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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

Mini Horse Haying
Mini Horse Haying

Three abreast on the modified one horse mower.

Mini Horse Haying

by Ken Gies of Fort Plain, NY

If you have followed my articles over the years, you know that I am a compulsive minimalist. First, it was haying with one horse, then with Haflingers, and now, I have hayed my little farm with minis. My hope is that you will be inspired to find uses for your minis. I know they don’t eat much, but just think, what if you could turn that feed into work?

I have learned that the only way to really find out if something works is to eliminate alternatives. So, I sold my experienced Haflinger ponies and set out to see what I could do with the little horses. Having no other options forced me to find ways to make a workable system. I hope you find the inspiration you need to put your minis to work.

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! I found that 5 miles an hour was about as good as he could do with me on the cart. However, as he hardened up, he could trot up a half mile long hill that gained over 500 feet in elevation with me and the cart just fine.

It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. Some were too jumpy for me, so I learned to be selective in my purchases. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.

I also purchased strong harnesses and good collars. Mini harnesses are not cheap! They are almost as costly as full sized harness. However, I have found that animal comfort is well worth the price. I have had minimal irritation from my present collection of harnesses, collars and pads. The one place where there was rubbing was on the necks of the minis when they pulled my ground drive mower. It has a dolly wheel so that they only carry the weight of the tongue, but the effort needed to turn the mower at the corners eventually caused some minor rubs. I am presently designing a steerable tongue, so that the team swings the tongue and pulls the mower around, much like a wagon steers.

Mini Horse Haying

My mini-sized equipment lineup includes a two wheeled one horse cart, a three wheeled team cart (made from a lightweight trailer frame), a team forecart that I call my chariot, a modified one horse ground drive mower, a small hay rake that I found online (an estate rake – usually used to rake leaves), a cut down tedder and ground drive pto cart made from a lawn tractor transaxle, a scratch built 5’ by 8’ running gear and hayrack, a 7.5 cubic foot miniature manure spreader, a 6” walking plow, 4’ chain harrow, 3’ springtooth harrow, cut down 3’ single disk, a three section gang mower with its own homemade tongue for the lawns, and a homemade 4’ roller. I also have a collection of failures that I try to pretend never happened. I am working on a miniature hayloader but that will be a story for next winter, if it works!

I think that mowing is the most demanding part of haying with the minis. It takes quite a bit of power to pull the physical weight of the machine plus drive the cutterbar. I went through several steps getting an acceptable balance between cutter bar length and horsepower. My first attempts at mowing used the full 40 inch cutter bar but that was way too much for the little troopers. I cut the bar down in increments until it was only 18 inches long. That was ridiculous. I researched different cutter bar designs including the double acting types. The double acting systems are actually too heavy for the minis besides being too costly for me. I finally settled on the SCH style cutterbar, which bolted onto the existing bar with only a few modifications. The final length of the cutterbar is 32 inches.

Mini Horse Haying

The SCH guards are a different height than the original guards. I had to shim the ledger plates up in the outer and inner shoes to bring the knife into level from end to end. I also couldn’t use the existing wear plates and hold down clips. Instead I used the SCH roller backs to hold the knife forward in the guards. These are little wheels that allow the back of the knife to roll instead of rub as on traditional wear plates. I used sickle section bolts instead of rivets and found that I could use the countersunk ones too. I will probably never use a rivet again now that I have discovered how easy the bolts are to use. I added a carrier spring to the inner shoe to lighten the drag against the ground and put a small wheel on the outer shoe for the same reason. I figured every little bit had to help.

Mini Horse Haying

The shimmed-up ledger plate and counter-sunk bolts.

I had originally built the tongue and dolly wheel on the mower for my Haflingers. It was a simple job to move the draw point and tongue to fit the minis. As I said, I plan on building some sort of steerable wheel to aid the team in turning the mower. I have seen several versions of mower axles. I’ll see what I can come up with. The other option I have seriously considered is building a small motorized mower like many of my Amish neighbors use. Adding a motor is a last ditch effort. I tend to be stubborn that way.

My little rake works very well except when I try to double or triple up windrows of first cutting. The long hay wraps around the wheels too easily. I can always rake several windrows of second cutting hay together. It pulls very easily and the shipping weight was under 200 pounds. It was less than $1,000 dollars delivered and well worth it since it really licks up my normally short second and third cuttings.

Mini Horse Haying

Doubling a windrow with the ATV rake.

The tedder started out as a narrow four star Kuhn tedder. I removed the two outer wings and set my pto cart up to run the shaft backwards. This turns the two stars that remain so that they sweep from the outside edges into the middle as a regular two star tedder would do. The little garden transaxle has six gear settings. It was easy to find a setting that matched my ground speed to the right spinner speed.

Mini Horse Haying

A well-tramped load of second-cutting hay heads to the barn.

I shopped around for a running gear for several months. I wanted a small one and cheap. All the light weight running gears have press fit bearings and hubs. I wanted tapered bearings and bolt on rims in a standard size. I finally built my own running gear, including the steering axle and tongue. It is light and works well. I also built the deck from pressure treated lumber and used cattle panels cut in half to create sides for second cutting since it doesn’t hold together even when tramped tight on the wagon. The 6 acres of hay was all hand loaded. I really hope to fabricate a functional miniature hayloader by summer. I unload with my existing hayfork and trolley. A team of 2 minis can lift as much hay as the forks can hold. It is a real blast looking back and seeing a 6 foot wide jag of hay rise off the wagon as the team moves forward.

Mini Horse Haying

Harrowing one acre in one hour.

When it came to field work, I actually measured off an “official” acre of 209 feet by 209 feet and then used the minis to do the secondary tillage behind a tractor plowed field. (Hey, I hadn’t found a little plow yet!) A pair of minis can springtooth, harrow or roll an acre in one hour. I find that very acceptable! I suspect that someone could tend a large garden with a pair of minis if they tilted their heads and thought it through for a bit!

Mini Horse Haying

Green team, green plowman, dry hard clay, still fun.

Now for a few thoughts on plowing. Butch Miner from Palatine Bridge, NY used a pair of his pulling minis on a 10 inch plow in light soil. I have sticky clay. When I finally got my little plow, the ground was hard and dry. It took three minis on a 6 inch plow to do a poor job on old sod. I don’t blame anything. I had a new plowing team, a new plowing teamster and almost the worst plowing conditions. I hope to triumph at some point this year. I really want to plow with a pair on the walking plow without any assistance. The Amish boy helping me in the photo is the only one who didn’t smirk at me when I asked for help plowing. He actually started to grin when a few furrows turned out nice. I can’t wait to grin over a whole field.

My initial assessment of using minis is positive. The only job that takes significantly longer than what the Haflingers could do is the mowing. I doubt that I can improve that without a motorized sicklebar. However, since I only mow about six acres for three cuttings it is not a big deal. Tedding and raking are about the same as using bigger animals. Hand loading hay is always slow work, so I don’t even measure that. However, I really want that miniature hayloader to work so that picking up the hay can be speeded up. I do limited cultivation. That is mainly for entertainment. But, I have never fulfilled my longtime dream of learning to use a walking plow well, so I’ll keep trying.

I think that with a bit of ingenuity and time, more minis could be doing some sort of useful work on small acreages around the world. Lawn mowing is a good place to start. Then there are all kinds of ATV implements that could be adapted to minis. These days the opportunities are almost endless for the mini. So how about it? What can your minis do this year? Look what mine did!

Mini Horse Haying

A head-on view of the team.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

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from issue:

While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

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from issue:

Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

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