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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

by Anne & Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA

When Stephen Leslie asked us to put together a sidebar on cultivator setups for his upcoming book, The New Horse-Powered Farm (Chelsea Green, 2013), we realized it had been almost 15 years since we had cultivated this topic in the CQ column. We thought it was high time to reintroduce these essential tools for row cropped vegetables as well as the guidance system we developed for Horsedrawn cultivation. Hopefully the principles will be of value to the new wave of teamsters getting started in small-scale, organic vegetable production, even if the tools and attachments that we use are not available.

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.

Although it took a couple of years to work out the details, developing this horsedrawn guidance system was simply a matter of recognizing the horses’ natural inclination to follow a pathway, and then realizing we could use the riding cultivator to create these horse-friendly pathways before planting the produce. We attached five large tractor sweeps in the flying geese formation shown in the first photo. When engaged in the soil, the three forward sweeps backfill each other creating a relatively level bedtop while the furrowing action of the outside sweeps define the width of the planting beds.

We found it was important to line up the cultivator wheels, single trees and outside sweeps so that the horses, cultivator and sweeps all tracked in the pathways. As we work our way across the field laying out beds, we simply put one horse and cultivator wheel in the new pathway made by the previous pass and use the pedal steering on this old Oliver cultivator to keep the outside sweep on the mark and straighten out the beds as necessary.

After sweeping the beds into place, we like to flatten and firm the bedtops with a cultipacker to draw moisture back up to the surface and make a smoother seedbed for planting and cultivation. You can see from the hoofprints in the photo how the horses like to follow the shallow furrows made by the outside sweeps on the cultivator just like their tendency to follow a harrow mark or their own paths out on pasture.

Laying out the beds as the final step of seedbed preparation provides several benefits. The overlapping sweeps do a good job of undercutting residual weeds or cover crop clumps before the vegetables go in the ground. This extra pass over the field also gives the horses an opportunity to get acquainted with the riding cultivator and following the furrow before using the same setup and system — minus the middle sweep — for the more delicate work of cultivating the produce. Training the team to follow the pathway rather than the crop row makes it so much easier to cultivate vegetables soon after planting. The horses know where to go before the row of produce is visible.

Forming the beds ahead of time also simplifies the task of marking the planting rows. Again, the horses and cultivator wheels track in the pathways. The only difference is we replace the sweeps on the riding cultivator with a single tooth mounted between the cultivator gangs to mark a planting furrow in the center of the beds.

One drawback to this planting system is the time required to change the attachments on the cultivator from bed-forming to planting mode and then back again to the sweeps for cultivating. We solved that problem by acquiring a second riding cultivator dedicated entirely to planting operations.

The second cultivator, a McCormick-Deering, had seen better days when we got it. The wheels were splayed and the gangs too bent for precision cultivation. However, it was more than adequate for planting operations like making a slit in the soil for hand-setting transplants or opening up a furrow for large seeded crops like potatoes and peas, and then backfilling the furrow with disc hillers.

Seeing the labor-saving advantage of having extra cultivators on hand for specialized purposes, we kept a lookout for more of these reasonably priced McCormicks. We now have a fleet of four riding cultivators: the Oliver permanently setup with sweeps for bed-forming and cultivation; two McCormicks available for different planting modes (mulch-till, ridge-till, strip-till, no-till, and clean seedbeds); and another rigged up with rolling Lillistons for high-residue zone cultivation.

The photos highlight some of these very specialized setups for accomplishing site-specific tasks on our unirrigated farm. They are definitely not necessary for horsepowered market gardening. In fact, we sometimes spend more time hitching and unhitching the team to different cultivators and adjusting the attachments than planting and cultivating. In this respect, the fleet has made our lives more complicated. By contrast, the horsedrawn guidance system makes the actual fieldwork very straightforward.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Oliver riding cultivator in bed-forming mode. The 12” sweeps, mounted 8 1/2” apart, define a 34” bed. We made the cross-bracket for the middle sweep from junked Allis Chalmers tractor cultivator parts. Only tool required – a hacksaw.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Laying out the single-row planting beds with the Oliver. The widely spaced 1/4” Row Crop tractor sweeps can handle a lot of cover crop residue without plugging up.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Rolling three beds at a time with a 9’ cultipacker.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

For cultivating the row cropped vegetables, we simply remove the middle sweep and adjust the inside sweeps so they run flat, skimming under the surface of the soil. Changing the angle of the sweeps is just a matter of loosening the bolt at the bottom of the shank and moving the shoe forward until the serrated wedge-shaped washer lines up with the outermost notches. (If the shanks have been bent or are limited in their range of pitch, it may be necessary to place washers or shims behind the stem of the sweeps to insure they run level.) We prefer the low profile Southern Peanut Sweeps close to the row instead of the more aggressive 1/4” Row Crop Sweeps. Both types of sweeps have been available from Agri-Supply (1-800-345-0169).

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Note how the soil flows over the inside sweeps rather than being thrown on the crop. The 12” sweeps also make it possible to position the shanks far away from the row so they do not push stones or clods on to the delicate vegetable plants or bruise the foliage.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

We use this McCormick-Deering riding cultivator just for planting operations. In this case it is set up with a 1” tooth on a lightweight cross-bracket to mark a furrow in the middle of beds for transplanting by hand.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

The McCormick-Deerings are designed for four different wheel spacings, ranging from 36” to 48” apart. We use the narrowest wheelbase to match as close as possible the 34” beds formed by the Oliver. To change the wheel spacing, loosen the square-headed set bolt at the front of the cultivator and slide the axle arm to the innermost position. Then jack up the cultivator and…

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

…remove the pin from the main frame in order to slide the wheel in until the pin can be replaced in the outermost hole.

A well-oiled cultivator is a pleasure to operate. In addition to oiling the layers, rollers and foot pedals, we make sure to lubricate the main frame and axles by squirting a few drops around the pin hole, in the adjacent oil well, and inside the spindle by lifting the cap shown at the lower left edge of the photo. To minimize soil contamination, we use veterinary grade mineral oil. For the same reason, we pack the wheel hubs with food grade, calcium-based grease.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Combination bedformer-cultipacker. This setup comes in handy when renovating unplanted beds where there is not enough room for the full size cultipacker. In this instance, we are using the inside sweeps and mini-packer on the Oliver to cover pea seed scattered in a wide furrow made by the McCormick with a potato shovel attachment. However, the primary benefit of the mini-packer setup is the firm groove it makes in the middle of the bed, ideal for direct seeding vegetables with a walk-behind seeder.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Zone Cultivation. We rigged up these old Lilliston rolling cultivators on 2 by 4” crosspieces for close-to-the-row soil aeration and weed control. The offset spyders do a nice job of loosening the crust next to small plants in preparation for aggressive cultivation in the pathways with the sweeps or traditional cultivating shovels. We also use this zone cultivation setup for crops planted on ridges or interseeded with a living mulch.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

This wobbly old McCormick with splayed wheels and bent gangs is not suitable for precision cultivation, but still in good enough shape to use as a high-clearance, minimum tillage tool. The 12” sweep at the bottom of the extra-long tractor shank works well for undercutting row crops after harvest or surface tilling cover crops. The potato shovel bolted to the top of the sweep serves as a ridging wing, throwing soil on the residue to begin decomposition and facilitate follow-up tillage. We made the heavy-duty cross-bracket attached to the back of the gangs out of two pieces of angle iron held together by Allis Chalmers cultivator clamps – no welding necessary. In a future CQ, we hope to show how we set up these old McCormicks for strip-tillage and clean seedbed renovation.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Finnsheep: Sheep for all Economic Seasons

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Another consideration for the Trimburs was health and ease of care. Heidi says, “Finnsheep, as a breed, won this one without contest! They are smaller, super-friendly, have no horns to worry about and no tails to dock. They are hardy, thrive on good nutrition and grow a gorgeous fleece. I love to walk out in the pastures with them. They all come running over to say hello and some of our rams love to jump on our golf cart and “go for a ride” – it is hilarious!

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Forging is that defect of the horse’s gait by reason of which, at a trot, he strikes the ends of the branches or the under surface of the front shoe with the toe of the hind shoe or hoof of the same side. Forging is unpleasant to hear and dangerous to the horse. It is liable to wound the heels of the forefeet, damages the toes or the coronet of the hind hoofs, and often pulls off the front shoes.

Chicken

How To Cure Chicken Roup: Then and Now

How To Cure The Common (Chicken) Cold

Ask A Teamster The Bit

Ask A Teamster: The Bit

I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?

Horseshoeing Part 1B

Horseshoeing Part 1B

Since the horse is useful to man only by reason of his movements, his foot deserves the most careful attention. The horse-shoer should be familiar with all its parts. Fig. 3 shows the osseous framework of the foot, consisting of the lower end of the cannon bone, the long pastern, the two sesamoid bones, the short pastern, and the pedal bone.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

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I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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from issue:

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.

Littlefield Notes Making Your Horses Work For You Part 2

LittleField Notes: Making Your Horses Work For You Part 2

by:
from issue:

Every beginning horse farmer at some point will find himself in need of procuring that first team. After land, this is certainly one of the most critical purchasing decisions you will make in the development of the farm. The animals you choose can make your farming glow and hum with moments of blissful certainty, or contribute to frustration, bewilderment, loss of resolve, and God forbid, horses and people hurt and machines wrecked.

Rabbits

Rabbits

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The domestic rabbit has the potential to become one of the world’s major sources of meat protein. As human populations continue to put pressure on the resources of the food providers, the farmers, the rabbit is likely to begin to interest, not only the farmer, but the family interested in providing food for it’s table. They convert forage more efficiently than do ruminants, such as cattle and sheep. In fact, rabbits can produce five times the amount of meat from a given amount of alfalfa as do beef cattle.

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

Chicken

The Best Chicken Pie Ever

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She has one more gift to give: Chicken Pie.

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Friends with Your Wild Heifer

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So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses

A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses

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We have tried a workhorse, and for our needs he has proven quite satisfactory as well as satisfying to use. Thus we feel it is possible for someone with little or no experience to learn to care for and use a horse or a team for farm and woods work, although, obviously, this is not a process to be undertaken lightly. One of the basic aims of the farm operation for us is self-sufficiency, and we thought that the horse would be more efficient than a tractor in achieving this aim.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Words for the Novice Teamster

Words for the Novice Teamster

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Many people who are new to the world of draft horses are intimidated by what seems to them to be a foreign language. This “workhorse language” can be frustrating for novices who would like to use draft horses, or who would just like to understand what people who do use them are talking about. The knowledge of some basic draft horse terminology can end most of the beginner’s confusion about the special jargon used in this trade.

Ask A Teamster Driving

Ask A Teamster: Driving

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.

Cattle Handling Part 1 Basic Cattle Handling

Cattle Handling Part 1: Basic Cattle Handling

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If they understand what you want them to do, and you give them time to figure it out, cattle are very easy to herd. Pressuring and release of pressure at the proper times will encourage them to move (or halt) and to go the direction and speed you desire. The herd will also stay together, moving as a group if you herd them calmly and don’t get them upset and excited. Best results are had when you move them at a walk, controlling the speed and direction of the leaders.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT