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.
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 have been questioned (even criticized) about my slow, gentle, repetitious approach “taking too much time” and all the little steps being unnecessary when one can simply “hitch ‘em tied back to a well-broke horse they can’t drag around, and just let ‘em figure it out on their own.” I try to give horses the same consideration I would like if someone was teaching me how to do something new and strange.
When a team is properly hitched to a tongue and positioned so there is a little tension on the traces, the holdback system (pole strap, quarter straps, and breeching) will contact the horse throughout their length, but not be snug. If this system is adjusted too loosely, which is quite common, the quarter straps will hang down away from the belly. Before considering other factors be sure the breeching is not adjusted too low – very common. It’s difficult to get the quarter straps up against the flank and belly if the breeching is not up where it belongs. Slack quarter straps can be raised by hooking the trace chains shorter at the single trees. However, be certain that doing so leaves enough distance between the horses hind legs and the single trees so that the legs don’t hit the single trees under any circumstances.
I always chain or otherwise secure slip-on type neckyokes to the tongue so they don’t come off and cause an accident. Neckyokes unexpectedly coming off the tongue have caused countless problems, the likes of which have caused injuries, psychological damage, and even death to horses, and to people as well. Making sure the neckyoke is chained or otherwise secured to the tongue every time you hitch a team is a quick and easy way of eliminating a number of dangerous situations.
Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.
Gain always points to increase reflecting back on fertility. The word ‘gain’ in the manner to which I prefer its use and application NEVER, by definition, depletes. Whether you accept my terminology or not, it should be clear that I and many like me refuse to accept as our goal the maintenance of the status quo. We chose to work to increase fertility, increase health, increase biodiversity, increase market community, increase income, increase positive reputation. We choose GAIN, not sustainability. And that is good news.
But what is most notable in this new book is a kind of coming of age saturated deep into its fabric. With age comes outspoken courage, saying your mind, speaking your piece. Former hopes and fears, ambitions and delusions fall away. As the great Irish poet Yeats says, “We wither toward the truth,” and here is truth aplenty. Lynn Miller has always taken his role as editor and spokesman personally, but here are hard subjects coupled with a wide and easy range of expression. Jokes like “She ran like a young widow after a pie thief, with determination and pluck,” jostle in the mind alongside his declaration that he feels “the corrosive constant crawl of evaporating time,” a ferocious and unapologetic mixed metaphor that slides in and sticks. And there is more here of what I can’t help but call courage, as contrasted with something said for its shock value, or as veiled education. Or, Heaven help us, to make a buck.
These images came as patent documents in a group of other wagon related inventions from the 19th century. They were sent to us by Journal reader and friend Gail C. Millard. We give hearty thanks. LRM
Tom Delehanty is a sixth generation organic farmer, and has been raising meat chicken for over 15 years. He moved to Socorro from Wisconsin in 1994 to start Pollo Real and lives there now with his wife and their two kids. Although they are only ages four and seven, Delehanty described them as the seventh generation of farmers, as they are beginning to help with the chores. Throughout his career, Delehanty has learned about different types of poultry farms in order to help him develop his own pastured poultry method in which he keeps two ideas in mind: the health of the chicken and keeping a natural environment.
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.
When I first looked intently at harnessed mules and horses and longed to understand how the system worked, it was the harness that confused me even more than the anatomy and movements of the animals, even more than the overall system. I saw a tangled basket of straps, chains, ropes, all seeming to have purpose. Yes, there were some diagrams in dusty libraries and old books and these did offer basic explanation of the structural design of some harness varieties. But those didn’t help me to understand in a truly useful way. It would be a few years before I would have my own first team and a pile of old harness to figure out. The little bit of book learning and diagram scanning I did failed to educate me. I have told the story before of how my innocence and arrogance got me into big trouble the first time I harnessed and tried to drive a team. Some of that tragedy came from the harness being put on all wrong, making it unable to function properly. That does not need to be the case with newcomers today.