Back Issue Vol: 39-2
When considering the potential utility of draft animal power on the modern 21st century farm, I like to begin from the perspective of examining those farm models where all the work was done by hand. That hand work was done with a lot of care and precision and with great attention to detail towards the soil and the crops (these methods persist in our times in small scale community gardens and among some subsistence farmers). I have heard about, read about, and also have first-hand experience practicing these cultural gardening techniques involving hand labor and find it useful and inspiring to use these methods as a springboard from which to examine where draft animal power can be most useful and where the hand work can readily be improved upon. My conclusion is that there are many areas where a horse can do a better job in replacing the hand work, and that live horse power will usually not be ”over-kill,” as could be the case by introducing a tractor into a relatively small-scale operation.
The knotter has only two working parts. It is so simple and the adjustments are not delicate that almost anyone can keep it in working condition. The reason that no delicate adjustments are necessary is that the surface cord holder is unusually large. The surface holds the twine, yet it does not grip it too tightly to prevent the knotter from working properly. In tying a knot the cord holder feeds the twine toward the bill hook. This obviates the danger of breaking the twine.
To sharpen plowshares without aid, the tool to use is a heavy hand hammer with a rounding face. With such a tool it is possible to draw the share out to a thin edge by pounding on the upper side, at the same time keeping the bottom straight by holding it level on the face of the anvil. Drawing the edge out thin has a tendency to crowd the point around too much “to land.” This tendency should be corrected from time to time as the drawing out process progresses, by holding the edge against a hardwood block and driving the point back to its proper position. Of course it would dull the edge to hold it against the anvil while doing this straightening.
Amy Andrews and Ethan Van Kooten had no money. How could they build a house? The Central College students, both environmental studies majors, wanted to build a small, sustainable home for their senior project. They proposed a $3,350 budget — but when no grant money was available, they became scavengers to complete the project as cheaply as possible. With truckloads of reclaimed materials and 10 weeks to build, the students created a house for $489. “Everything we used was on its way to the landfill,” Andrews said.
It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.
So this farmer I know, we’ll call him Bertrand, figured out that it’s all in the name. Nobody cared about Arugula any more, out of fashion. So he changed the name to Swiney’s Jelly Lettuce and added a disclaimer to the labeling at the farmer’s market. “There is absolutely no proof that Swiney’s Jelly Lettuce retards balding.” The stuff sold immediately and everyone swore by its flavor and properties. Bertrand gives it a ‘naming life’ of two seasons, then he’ll have to find a new one. The future my fine-feathered friend is in colorizing the exterior of “deniability”. Restaurants could learn a whole lot from politicians.
Most anywhere we turn we can find spokesmen for extreme views of the world today. One side has it that we are in a golden information era with high-tech delivering us the true democratization of thought. Everyone’s an expert. All information is free and easily accessible. But is it? Another side says the high-tech world is destroying the human spirit and paving the continued way for the corporate destruction of society and the planet. Is that so? Yet another thought stream would nod to those two extremes and observe that in spite of, and perhaps because of, those things we are seeing new young generations of free-thinking, caring, creative folk hard at the necessary work of saving the planet and building a better society. May we believe this? Follow this stream right down to the silliest little sore points and I’m sure you can add all sorts of ‘positions’ and beliefs to the story of what’s right or wrong with the world today.
The field bean is one of the great food crops of the world. Very few other edible seed crops produce more nutrition to the acre. Beans represent one of the world’s most concentrated food products, and consequently are in great demand in places where it is difficult to transport food. As a food stuff in mines, lumber camps, construction camps, on the frontier, and in the army and navy, beans are always popular because of their immense food value in comparison with their bulk, and normal cost. A bushel of beans has a food value equivalent to 108 pounds of round steak.
It is more difficult to keep some horses in a respectable condition than others. The slab-sided, upstanding type of draft horse requires more grooming than the more compact, chunky individual. The latter is usually an easy keeper in other ways than grooming. It is not considered good practice to groom too heavily during shedding time, for the new coat is generally a trifle coarse if the old hair is removed too quickly. All grooming should be done when the horse is dry, especially thorough cleaning and grooming to remove dirt, sweat, and falling hair, otherwise sore shoulders will follow.
Taking us to the dawn of agriculture, where the domestication of animals predated domesticated plants in the middle east by hundreds, even thousands of years, Essig argues that, unlike all other domesticated species with the possible exception of the dog, the pig domesticated itself. As he says, “We might think of the pig as a judicious risk taker, open to the new but capable of assessing potential threats. In that quality, pigs are much like people.” He also points out how pigs “like to watch TV and drink beer, and, given the chance, they tend to grow fat and sedentary.” But how can we even tell the pigs in the village of Hallan Cemi 11,000 years ago were domesticated? Because nearly half of the pig bones found were from animals killed at less than a year old, nearly all of them young males, superfluous for breeding. Animals hunted to feed the village would have been of all ages.
Due to my surprising, and for the moment ongoing status as amateur agricultural columnist and full time horse farmer, I am short of time and so find myself scribbling these notes from the seat of the forecart as I rest the horses while harrowing the waterfall pasture. To be here, dragging this field at this time of early, and perhaps false spring, seems to me an undeserved bit of grace. In this singular moment I am almost hyper aware of my own good fortune. I have the rare privilege to enjoy a beautiful and perfectly perfect way of spending ones life: stewarding a lovely piece of countryside with horses.
There is not much to be gained by feeding a cow unless you are determined to get all the milk and butterfat the feed makes. You cannot get all the milk and butterfat the feed makes unless you milk the cow right. A large percentage of cows are not milked right, so a large loss of milk and a large loss of butterfat result. It is as important that cows be well milked as it is that they be well fed.
The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.
Although liquids move more readily through the dense summer wood and paint oils are found to penetrate more deeply there, paint coatings do not seem to secure so firm an anchorage on summer wood as they do on spring wood; as a result, coatings exposed to normal conditions of weathering fail by flaking from the summer wood, leaving it bare while the spring wood remains apparently well covered. All native softwoods contain both summer wood and spring wood, but the proportions vary in different woods and in different boards of the same wood. There is, in fact a greater variation in painting characteristics between the spring wood and summer wood in a single board than there is between average boards of different woods.
Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.
Purple Vetch was brought into the United States by the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction in 1899 from Naples, Italy. All introductions since that time have been of the same variety. The crop has been tested most extensively in the Pacific Coast States, where it has given very favorable results. In California in experimental work it has proved one of the best crops, if not the best crop, for use as a green manure, and in commercial plantings it has been thought well of by the orchardists who have used it. In western Oregon and western Washington, experimental work has demonstrated that purple vetch can be grown successfully as a seed crop, and at the present time it is being grown commercially in western Oregon and northwestern California. Purple vetch has not been sufficiently tested in the Southern States to determine definitely its value in localities where common vetch can be grown. However, as it requires conditions similar to common vetch, it seems probable that it may serve an excellent purpose in this region as well as in the western United States.
To dig with a slip scoop the dirt must be fairly loose. If it isn’t they used a hook shaped ripper to loosen it first. Your lines must be around your back under one arm only, not around your waist, because if that scoop trips unexpectedly (and it will) you want to be able to get out of its way. Ideally your lines should be just long enough that when starting out between handles you can stop horses by leaning back and to control speed. You don’t want to be leaning too far forward, it’s like a walking plow, you must be comfortable, it’s hard enough work without making it harder.
Life on the 120 acre sheep farm was a long and quiet grind. Its rewards weren’t monetary, or material. It had been a decade since the days of buying a new European sports car, and a new four wheel drive pickup in the same year. The Saab has been dead, and parked behind the barn for a few years now. The once shiny red pickup is rusted, dented, and will soon be beyond repair. The big purchase in the late 80s was now a Pioneer sulky plow for $500. The hippies might call this going back to the land. The big man, now a married family man again, was too busy being in charge of his family and farm to have a poetic name for the life he was winning.
The big horse in the furrow shifted his feet and dropped over on his right hip. The creak of the harness and the soft jingle of the trace chains brought Paul out of his reverie. Almost as if he were waking from sleep he looked around him at the bright world of this field he had been plowing in for two days now. The field lay in a long curve along the hillside, steepening as it approached old man Finch’s woodlot, which covered, completely, the top of the hill, and fell away into the river valley on the other side.
The mission of Central Oregon Veterans Ranch is “A working ranch that restores purpose and spirit to veterans of all ages.” The vision is to provide learning and volunteer opportunities in sustainable agriculture to veterans of all ages and eras from the broader community, and supportive housing on the property for up to five veterans who are terminally ill or at end of life. The ranch will be a hub; a physical place that will foster community, camaraderie, and healing among various generations of veterans.