time around in the mechanical ‘interiors’ of the process. The paths and tension of the drive belts, the adjustments of everything, the mid-work servicings are all things which might escape most eyes. But for any of us who appreciate this decidedly appropriate technology for a handmade farming, such views can be helpful and even critically important.
Even Timid Green’s dearest enemies acknowledged that his timidity did not apply to anything but women. He would do anything once, and what’s more, he would do it over again if he thought it was indicated. Then he would say he was afraid to do anything but just what he did, and had to hurry before he got afraid to do that. All of which has a bearing on what follows:
The frail kid has a strong heartbeat – and he’s sucking on my sweater. Good sign. I wrap him in a towel and nestle him in the hay. Then I tie his mother to the stall wall and milk her. The whole time a voice in my head says, ‘you never bottle-feed babies.’ If the doe can’t feed her kid, the kid dies and the doe is a cull. But here I am making a bottle of colostrum for this kid. If he doesn’t get this in him, he will die. Despite my “hands off” rule of farming, it just seems wrong in this case – especially after all his work to get to this point. When I have enough milk, I hold him close in my lap. With some struggle, he gets the hang of the bottle, downs it, and finally perks up a bit. His head stops bobbing and he looks right at me, his eyes trying to find my face. He’s tired and frail, but his belly is full.
There were times when 25,000 people showed up for the events and stayed through heavy rain, heat, and once even during the World Soccer Championship. The crowds were fascinated by the heavy horses, which despite their enormous weight of up to 2,200 pounds and their calm disposition, displayed impressive agility and speeds during the various tasks demanded of them.
The turmoil had been going on for a week. I never knew five chickens could make so much racket. I guessed that their being relatives had something to do with it. Providence was the father of Poor Richard, and Loretta was Providence’s wife. Lenny was Richard’s wife, and Benny Hen was Lenny’s twin sister. The whole bunch of them lived right beside my doghouse. Yes, the close relations must have had something to do with it.
Today I Prepare by Lynn Miller Summering towards seated moments found without splinter found with or without care. No audience save the critical unbecoming self. Were it a long race to now, surprised to be amongst the last running with a chance to go to the target beyond end, tanks full with cupped felt. So […]
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.
The age-old model of mentorship in exchange for a place to stay and food from the farm was about to be upended. The first sign of trouble arrived in 2009 when a farmer in the Willamette Valley found herself subject to a wage claim violation by a disgruntled former intern. In 2010, one of Rogue Farm Corps host farms was sued in court for wage violations. There were reports of farms in California where labor officials were interviewing work crews in the fields to determine their employment status. This confluence of events sent shock waves throughout the farming community. Rogue Farm Corps found itself in the uncomfortable position of facilitating illegal farm internships and putting host farmers at great risk. Despite the wide spread practice of farmers offering housing, food and experience in exchange for some help on the farm, the reality of labor law meant that these informal arrangements were in great jeopardy.
One day when I had him in the ring performing, I unknowingly gave him a signal that initiated his best previously undisclosed trick. I was standing directly in front of him and for some reason I raised both of my arms at the same time, sort of “Moses parting the waters” style. Tricksy, as we now called him, reared up on his hind legs and shuffled stiff legged towards me. I was a little shocked and took a couple of steps backwards but when I did he followed, still walking on his hind legs. He seemed to expect me to stay still so that’s what I did. He moved in on me until my nose was touching his breastbone and his legs were draped over my shoulders. One of the kids shouted, “He looks like he wants to dance!” and as it turned out that’s exactly what he had in mind. As he hung almost weightless over my shoulders he let me spin him around in a weird waltz.
In his greatest works — Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and Huckleberry Finn — Twain offered a contrast and tension between town and countryside, between the web of deals and cons and bustle of activity that the modern world would call decidedly urban, and the hard-scrabble but quiet and ultimately nourishing living on farms. There were four farms that touched Sam Clemens, rural locales that sustained and helped mold him, that reached from his beginnings through the decades of his greatest creative efforts.
I head up the steep trail through the rocks and sagebrush behind our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A mother grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (her strategy to lead a predator away from her babies, who are scattering out through the grass).
UC Santa Cruz is thrilled to welcome applications to the 50th Anniversary year of the UCSC Farm and Garden Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. The 39 apprentices each year arrive from all regions of the US and abroad, and represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and interests. We have a range of course fee waivers available to support participation in the Apprenticeship.
One morning in early June, I helped four Peruvian herders load 780 +/- goats into a semi-trailer and a gooseneck stock trailer. We started at 5:30 a.m. and finished just before 7:30. In addition to loading the goats, we packed up the herders’ camps, disassembled the corrals and loading chute, and took down electric fences – a busy and productive morning, to say the least!
In the last century, the increased number of larger farms and ranches, coupled with much of the textile industry moving overseas, has resulted in few wool mills that serve small flocks. However, Valley Oak Wool & Fiber Mill is one rare such business. Located in Northern California, this mill takes raw, unwashed fleeces, and processes them into batting, roving, and yarn. Importantly, wool mills such as Valley Oak Wool & Fiber Mill serve to bridge the gap between farmer and sheep, and crafter, textile, and wearer.
The mission of Central Oregon Veterans Ranch is “A working ranch that restores purpose and spirit to veterans of all ages.” The vision is to provide learning and volunteer opportunities in sustainable agriculture to veterans of all ages and eras from the broader community, and supportive housing on the property for up to five veterans who are terminally ill or at end of life. The ranch will be a hub; a physical place that will foster community, camaraderie, and healing among various generations of veterans.
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.
from issue: 42-1
…until farmland preservation gets figured out. A pardon for farmland! Amnesty for farmers! And the world court for large banks! Below is a summary from the most recent AFT analysis of the loss of farmland to development. We have asked a few Journal readers and editors to share thoughts on the topic. A conversation with Lynn Miller, Paul Hunter, Shannon Berteau, Klaus Karbaumer, Ryan Foxley, Ken Gies, and Ferrel Mercer representing Oregon, Washington, Missouri, New York, and Virginia.
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.
Children are famous for asking questions and many of them can’t be answered simply or some not at all. As we grow older, we still have questions, only we have the tools to find the answer to most. Still, there are questions that never come up. Some questions are foolish, some are nonsense, and some just never are thought of until the answer is sitting right in front of you.
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.
But then came the oil anyhow. The last of the lots on the far end was bought by a man with two grown sons. He figured all three worked off somewhere in town—little did he know, since they’d paid cash. Big rough old man Maximillian Donnelly and his two big roughneck boys cut of the same cloth, Whit and Brat. When they banged up a house in eight days in one corner of the lot, in a big hurry right through the nights with halogen lights and a boom-box playing Tex-Mex music, right next to the road rather than set back in the middle like all the others going up, he should have known. By the time they moved into the house they already had a drilling rig set up, over the lot’s exact center.
Hardly a soul on my mail route knew I was even a horseman till they saw Ketchum’s tracks that morning breasting thirty-some inches of snow. I hadn’t even known what I was going to do about that much snow when the sun rose on a cloudless dazzling sky, where the valley lay stiff and still. The postal jeep had about sixteen inches of road clearance, and even heading downhill in four-wheel drive had been stopped in a couple car-lengths by its undercarriage packed tight with the white stuff. I’d had to shovel out the worst of it, then saddle and bridle Ketchum anyhow, get a loop on the rear bumper and tow the jeep back into my barn where the town let me park it. The town didn’t own a real shed but the one behind Town Hall where they parked the school bus and snowplow. I’d given Ketchum a couple flakes of hay and broke the ice on his trough then called Hank Overton to find out there’d be no snowplow this morning.
A few minutes with my Old Man will bring you stories Hollywood could never write. Stories of driving the canned milk to town at age 12 in the family pickup, not having a car to drive, driving new Cadillacs, eating home raised meals, eating at the Four Seasons as Presidents walked out while he was walking in, farming with only horses, then new tractors, then big tractors, then not farming, then doing it again with 50 year old tractors, then once more with no tractors.
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.
Market gardening is becoming more and more popular as an enterprise for the small farm these days as the demand for fresh locally grown food continues to grow. Here at our farm we’ve dabbled in it as our search for the perfect homestead livelihood continues and it always seems to create conflicting interest and values for us. In days gone by, the small commercial farm was also a subsistence homestead, but in our cash based society of today, doing both is becoming more and more difficult. As the pressure to produce money grows, the time, energy, and resources for the small projects necessary on a subsistence homestead fall by the wayside, not to mention the deeper values that are likely what attracted you to farming in the first place.
SFJ subscriber, Ron Decker of Corvallis, OR, inherited these photos from his uncle, W.P. Decker. They are of early days in the Lamont, WA area. The italic captions were taken from notes on the backs of the photos. Thanks to Ron for sharing.
I could catch glimpses of this story as I walked through my dusty little farm; when I went past coulees full of dark moist places scattered with poplars and willow, chokecherries and sagebrush, causing my heart to ache… I wanted to explore that coulee forever. Sorting out the smells while flushing out prairie chickens and partridge. Listening to the wind blow through the fox and coyote smells as a horse snorts scents from his nostrils; I wanted to drink the water from the ever-flowing story well and discover all the moist, fertile grounds hidden in the dry prairie where I lived. So, first we follow the wind…
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.
I never thought I’d be growing food for a living; when a friend of mine suggested the name of my future business, I replied, “Thanks, but I’m never going to have a farm.” The list is substantial, too, of those who don’t actually believe that I am doing this – my gender and slight build cause strangers to look right past me when asking for the boss. The majority of agriculturists in this world are women, but the majority of the recognition goes to men.
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.”
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.
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.
“Heads up!” and a whistle from Head Teamster, Neil Dimmock, and 44 head of Percheron horses lean into their collars to pull in a field a 26 foot cultivator expressly manufactured by Ezee-On Manufacturing of Vegreville, Alberta. This feat set a new World Record for the Largest Hitch of Percheron horses on May 24, 2003. The next day, two more horses were added to the third team from the rear for a total of 46 horses that were hitched to set the World Record for the Largest Agricultural Hitch.
There are well over five hundred Pioneer and Heritage Museums across the US, some big, some small, some targeted to a single domain (i.e. homesteading, logging, farming or mining) some like the Yamhill Heritage Center more broadly organized. Most of them have been around a long time and, tragically, many are challenged by lack of volunteer interest and funding. It is very unusual for a region, or town, or county to find the volunteer enthusiasms and the funding to build up a new museum center in these days of baggy pants and plastic wallets.
Doc and Jim were a named team when we purchased them at auction in 1993, and they worked in tandem for the next seven years in support of our small dairy operation, answering to those very same names. Why would we change them? The two Belgians, already up in years, didn’t shoulder the full burden of what we needed in terms of horsepower. We used our tractors to harvest hay from all but the smallest of the fields we mowed, raked and baled each summer. Still, we regularly harnessed the team to mow that 5-acre field just west of the farmhouse, and to haul manure from the barn, firewood to the house and storm-felled trees up from the steep slopes of forested ravines.
Farm toys, in a small way, give a nod to a universal underlying need, and that is for farms. Lots of farms. Small, diversified, unique, healthy, ecologically rich farms. Seated deep within the human psyche is the innate yearning to connect with and be a part of nature, to share our lives with the plants and animals that sustain us and which we in turn care for. Playsets speak to that. Children are drawn to depictions of cows, horses, chickens, and people on the land, and living from it. A monoculture cornfield playset (if they exist) would not be a very engaging play thing.
Despite Frank Dean’s 84 years he is still a practising farrier, and determined not to allow the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday to pass uncelebrated he could think of no better way to mark the occasion than with the blacksmith’s tradition of firing the anvil, watched by close friends and villagers at his forge in Rodmell near Lewes.