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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!