DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
Clinic attendees gather around to talk safety and equipment before harnessing up. Sam shows why it is important to check hardware and to make sure yokes and eveners are of matching widths.

Draft Animal Power Network Spring Plowing Clinic with Sam Rich

by Erika Marczak

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 the weekend of April 21st and 22nd, 2012, twenty people gathered in Abington, CT for the Draft Animal Power Network’s (DAPNet) 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.

Four teamsters arrived with animals and plows; two women, each with a single horse and walking plow, and two men, each a with sulky plow and team. All teamsters were novices with the plow, three have draft animal experience but limited experience plowing and one woman had never plowed and had only owned her horse for three months. Our Clinician, Sam Rich, a former National Walking Plow Champion, had his work cut out for him. They began Friday evening with an evaluation of their equipment and it quickly became apparent that there was a lot of work to do to get the plows set up for success in the soil as the weekend progressed.

DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
Side note on the Hill Furrow: A common crown, where two furrows are turned toward each other to start a plot, leaves a strip twice the width of a plow covered but unturned. Quite often the unplowed sod under a common crown will regrow despite a good harrowing. Sam Rich’s father and his mentor, Wes Hopkins, threatened to tan his young hide if they ever caught him making a common crown. So in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut Sam practices what they call a hill furrow. The first two furrows are plowed at half of the desired depth. The second pass takes the second furrow and the first furrow and together turns them back to where the first furrow came from. The third furrow lays against the first and second forming a slight hill, thus the name hill furrow. This method may not make a ideal crown for a competition, but it will help you avoid unplowed sod and a good stern look from Father.

Dale Naegeli a local from Connecticut brought a team of Percherons and a Syracuse 2-way sulky plow. Dale’s plowing troubles revolved around having plow shares of two different sizes (10” and 12”), his plow beams were spaced incorrectly in the plow frame and there was a good deal of play in many of the parts. In a couple hours they were able to cut the plow shares to the same size, beams were loosened and moved out towards the wheels appropriately (3” between plow wing and sulky wheel), sloppy movement was stiffened with shims and many other parts were tweaked and tightened. When Dale took to the ground Saturday afternoon, a few adjustments were made and he was soon turning nice furrows in the old corn ground that was available next to the shop.

DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
Dale Naegeli is shown here starting his second furrow turning both shallow strips of soil back to where he started. With his hill furrow complete he sets off across the field on his fourth pass, even with worn points and no coulter, Dale was able to do a respectable job with his plow adjusted correctly.

Dale’s plow showed that even though a plow may have new paint and appear to be in good shape, it may not go well. Setting up a plow by the numbers (as you would have received it from the factory) does not always give you the best results, but it does give you a good place to start. When adjusting a plow take care to adjust one thing at a time so that you know what feature is causing better or worse results. Sam openly shared one of his references, Lynn Miller’s book “Horsedrawn Plows and plowing,” where Lynn lays out some great diagrams and information on how plows should be set up. Although some numbers are provided in the book, a teamster will get to know their own sweet spots the longer they use a particular plow, this sense comes with time, the same as with any tool.

Jennifer Judkins, our DAPNet President at the time, brought one of her Percheron geldings and a beautiful International #308, a Canadian sod or competition plow that friend and distributor of White Horse products Ted Russell found for her. The point and wing of Jen’s plow were well worn, but Sam was able to build up these places by heating and welding additional material on. Doing this increased the suction and helped to keep the plow in the ground. Before Jen was able to work the land she spent some time slowing her horse down by driving him around the field with a stone boat. Once settled into a good pace, Jen and Sam used and adjusted the plow. They started by raising the bridle of the plow and added a chain extension to get the draft right so that the plow stayed in the ground and turned a good furrow. Jen proceeded to start her own hill furrow, plowed the land and completed the task Sunday morning. She finished by evening up to an adjacent plowed plot with a very thin even strip of ground that was turned to make a dead furrow, making 2 small plowed plots into one larger.

DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
Using a walking plow is a challenge, but it can be very rewarding. No matter how many times Megan Johnson’s efforts were less than perfect, her smile never faltered and success was the end result.

Megan Johnson, another local from Northeast Connecticut, brought a 12 year old Belgian mare, a single horse walking plow that a neighbor had given her (perhaps an Eddy) and a borrowed I & J walking plow. Sam had Megan take a wire wheel on a grinder to the share, shin and mold board of her plow to get rid of the pitting that years of outside storage had caused. Sam and Megan took a chance with building the wing of her share out. The share was heated and material added on, sadly the third strike of the hammer brought a chip off of the wing and the discovery that they were working with crucible steel, not material that can be modified in this fashion. So Megan, unfazed, took to scrubbing the paint off the I & J that she brought for backup. After a hearty lunch Megan worked her mare down to a reasonable pace for a walking plow and worked on better communication through the lines and starting off smoothly. Once hooked to the I & J, Megan took turns using the plow and driving her mare until finally Sunday morning she felt ready to combine the two on her own. With a determined smile and perpetually bright attitude, Megan was able to keep her mare tracking straight on the land while turning a suitable furrow with a single horse plow, no small feat for 2 days of lessons.

Anthony Mecca, a vegetable farmer and recipient of our DAPNet Plowing Clinic Scholarship, brought his team of Suffolk Punches and an Oliver #23 two-way sulky plow. After putting some work into getting one side of the plow usable he took to the field and worked on slow and straight furrows. Sunday, they took the Oliver apart in what was perhaps the equivalent of open heart surgery. Bolts, nuts and parts were heated, welded and torched into submission. Wheels and beam brackets were shimmed to stiffen the excessive play. The beam brackets themselves had to be torched apart with new threaded rod welded on so that the beams could be adjusted to prevent side draft of the plow. A couple other parts had to be heated and reshaped to their original form. By the time this plow was put back together the much needed rain had encouraged the others to head home, and as his plow was loaded Anthony promised to let Sam know how the essentially rebuilt plow went when he used it in the coming weeks. A few people stayed around to watch this rebuild, learning how a properly adjusted, shimmed and tweaked plow can lead to less side draft and make this task easier on the animals and more enjoyable all around.

For this particular group, much of the trouble that the gentleman experienced was with their plows, the ladies challenge was to coordinate plow, lines and pace. Sam admits that using a walking plow can be a challenge to master, but says that successfully using a single horse with a walking plow is the greatest of plowing challenges. Sam was very pleased that he was able to help each of the teamsters progress, and the teamsters were all happy to have taken the weekend to increase their knowledge of setting up plows, plow adjustments and to practice the craft of plowing with draft animals.

DAPNet would like to thank the many members that made this event possible, especially Kevin Tucker for organizing the event. We thank our gracious hosts, Sam Rich and his Family at We-Li-Kit Farm, for the use of the shop and wonderful homemade meals at their sugar house. Our thanks to the teamsters and auditors traveling from CT, MA, NH, VT, RI and NY, the challenges presented brought a priceless learning opportunity for all involved.

DAPNet Spring Plowing Clinic
Finishing with a Dead Furrow: After a good job plowing the land down to a very narrow strip, to match her 6” single horse plow, Jennifer Judkins has Sam Rich take over for the final pass so that he can show her a few tricks of the trade on how to complete a nice neat dead furrow. A few auditors including three college students from Paul Smith’s College walk along watching the subtleties of what it takes to finish a plot in this manner.

DAPNet and Sam are looking forward to holding another clinic in April 2013. We welcome specific interests, such as skim plowing, plowing with oxen, multiple hitches, or a separate day for refurbishing, please contact us a head of time so we can schedule accordingly to fit your needs. The clinic is open to teamsters of all skill levels that can bring their own draft animal(s) and an appropriately sized plow. Space for teamsters is limited, but all are welcome to audit. The Draft Animal Power Network is a non-profit organization that connects animal-powered farms, forests, people and ideas. To learn about our organization or future events like the Northeast Animal-Power Field Days please go to www.draftanimalpower.org, sign up for our eNews updates, or become a member. We hope to meet you soon.