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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

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

by Stephen Leslie and Kerry Gawalt of Cedar Mountain Farm at Cobb Hill Co-housing in Vermont

An Overveiw – The Farm and The Community

We are farmers, Kerry Gawalt and Stephen Leslie and our daughter, Maeve Rose. We have been farming together since we first met as apprentices at Hawthorne Valley Farm in upstate New York in 1992. We worked together at that farm for a total of 3 years learning how to tend dairy cattle, raise vegetables for market and work with farm machinery. We also spent nearly 2 years out west in Montana and Idaho learning more homesteading skills and how to work with draft animals. Finally, searching for a stable situation in which to build up a farm of our own, we joined forces with Donella Meadows in the fall of 1996. She was a famed “systems thinker” and environmental writer (The Limits of Growth was her groundbreaking book forecasting the environmental effects of unchecked population on the planet), teacher and activist, who was forming a co-housing community in Vermont. The community was intended to showcase “green” architectural design, sustainable living and organic farming as a centerpiece of community life.

Even though we lost Donella to a sudden illness in 2001, a core group of us carried on the co-housing project. New members have joined and today Donella’s dream has become a reality. We live in an eco-village of 23 households clustered on a hillside and surrounded by woods, pasture and agricultural fields. All the homes are heated in winter by a single wood-burning furnace and have solar panels for hot water. The houses are super-insulated and situated for maximum solar gain. They each have composting toilets to minimize water use.

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 (community supported agriculture) 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. We are now looking forward to expanding the research and education potential of our farm and community by partnering with the Sustainability Institute (a ‘think’ and ‘do’ tank) founded by Donella Meadows and also located on this land. Through sponsorship with the Institute we are hosting groups of school children and developing workshops, publications and other forms of educational outreach for adults.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Our market garden is a 4 acre mix of vegetables, greenhouses, flowers, fruit trees and cover crops (our cropping system is a loose adaptation of the bio-extensive garden and cover-cropping outlined by Eric and Anne Nordell in the pages of the Small Farmer’s Journal). Our dairy currently consists of 40 registered Jersey cows and assorted heifers, calves and steers. Our crops are marketed primarily through our 86 member CSA, and secondarily through an on-site farm stand, 2 local restaurants and a nearby food coop. Kerry provides personal chef services to private groups utilizing farm and local ingredients in all the dishes. The 270 acres of farmland and forest are now in a permanent conservation program with the Upper Valley Land Trust. We own our own business and lease the acreage and farm buildings that we utilize from Cobb Hill Co-housing. We currently have 2 fulltime employees and enjoy the help of several committed volunteers who help out in return for bartered farm products. By joining with Cobb Hill Co-housing with its commitment to keeping this land actively farmed, as new farmers we were able to gain access to otherwise unaffordable ag-land in a region with sufficient population to sustain a vibrant spectrum of local organic and/or sustainable producers. As with any human community, there are conflicts and tensions that arise here. Plunking a village of mostly non-farming professionals down in the middle of a working farm produces plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings. Our situation is not perfect, it is a work in progress, but what the community does have is a solid commitment to resolving these points of friction and a wider commitment to trying to be part of the solution in addressing our societal ills.

Sharing the Harvest

Our CSA is involved with helping to feed the local community with the help of a grant from the USDA and donations from our CSA members. Old Windsor Village Senior Housing receives food from our farm for over twenty low income households each year. The Haven, a shelter for homeless families in White River Junction, VT., receives weekly baskets from the farm.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjords Work

Neither of us were raised in farm families so learning the skills of commercial farming has been an arduous and at times, daunting process. But we have had good teachers and sought out mentors in each location we found ourselves in. Early on, we were sparked with the dream of doing our farm work with horses and we bought our first horse in 1994, a weanling Fjord mare, Cassima. Our journey to becoming adequate teamsters has been long and fraught with successes and tragedies and the tale of it is beyond the scope of this article, but one thing for sure, we look back with no regrets because of the fulfillment that working with the horses brings to our present days.

From spring to fall our team of Fjord horses, Tristan and Cassima, work in all aspects of the garden, spreading compost, plowing, discing, harrowing and cultivating. We feel strongly that the draft horse can provide a cost effective and non-polluting alternative to tractor-powered modes of food production. Our current farm system is one of mixed power, utilizing a 30 and a 50hp Kubota tractor for manure handling, barn scraping, hay making and forestry work. However, our long term hope is to integrate the horses into the haymaking operation as well. We also have a third (brood) mare and her foal within the herd.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

The Fjords are small draft horses from the steep mountain region of Norway. Sure-footed and hardy, the Fjord is an excellent work and riding animal. First bred by the Vikings, the Fjord shares its roots with the Asiatic wild horse. The breed is dun colored, ranging from brown to gray to the rare white and yellow phase. They stand between 13hh and 15hh and weigh 900-1100lb.

We employ a variety of vintage and new horse farming equipment. Our two-way riding plow is a circa 1913 Syracuse, whereas our 14″ walking plow was purchased new from the Pioneer Equipment Co. We utilize a Pioneer forecart to pull a variety of tillage tools; disc and spring-tooth harrows and a drag-harrow for final seedbed preparation. We use a vintage McCormick-Deering riding cultivator as a tillage tool, but do all our actual cultivation of row crops with a single-horse walking cultivator. We make this a two person job, with one of us on the lines to guide the horse and the other steering the implement. Even though this might seem inefficient in terms of man hours, we find that we can get in early and make precision work of it. For spreading we have a 40 bushel McCormick-Deering spreader which works fine with a finished compost, but we hope to upgrade to a 100 bushel spreader. We are currently in the process of trying to restore a No.6 mowing machine, with hopes of utilizing it to clip cover crops which is currently done with the bush hog, and perhaps eventually to take part in mow- ing the hay.

From one point of view it is true that working with horses takes more time than with a tractor, but looked at another way what horses do is give time back to us. They help us slow down and reawaken to the life of the senses.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Eco-Logical Farming

Before moving to our present site in the fall of 1999, we spent 3 years raising vegetables, horses and calves on land belonging to Donella Meadows just across the river in New Hampshire. At that time we were certified organic by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. When we moved across the river to establish our current operation in Hartland, VT, the USDA was engaged in the process of creating the national organic standards and like many small organic producers we questioned whether the new industrial-sized regulations were relevant to us any more. Sure, we were glad to see corporate farms moving away from chemical farming to cash in on this expanding market, but in the trade off we wondered what would become of the locally based grass-roots movement that had been doing the right thing all along? Since we sell directly to most of our customers, we did not feel we needed to be certified. Our farm is open to visitors and their questions about our farming practices.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

In addition, once we started milking cows, we found ourselves at odds with regulations that seemed more concerned with consumer-driven fears about food safety than about assuring the highest quality care for our cattle. It seems that legitimate concerns about the routine feeding of antibiotics to feedlot beef cattle has been misconstrued in the public mind to mean that dairy cattle are treated in the same way, which is a fallacy. We believe whole heartedly in the preventive medicine of good nutrition and a healthy environment for our cows, but we would no more deny them a necessary treatment of antibiotics than we would to a horse or a sick child. The corporate organic farms can always shift a sick cow over to their conventionally managed operations to be treated for mastitis, but for a micro-herd like ours that is not an option. We feel animal health and welfare to be foremost in our farm management plan. Our methods emphasize the building up of healthy soils as the basis of sustainable agriculture. Composted manures from our horses and dairy cows along with cover crops feed the land. We do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Our Fjord horses provide the power for the market garden. All our farm products are sold within 12 miles of the farm.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Jersey Cows

Our Jersey cows graze the hill pastures and produce milk for our raw milk customers (the state of Vermont allows us to sell 12 gallons a day at the farm) and fluid milk for our business partners, Cobb Hill Cheese, who make alpine style and Caerphilly, a welsh cheddar. Both cheeses are made and on site. Our surplus milk is picked up by Agri-Mark Coop for the Grafton Cheese Plant, a most jersey cow milk cheddar maker. The cow manure is turned into compost to feed the soils of the farm. All our cows are registered and we use sexed semen for most of our cows and heifers. This has given us a boost in the number of heifers we have for Vermont’s semi-annual breeding stock sale. We have had animals go to California, Maine, Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico and New Hampshire. A bred heifer sells for $2500 to $3500. These fawn colored Jerseys are the smallest of the Dairy breeds and make the richest milk. Jerseys come from the Channel Isles off the coast of England. They have been a long-time favorite of Vermont farmers and have held their ground here even through the modern domination of the Holstein. Our herd thrives on pastures, organic grains, and hay produced here on this farm and by our neighbors. The herd has a nutritionist, who balances the ration after testing all our forage. They average 16,000-19,000 lbs of milk each annually. Our star cow make 25,000 lb per lactation.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Conclusion

We believe it is profoundly relevant in our times, both from the perspective of personal health and planetary well being, that we strive to return to a rhythm of eating with the seasons, which implies harvesting from our own homegrown sources, or purchasing produce from local sustainable farms. North Americans now expect to be able to buy any type of food in every season, from any part of the world. How much energy was spent, what degree of sacrifice was required to deliver that fresh head of lettuce to our table in the middle of February? What good purpose does it serve if our dietary choices are only concerned with keeping our own bodies healthy even at the expense of the environment?

In an effort to help novices grasp the concept of interconnectedness, the Buddha would direct their attention to the matter of the food that they consumed. He put it in the form of a simple question and answer; “How do we know for certain that all beings are one, that all are interconnected? We may know this by contemplating the most basic fact of life — all beings must eat!” On our farm, we raise the bull-calves that are inevitably part of the yearly crop of calves born to our dairy cows. We strive to handle these steers with love and respect during their 2+ years as residents of the farm, and delight in watching them grow healthy on our rolling pastures. We are deeply saddened when it is time to end their lives, but we honor the sacrifice and are truly thankful for the gift of continued life they offer to us and the community of people who buy products from our farm. This thankfulness stems from the certain knowledge revealed to every attentive farmer that we are all bound up together in this circle of life and death and renewal.

As small independent farmers, we are not interested in waiting for the government, or science, or corporations, to come up with solutions to the array of threats to the human species and to the natural environment. Seeking to act as responsible “global citizens,” we’ve decided to try to take matters into our own hands, and to see if we might fashion a sustainable culture on the basis of a healthy agriculture. Our basic goal is to promote an agriculture that is both ecologically and socially sustainable.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

You can change the world by changing what you eat. For us farmers, farming is not a job per se, it is a direct form of social action, maybe the most important “grass-roots” activism possible. In our current social context, how and where you procure your food is both a political act and a gesture of the spirit. A large measure of our hope for transforming our culture depends on beginning at the base by creating a renewed and truly healthy “agri-culture.”

As in any practice that involves a lot of repetition, looked at from the outside, farm life may appear to be dull. Yet, it is just through this intimate daily contact with living systems, through the experiential dynamic of immersion in the cycles of the seasons, that the farmer is enlivened. Developing our own powers of observation is what this practice of farming is all about. The daily care and interaction with plants and animals takes us outside of an exclusive focus on ourselves and opens us up to a sense of connectedness with the larger patterns of life. This connectedness is the basis of all authentic spirituality. The crops and the livestock provide a continuous link to those who came before and they lend the farmer a sense of shouldering a precious gift and a weighty responsibility to carry forward a link in this chain so that it will remain unbroken for those who are yet to come. When we stay close to the land, and the real life of the senses—mind, heart and body stay awake.

Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

McCormick-Deering All Steel Corn Sheller

McCormick-Deering All-Steel Corn Sheller

from issue:

To obtain the best results in shelling, the machine should be run so that the crank makes about forty-five (45) revolutions per minute or the pulley shaft one hundred and seventy-five (175) revolutions per minute. When driving with belt be sure that this speed is maintained, as any speed in excess of this will have a tendency to cause the shelled corn to pass out with the cobs. The ears should be fed into the sheller point first.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Pferdestarke

German Version of Horse Progress Days: Pferdestark

by:
from issue:

There is a rather neat phrase in German – ‘wenn schon, denn schon’ – which literally translates as ‘enough already, then already;’ but what it actually means is ‘if a something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That would be a fitting description of Pferdestark, the German version of Horse Progress Days. For sheer variety of different breeds of draught horses, regional and national harness styles, or for that matter, languages or hats, it would be hard to beat Pferdestark.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

John Deere Model A Tractor

from issue:

Your John Deere Tractor has a range of speeds. These various speeds not only give you the flexibility and adaptability you want, but also they enable you to balance the load and the speed for maximum economy. However, if you are handling a light load and want to travel at slow speed, it is far better to put your tractor into the gear which gives you the speed you want than to use a higher gear and throttle down.

Barn Door Plans

Barn Door Plans

Good barn doors, ones that will last a lifetime of opening, sliding and swinging in the wind, require careful design and construction. In 1946 the Starline Co., a barn building firm from the midwestern US, compiled a book of barn plans. These two diagrams were in that book and presented excellent information.

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

by:
from issue:

After you’ve built a small farm blacksmith shop, one of the first decisions that you’ll need to make is which type of fuel you’ll be using. Most people choose either gas (propane) or coal, however, wood fired forges are also an option. All three fuel types have pros and cons. The final decision will likely be based on the type of forging that you plan to do and the local availability of the fuel.

Stationary Baler

Stationary Baler: Engineering and Evidence

Our friend, Mark Schwarzburg came by the office with an old wooden box he inherited from his great great great grandfather, Henry Schwarzburg. In it is a lovely, very old working wooden model of the stationary baler Henry helped to invent. Also were found, on old oil-skin paper, beautiful original engineer’s drawings for patent registry; and a brochure for the actual resulting manufactured implement.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

by:
from issue:

Since being introduced to the straddle row cultivator last year in hilling our potatoes, I have been excited to experiment with different tools mounted under the versatile machine. Like the famed Allis Chalmers G or Farmall Cub my peers of the internal combustion persuasion utilize on their vegetable farms, this tool can help maximize efficiency in many ways on the small farm.

Spring Tooth Cultivator Equi Idea Canadese

Spring Tooth Cultivator EQUI IDEA Canadese

Based and inspired by old small french-made cultivators called “Canadien”, the modern version of the Italian “Canadese” revives all the characteristics of this very popular tool amongst smallholders of the bygone times. The Canadese particularly suits, with its light weight and handy construction, small gardens or vegetable fields, especially in hilly or terraced landscapes, where the area for maneuvering at the headlands is limited, requiring that the implement has to be moved often by hand.

John Deere No 12A Combine

John Deere No. 12-A Straight-Through Combine

from issue:

It is only natural for the owner of a new combine to want to try his machine as early as possible. This results in most new combines being started in the field before the crop is ready for combining. As soon as a binder is seen in the neighbor’s field, the urge to start becomes uncontrollable. When grain is ready for binding, it is not ready for straight combining.

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

by:
from issue:

This is the story of a harrow on a budget. I saw plans on the Tillers International website for building an adjustable spike tooth harrow. I modified the plans somewhat to suit the materials I had available and built a functional farm tool for eighteen dollars. The manufactured equivalent would have cost at least $300.

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

by:
from issue:

The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

Homemade Beet Grinder

Homemade Beet Grinder

by:
from issue:

This is my small beet grinder I built about 6 years ago. It has done nearly daily duty for that time. The beet fodder is added to my goat and rabbit rations which are largely homemade. Adding the pulp to the grain rations has aided me in having goat milk throughout the winter months. My beets are the Colossal Red Mangels. Many grow up to 2 feet long. I cut off enough for a day’s feed and grind it up each morning. Beets oxidize like cut apples. Fresh is best!

Basil Scarberrys Ground-Drive Forecart

Basil Scarberry’s Ground-Drive Forecart

by:
from issue:

I used an ’84 Chevrolet S-10 rear end to build my forecart, turn it over to get right rotation, used master cylinder off buggy and 2” Reese hitch, extend hitch out to use P.T.O. The cart is especially useful for tedding hay. However, its uses are virtually unlimited. We use it for hauling firewood on a trailer, for pulling a disc and peg tooth harrow, for hauling baled hay on an 8’ x 16’ hay wagon, and just for a jaunt about the farm and community.

Multi-Purpose Tool Carrier Equi Idea Multi-V

Multi-Purpose Tool Carrier: EQUI IDEA Multi-V

Building on the experiences with a tool carrier named Multi, consisting of a reversible plow interchangeable with a 5-tine cultivator, the Italian horse drawn equipment manufacturer EQUI IDEA launched in 2012 a new multi-purpose tool carrier named Multi-V. The “V” in its name refers to the first field of use, organic vineyards of Northern Italy. Later on, by designing more tools, other applications were successfully added, such as vegetable gardens and tree nurseries.

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

In Northern Italy the two agricultural machinery manufacturers MAINARDI A. s.r.l. and REPOSSI Macchine Agricole s.r.l. produce a vast range of haying equipment with pto and hydraulic drive, also hay rakes with mechanical drive by the rear wheels. The majority of the sold machines of this type are currently used with small tractors and motor cultivators. The technology of these rakes is based on implements which were developed in the 1940s, when animal traction still played an important role in Italy’s agriculture.

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