Horse Powered Snow Scoop
by Tony McQuail of Lucknow, ON
We’d been farming with horses and a small tractor for PTO and front end loader work for a number of years. In the winter we used the tractor and an old snow blower I’d got cheap at a summer auction sale to keep our long and hilly lane open. Blowing snow wasn’t a lot of joy. Our lane sloped down to the west which is where our winds tend to come from. Our tractor is not 4 wheel drive so blowing worked best going down hill. With no cab I usually got thoroughly covered with snow dust blown into every crack in my clothing, visibility was lousy and wearing a snow mobile helmet just made it worse as the snow would build up on the visor. But we wanted to keep the lane clear and snow blowing was my option.
Fortunately we had taken a Holistic Management course before the old snow blower had the main bearing seize during the second snow of the season. I’d already done some repairs during the first snow that year and decided it was beyond repair. Before HM training I would have bit the bullet and rushed out to buy a new blower from a dealer at the height of the season – no chance to wait for a summer auction sale. But with HM training we defined the problem and it wasn’t lack of a snow blower. It was winter access to our farm. We started considering various options. Could we hire a neighbor to blow the lane, could we leave the car and truck at the end of the lane and just hand shovel space for them (we’d done this for 9 years before we had the tractor and blower), could we use a horse powered snow scoop to clear the lane, should we replace the snow blower? We started exploring the options. We called the neighbor but they weren’t keen on adding our lane (which is long and hilly) to their list of lanes they were already custom blowing. We borrowed a neighbours snow scoop and tried it with our horses. We took all the options through the testing questions. The horse powered snow scoop ended up the choice that best fit with our Holistic Goal and we were able to purchase one with a savings over a replacement snow blower that was more than the cost of the HM course we’d taken. HM was certainly helping us make win/win/win decisions.
The snow scoop is designed and fabricated by a local Mennonite, Abraham M. Sherk, who takes orders each fall and then sets up his shop to make them for delivery before winter. We’ve now been using it for over 10 years and it works well. A picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll include some photos and also the plans he drew up. If you decide to use the plans to build one could you please send $20 to Abraham M. Sherk, RR #1, Wroxeter, ON, N0G 2X0, in appreciation for his drawings and sharing the design. We figured sharing the plans with everyone through the pages of the Small Farmer’s Journal would be better than asking people to write for plans.
It has the advantage over a V-plow in that you can remove the snow from the lane without pushing up banks. We are in the snow belt east of Lake Huron and if we push up banks they drift in and then we are pushing up even higher banks. This is the same advantage a snow blower has over a plow.
The scoop has two steel sides about 5 feet apart sitting on steel runners made out of heavy 2 X 2 angle iron, there is a blade that is lowered and raised by use of a foot release which allows the weight of the blade to lower it and then lock in the down position and the forward motion of the horses to raise it and lock it in the up position. This is accomplished by a clever pivoting action where the tongue attaches to the snow scoop. There is a platform to stand on the back of the scoop where you can access the foot release. There is a board attached to the back of the blade that you can stand on to put more down pressure if you need it when scooping.
I use a team on the snow scoop and find it is good winter exercise for the horses so I alternate teams so everyone gets some work. The basic routine is I hitch the horses to the scoop – if it was frozen down I loosen the runners first. I pull into position on the lane, stop the horses, step on the foot release and the blade drops down. I make sure it has locked into position and then get the horses to walk forward. The snow curls up the blade and rolls up a cylinder of snow 5 feet long and up to about 4 feet in diameter. Once the scoop is full I pull off the lane and after we are some distance from the lane I hit the foot release, the blade raises and the snow feathers out below it in a long pile 5 feet wide and 12 inches deep. I then return to the lane with the empty scoop, lower the blade and repeat the process. It is worth thinking about where to dump the snow to allow effective use of the horses. I do a number of piles off the side of the lane so I can make loops where I’m picking up snow on one side of the loop and dumping it on the other side working my way down or up the lane. The 5 foot width would be fine for a sleigh but is a little narrow for cars and trucks so I make a second pass beside the first that is about half of the previous cut. If the snow is really deep it can take a bit of encouragement to get the one horse to walk in the snow.
When dumping the snow there are various ways to handle it. If you have a pond or dugout you want to fill with spring run off, piling the snow up hill from it would be of value. The way I tend to make my piles is to dump the first load at the end of my loop away from the lane. Then the next time I’m dumping on that loop I trip 10 feet before the last dump and so on with each additional dump. This tends to build up a low even pile. If the weather is crisp this snow will be hard enough the next day to have one of the runners up on it the next time we are clearing the lane and I can dump beside it. I place a second strip of snow beside the first overlapping a bit. Then I can build runs back and forth on top of this base. It is good if things stay crisp enough that the horses can walk on top of the old snow without punching in too much.
It works best when the snow is not much more than 8 inches deep. When it is deeper it takes a lot of trips to move the snow off the lane. If it get really deep it can be a bit of a challenge for the horses to get through when they are taking the full scoop off to dump it. In that case it can be a good idea to use the scoop to clear the trail and pack it a bit so that the snow will have some place to fall out. If you don’t it can be hard to get the snow to fall out if you are trying to drop it in deep snow. As the snow pile builds up in can get 4 to 5 feet high and so some care needs to be taken to make the approach and backend of the pile gentle enough that the horse can just walk up the pile easily and exit the same way.
If the snow is wet and heavy with the temperature at freezing it can be a bit more of a challenge to get the snow to leave the snow scoop. In those situations I raise the blade – then back the horses up about 5 feet – When we pull forward this usually knocks the top off the pile of snow. I may have to repeat this several times before the scoop is clear. With the snow blower this type of snow also used to plug up in the blower chute – sometimes it was impossible to blow snow in these conditions.