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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: Livestock

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

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From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.

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!

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

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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.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

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I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Plans for Hog Houses

Plans for Hog Houses

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Missouri Sunlit Hog House: This is an east and west type of house lighted by windows in the south roof. A single stack ventilation system with distributed inlets provides ventilation. Pen partitions may be of wood or metal. This plan takes the place of the original Missouri sunlit house since many farmers had difficulty in building it.

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

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For centuries, the skills of training steers for work and the craft of building yokes and related equipment was passed down from generation to generation. It was common for a young boy or girl to be responsible for the care and training of a team from calves to the age of working capability. Many farms trained a team each year, either for sale or for future replacement in their own draft program.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

Changing of Seasons

LittleField Notes: Changing of Seasons

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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.

Littlefield Notes Making Your Horses Work For You

LittleField Notes: Making Your Horses Work For You Part 1

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The practical everyday working of horses and mules in harness has always been at the heart of what the Small Farmer’s Journal is about. And like the Journal, a good horse powered farm keeps the horses at the center: the working nucleus of the farm. All the tractive effort for the pulling of machines, hauling in of crops, hauling out of manures, harvesting and planting is done as much as is practicable with the horses.

Horseshoeing Part 1A

Horseshoeing Part 1A

Horseshoeing, though apparently simple, involves many difficulties, owing to the fact that the hoof is not an unchanging body, but varies much with respect to form, growth, quality, and elasticity. Furthermore, there are such great differences in the character of ground-surfaces and in the nature of horses’ work that shoeing which is not performed with great ability and care induces disease and makes horses lame.

Interpreting Your Horse's Body Language

Interpreting Your Horse’s Body Language

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The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.

My First Team of Workhorses

My First Team of Workhorses

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In A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses, a greenhorn (myself) tried a single work horse named Lady for farm and woods work. It was probably natural that, having acquired some experience with one horse, I should want to see what it was like to use two. Perhaps it is more exciting to see a good team pull together, and there is the added challenge to the teamster of making certain that the horses pull smoothly rather than seesaw.

Horseshoeing Part 3A

Horseshoeing Part 3A

An examination should be made while the animal is at rest, and afterwards while in motion. The object of the examination is to gain accurate knowledge of the direction and movements of the limbs, of the form and character of the feet and hoofs, of the manner in which the foot reaches and leaves the ground, of the form, length, position, and wear of the shoe, and distribution of the nail-holes, in order that at the next and subsequent shoeings all ascertained peculiarities of hoof-form may be kept in mind and all discovered faults of shoeing corrected.

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