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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 PST

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors
Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Klaus demonstrating a Pioneer Homesteader at Pferdestarke, the European version of Horse Progress Days held biannually in Germany.

by Klaus Struber of Germany – photos by Klaus Struber

In an industrially advanced country such a Germany, the use of the tractor has been the primary source of power and the drive of the farming industry for the past 50 years. The application of tractors and other machinery have proved to be a quicker and more powerful means of force than animals, and thus replaced animal labor. Tractors increase agricultural production from the meat to the dairy industry, and allow greater work with less manpower. About 50 years after the first implementation of tractors in the farming industry, comes the question of what farms give up for this technological advancement and comfort. In Germany 9 out of 10 people live in suburban areas, but the extent to which this affects the amount of machines used for agriculture is not covered in this study; the direct effect of high suburban populations in relation to the need for quicker farming technologies has yet to be calculated. The direct effects of machine use (i.e. tractors) instead of animals will be further examined here; effects on the farm land, the required energy supply, and the effects on the environment. Horses, next to cows and oxen, were the most useful animals for farming until the 1960s. The results of a test operation, started in 2005, using horse labor instead of agricultural machinery will be explained in this report.

The Physical Impact of Tractor Use on Farm Land

The emergence of increased tractor use on farmland carries with it the pressing issue of soil compaction, due to the heavy agricultural machines. In Kanton Bern, Switzerland, for example, the amount of land acceptable for planting crops has been reduced by 25%. Roughly 30 million hectare of land in Europe are irreversibly compacted from heavy machine use. In a loamy soil at Baden-Wu?rttemberg, Germany, it took ten years of natural methods to loosen up compacted soil. In a model test on existing Albic Luvisol ground, a fertile clay-boulder-sand mix left by glacier deposits, the compressed layers of subsoil were still unchanged 22 years after farming with heavy equipment had terminated. The use of tractors creates this compacted soil, resulting in a drop of profits, as well as water erosion due to the decreased ability to absorb water, increasing the risks of serious floods.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

A Norwegian-made tool carrier called the “Troll” is set up with finger-weeders for a row crop cultivation at Hof Hollergratben.

Energy

The worldwide supply of crude oil will eventually run out and thus the search for alternative energy sources has already begun. The agricultural industry could profit by comparing the energy efficiency of its machines, i.e. tractors, with animal labor. If horses prove to be more efficient, their heightened use will not be a return to primitive farming methods, but instead a development, since the latter can be sustained through regionally found renewable resources (pasture and homegrown forages). In Germany, 13% of greenhouse gasses come from agricultural practices, through the burning of fossil fuels in tractors. At the same time, the agricultural industry is the only one that can theoretically eliminate more greenhouse gases than it produces. In all areas of comparison, tractors are considerably less energy efficient when compared with horses; horses can utilize energy from raw renewable sources to a much greater extent than tractors. The “green-balance analysis” — an energy appraisal system for the suitability of industrial productions created by the German Federal Environmental Agency — rates live horse power higher than tractors. In Sweden in 1927, 60% of the needed energy for farming came from renewable sources, whereas by 1996, due to machinery, that number rests at only 9%. It takes 232 kilograms of corn to produce 50 liters of bioethanol for tractor fuel. That amount of corn could feed a child in Zambia or Mexico for a year. Workhorses can be substantially fed off the land, having a slight, but positive effect on human consumption and nutrition by freeing up grain formerly used for bio fuels.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

The Environment

There has been a steady increase in the extinction of various species in the last 100 years. One cause of this issue stems from the agricultural industries, which have greatly advanced in the past century through the use of machines, particularly tractors for farming. Today the regular use of tractors for services such as mowing and plowing has decimated various species of amphibians by about 90%, whereas with traditional horse drawn farming equipment that number would rest at only about 10%.

Impact of Horses on the Ground

Confirmed facts justify this proposed question: is the tractor the most beneficial source of power for agricultural production? On one German farm, with 22.5 hectares of productive land, the project “Hummusspha?re” has evaluated the ability to regenerate compacted land through the use of horses; also evaluating what type of energy balance arises from this change in applied work forces.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Parcel worked by horses after 30mm of rain.

In 2005, 3 different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land; each parcel is 200 m2 in size and was tested to ensure identical physical characteristics and properties. The land parcels were divided and subsequently worked for 3 years. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors; the land was always worked with the same tools and at the same time; the tractor employed for this trial was actually lighter than two draft horses typically used for farming.

By 2008, there were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors. Thus, it would appear to be more beneficial to use workhorses instead of tractors on damaged and compacted farmland. The benefit and profit every year of each land parcel on the horse-worked side is at least 15% higher.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Parcel worked by tractors after 30mm of rain.

Energy

If on a given farm 60% of the work is accomplished through horse drawn equipment the overall fuel consumption is minimized by about 30%. If a suitable solution to financially support more wages could be found, it would be possible for many small farms to switch over to only draft horse-power within 2 years. Thus, the use of fossil fuel on these farms could be completely eliminated.

The Prospects

Apart from the ability of tractors to work large areas, this technology doesn’t have many other positive attributes, but instead has decidedly negative ecological effects. Therefore, it is wrong to depend on tractors as the only means of power in the future of agricultural cultivation. The results of various test farms in Germany show that to replace machines with workhorses, in highly developed countries, can help regenerate unusable, degenerated, and compacted farmland. Developed nations have the ability to create an economical system, and should exercise this, to permit the financial means for further cultivation through horses. However, these developed countries also have a problem since there are presently neither enough workers to oversee the workhorses on farms nor to pass on their skills and knowledge. In countries where traditional methods of animal labor are still in use, the knowledge about animal care is an important resource, one that is now lacking in highly developed countries. Perhaps if the feasibility to finance (farm) wages once again becomes higher, the exercise of animal labor will become more preferable.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Pull power measurement on the plow.

Klaus Struber is a dedicated spokesman for the use of draft horses in agriculture. He has promoted the draft horse through his own farming practices and by writing articles, doing research, giving seminars, making machinery, and much more. Klaus farms at Hof Hollergraben in Shleswig-Holstein, Germany, a 50-acre bio-dynamic farm growing over 40 different varieties of produce for a CSA as well as grain for fresh-baked bread plus hay and forage crops.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

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.

Making Buttermilk

The Small-Scale Dairy

What kind of milk animal would best suit your needs? For barnyard matchmaking to be a success, you need to address several concerns.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

Woodstove Cookery at Home on the Range

An Illustrated Guide To The Wood Fired Cookstove

Illustrated guide to the wood stove and it’s accoutrements.

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.

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

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?

Timing the Bounce

Timing the Bounce: Resilient Agriculture Meets Climate Change

by:
from issue:

In her new book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick assumes a dispassionate, businesslike tone and sets about exploring the farming strategies of twenty-seven award-winning farmers in six regions of the continental United States. Her approach gets well past denial and business-as-usual, to see what can be done, which strategies are being tried, and how well they are working.

Posts

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

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

by:
from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

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