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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

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: Livestock

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Black Pigs & Speckled Beans

by:
from issue:

As country pigs go the Large Blacks are superb. They are true grazing pigs, thriving on grass and respectful of fences. Protected from sunburn by their dark skin and hair they are tolerant of heat and cold and do well even in rugged conditions. Having retained valuable instincts, the sows are naturally careful, dedicated, and able mothers. The boars I’ve seen are friendly and docile.

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.

Chicken

How To Cure Chicken Roup: Then and Now

How To Cure The Common (Chicken) Cold

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.

How Big Should a Draft Horse Be

How Big Should A Draft Horse Be?

from issue:

As evidenced by our letters and the frequent comments of contributors to this magazine, the question of size in draft horses is a hot issue. I suppose we’d all like to think that it’s a contemporary subject, one which did not trouble people back when horses were the norm. The BREEDER’S GAZETTE gathered the opinions of the most respected Draft horsemen of the 1910’s on the subject of how big a draft horse should be and we’ve reprinted them here. As you can see the subject has provided controversy for a long time and I’m sure it will continue.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

by:
from issue:

Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

My First Team of Workhorses

My First Team of Workhorses

by:
from issue:

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.

"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.

Chicken

The Best Chicken Pie Ever

by:
from issue:

She has one more gift to give: Chicken Pie.

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.

Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative

Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative

The Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative was founded in 2016 by a group of dairymen who want to be outspoken advocates of the Ayrshire breed. Ayrshires are one of the most cost-effective breeds for dairy farmers, as the breed is known for efficiently producing large quantities of high-quality milk, primarily on a forage diet. These vigorous and hardy cows can be found grazing in the sun, rain, and cold while other breeds often seek shelter.

Praise for Small Oxen

Praise for Small Oxen

by:
from issue:

Every day in the winter, and a fair number of days in the summer, I choose to work with a team of Dexter oxen, just about the smallest breed of cattle in North America. Harv and Mr. Whistling Sweets are three years old, were named on a half-forgotten whim by my young children, and stand 38” tall at the shoulder. Sometimes, perched on top of a load of hay, moving feed for my herd of thirty cows, I look and feel comical — a drover of Dachshunds.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

by:
from issue:

In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Words for the Novice Teamster

Words for the Novice Teamster

by:
from issue:

Many people who are new to the world of draft horses are intimidated by what seems to them to be a foreign language. This “workhorse language” can be frustrating for novices who would like to use draft horses, or who would just like to understand what people who do use them are talking about. The knowledge of some basic draft horse terminology can end most of the beginner’s confusion about the special jargon used in this trade.

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.

Happs Plowing A Chance to Share

Happ’s Plowing: A Chance to Share

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from issue:

Dinnertime rolled around before we could get people and horses off the field so that results of judging could be announced. I learned a lot that day, one thing being that people were there to share; not many took the competition side of the competition very seriously. Don Anderson of Toledo, WA was our judge — with a tough job handed to him. Everyone was helping each other so he had to really stay on his toes to know who had done what on the various plots.

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