Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

by Tony McQuail of Lucknow, ON

Even if you’ve never heard about Holistic Management, if you are a horse farmer, you are likely a pretty “holistic” manager. We had been farming with horses for over 20 years before we took our first Holistic Management course. We had heard a bit about HM and it sounded interesting. Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable. After taking the course we moved to being full time on our farm and making a profit each year while taking family summer vacations. And our horse farming turned out to be really in line with the concepts of Holistic Management.

The motto for HM is “Healthy land, Healthy People, Healthy Profits”. Let’s take a look at how horses connect with each of these areas.

Horses and healthy land. When we made the decision to buy horses there were a number of things we considered. Horses run on hay which encourages us to keep some or all of our land under perennial forage crops that build soil organic matter, protect the soil surface from wind and water erosion and provide a living root system to sustain soil micro-organisms and fix atmospheric Nitrogen. The horses eat the grass or the hay and return it to the farm ecosystem and economy as manure. The manure returns to the soil to improve fertility and nourish the plants. We also discovered that using horses also reduced compaction and air pollution. The horses “exhaust” gets recycled by photosynthesizing plants and turned into more forage and it is remarkably free of engine exhaust pollutants. The horse hoof doesn’t create the same compaction “dams” that tractor tires create so wet areas tend to get smaller rather than expand. Today with the concern about climate change it is nice to know that the carbon our horses are releasing is in an annual cycle and is recaptured into the plants they will eat next year. If we are managing our hay and pastures to build soil organic matter we are actually running a farm power source that is sequestering carbon rather that dumping it into the atmosphere. Using horses certainly helped us take a worn out farm with heavy clay soils and low organic matter and turn it into a green and living land with richer dark soils teaming with earthworms, Healthy Land.

Horses and Healthy People. We work with horses. Farming can be a lonely, solitary occupation – but you are not alone when you are working with horses. You’ve got companions , company, another living presence you are partnered with. Horses are biological which means they can’t run all day and night which forces the horse farmer to stop and get a nights sleep rather than running their tractor beyond their own physical limits while breathing dust and diesel fumes. They limit the size of our farms which can encourage us to stay more balanced in our operation and look more to neighbours for the community they offer than the opportunity to cannibalize their land when we expand under the pressure of expensive equipment and the need to “get bigger or get out”. Working with horses also tends to give the farmer more physical exercise which can help us stay in shape, Healthy People.

Horses and Healthy Profits. By running on home grown fuel horses contribute to the internal economy of the farm. They displace the need for purchased fuel and ensure that the nutrients in their feed are recycled back into the farm rather than being shipped off and replaced by purchased fertilizer. By raising colts we also produce a marketable output from our power source. When we looked back on it we realized that our decision to start with a team of horses had proved very rewarding. Over a 10 year period the horses had brought a net $10,000 to the farm in addition to the work they did. The horse purchases, harness, breeding and vet bills were offset by the sale of colts and teams. We bought a small used tractor years after we got the horses and later traded it in on a new tractor. In a similar 10 year period having the tractor took $25,000 out of the farm in purchase price, fuel and repairs and contributed nothing to the biological fertility of our land. We have been very fortunate in that our horses tend to be self repairing and have required a minimum of vet expenses. Instead of replacement tires they need hoof trimming. The routine care and maintenance is something we can do on the farm. No need for expensive shop fees. Horses tend to increase in value as they are trained and worked so it is possible to have a power source that appreciates rather than depreciates. As biological self regulating and self replicating organisms they are self sustaining and this reduces the cash flowing away from the farm, healthy profits.

As a small family farm we feel that our choice of having horses as our primary power source was a good choice. We bought horses in 1976 and there was a steep learning curve but they helped us develop a farm with healthy land, healthy people and healthy profits. If you decide to farm with horses may they do the same for you.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

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.

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.

Apples of North America

Freedom has been called the ugly duckling of disease-resistant apple varieties. But that shouldn’t detract from its many merits. These include the freedom from apple-scab infection for which it was named, a high rate of productivity, and an ability to serve as a good pollinator for its more attractive sibling, Liberty.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.


Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Why Farm

Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

Old Man Farming

Old Man Farming

Long after his physical capacities have dwindled to pain and stiffening, what drives the solitary old man to continue bringing in the handful of Guernsey cows to milk?

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT