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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

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer: Ed Button and his Belgians

by Kathleen E. Suits Smith

In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button, RD 1, Cherry Valley, is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. In the span of his 63 years, Ed has done virtually everything for, and with draft horses and has done it all well. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

B. B. Conelrad 2nd’s Sodbuster, 33418, stands stately and impressively as naturally befits a herd sire.

One of the fondest memories from Ed’s childhood is of the driving that he used to do with his mother when he was quite young. “We had a farm horse; Prince, we called him. We used him as a road horse and a work horse. And every Saturday I can remember my mother’d let me drive when we’d take Prince and go to my grandparents’ and stay overnight. Prince wasn’t much of a horse on the way, but Sunday on the way back, he was quite a horse to hold. ‘Course my mother wasn’t far away, but I was little and that’s always just stuck in my head.” Ed goes on to describe his first real work with horses: “When I got to be five or six years old I could hitch ’em and do stuff by myself. Later, when I got older I used to drive my grandfather’s horses, and the horses on our farm.”

As an adult Ed, and his wife Helen, farmed next to his father for 30 years, where they raised a family of five daughters, all of whom were taught to handle horses. The Buttons had tractors on their farm, but they were never without horses. “I couldn’t have forgotten them when tractors came. There was too much love in my heart for horses and I couldn’t have been without a team”, confesses Ed. So, he continued to raise, train and work Belgians and Percherons. He recalls, “In the ’40’s and ’50’s anybody who kept horses, people thought was a little crazy, but I kept my horses. For awhile it was pretty hard to sell the foals; loggers were about the only ones to buy them. Up until the ’50’s and even into the ’60’s all of our work was done with horses. There were only a few years when we were without doing everything with the horses. But in the ’60’s we had trouble finding experienced teamsters around that we could trust with the horses. Before that we could always find some drivers who could handle the teams.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

King and Barney are presently Ed’s favorite team. A matched pair of full brothers, aged 4 and 5, these geldings have done a lot of work for their owner. At the time of the interview the work to be done was trimming pastures and the team faithfully cooperated.

About eleven years ago Ed and Helen moved to their present farm which is a bit smaller and allows them to turn their full attention to raising registered Belgians, and to return to horse-farming. Now Ed mows, rakes, plows, discs, drags, plants, and on special days, parades with his horses. He also finds time to participate in the various events sponsored by the NYS Draft Horse Club, and the Eastern Regional Draft Horse Club, and to occasionally sponsor something himself.

At their present farm Ed has hosted seminars for people who wish to come and learn about hitching and working horses. These seminars were held in 1978 and 1979, and were sponsored by the NYS Draft Club. Lectures and workshops were held on topics like worming, trimming feet, shoeing and hitching.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Another shot of Ed trimming pastures with King and Barney.

Ed also gets together with other teamsters to help fill silos, cut oats, or whatever seems to need doing at the time. One of the most recent events that Ed organized himself was the cutting of fifteen acres of oats with a reaper and binder. The oats were owned by Harold Hayes of Cherry Valley, who gratefully accepted Ed’s offer to do the work. For the cutting Ed used a four-horse hitch comprised of young, inexperienced horses. Ed’s own geldings, King and Barney, were at the wheel and Ray Putman of Rural Grove, NY, supplied the lead team, Dick and Dan. Though the event was not really publicized, word spread quickly among horse enthusiasts and spectators arrived in plenty of time to watch the hitching and cutting. Ed’s propensity for understatement and his easy-going manner reigned over the cutting. “We’re gonna’ have to make some adjustments as we go along. We’re gonna start out with four lines just ’til we get goin’. We’ve got four young horses that’s never experienced this.” Then after a long pause Ed continued, “and we’re liable to get goin’ like hell.”

When all of the hitching and adjusting was completed Ray Putman went by his lead team to get them started right, and Ed jokingly told the spectators, “Everybody look the other way now.” Then Ed spoke to the horses and they were off safely cutting oats.

Ed’s calm, easy-going disposition and his low-key attitude show on his farm as well as when he’s working horses in public. There are no fancy trimmings at the Button farm, only top quality harness, equipment, and horses. In fact, having good equipment and harness, and having it all adjusted properly is a special point with Ed. He’s not the sort of person to let much upset him, but ill-fitting harness does get Ed’s goat. “I do get bothered by poor harness”, admits Ed. “We had a pair of runaways this year at the Cobleskill Fair just because of poor harness. And there was another team there with their noses almost touching. If they’d just stopped and switched things around.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Buster, as he’s known to the Buttons, forgets for a few minutes about impressing anyone and prefers to play at the end of the lunge-line. Ed seemed to enjoy the game as much as Buster as he shouted, “Yippee” and stepped lively to keep up with the stallion. As per his training, Buster knew when the game was over and walked quietly back to the barn.

Ed maintains the same high standard about the people who work with his horses as he does about the harness that he uses. For the past several summers he has had two top-notch assistants: his own granddaughters, Cheryl and Cynthia McGraw, aged respectively seventeen and fourteen, who are the children of the Buttons’ oldest daughter. During the school year the girls live with their parents in New Jersey, but they are with their grandparents and the Belgians whenever they have the chance. Ed compliments the girls on the quality of their horse-handling with the love of an adoring grandparent, but also with the respect of an experienced horseman. Ed explains, “I like people to be quiet around my horses, and firm with them. They shouldn’t be repeatin’. Say it once and be firm.” Cheryl and Cindy seem to exemplify their grandfather’s qualifications for a horse handler, but the girls also include kindness, gentleness and love in their work with the Belgians. Their grandfather continues, “This summer when they got here, that Bunny foal was a little wild, but they tamed her down, got her leadin’ and ready to show. And they got first place foal with Bunny at the Cobleskill Fair. They’re my stablehands, my assistants, and my trainers. All I do is supply the horses.” Ed fails to mention, however, just who it was who taught the girls all they know about horses. It seems safe to assume that it was their grandfather.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

While trimming the pastures Ed pauses for a few minutes for some pictures.

Helen, Ed’s wife, stays out of the limelight of shows, parades, pictures, and gatherings, but she helps with the feeding of the horses and hates to sell a single one. Says Ed, “She gets married to them the same as I do and she’s always tellin’ me I can’t sell any. But I can’t keep them all because we need the income.”

Helen seems to have had some bad luck around the horses because she’s had various injuries over the years. Nothing has been really serious, but was it enough to make her wish that she’d married a man who liked to perhaps collect stamps, or sell insurance? “No, because I like the horses,” Helen unequivocally states, though she admits to being a bit careful working around them.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

King and Barney were too busy fighting the flies to be concerned about posing.

Helen’s primary interest is the cows. She keeps two Jerseys to supply them with milk and she adamantly comments, “When we moved here we weren’t going to have any cows, but I straightened that out in a hurry because I hate pasteurized milk”. Helen thus spends her time in a supportive role regarding the Belgians, but a very active role regarding the Jerseys, the garden, and their home. Though Helen maintains a low profile with the horses, her presence is felt and she knows the Belgians well.

Ed and Helen Button have ribbons, trophies and honors far too numerous to mention. They range from many grand champions and first place ribbons, to the honor of having consigned top money horses at draft sales. None of the ribbons, or the trophies, or the honors can be found very easily at the Button farm, though; unless, of course, you ask. Ed has many fine quality horses that are matched with equally fine harness and equipment; but the high quality will not be mentioned, unless, of course, you ask. Ed Button has a great deal of knowledge of every aspect of draft horsemanship, and is a skilled trainer and teamster. But, one need not ask to be shown these things; one needs only to watch Ed Button and his Belgians.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button awaits the start of the Fourth of July parade in Springfield Center, NY. This year Ed joined his young geldings, King and Barney, with a team owned by Jack Mulligan of Richfield Springs, NY to make a prize-winning four-horse hitch.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

As they left the barn, Ed stopped the team for a picture, but King and Barney weren’t interested in posing. They were listening to their driver.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Somehow the wagon and the mower weren’t parked in just the best places; so it made for a close situation as the team turned around. But, as Ed said, “It’s going to be a tight squeeze, Barney. Get around.” And King and Barney did as they were told.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed and his newly made four-horse hitch cut oats before a group of ambitious friends who acted as field hands.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button and the four-horse hitch cut oats for Harold Hayes near Cherry Valley, NY.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

As the breezes blew and the clouds covered the sun making the cutting of oats impossible, Cheryl and Cynthia brought King and Barney back to the truck to be unharnessed.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cynthia, in the foreground, aided by Cheryl, unharnessed the team after cutting oats.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cheryl and Cynthia harness old Veda, who Ed says, “…is spending her retirement years entertaining the grandchildren.” At the age of 22, Veda has had a long and varied career freely doing whatever task was at hand, including training colts.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cheryl and Cynthia leave for a drive with Veda.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed’s granddaughters, Cheryl and Cynthia, pose with Timberland’s Bonnie, 40574, and with her filly, Bunny. Thanks to the girls, Bunny has become a friendly gentle, young lady herself.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button returns to the barn with King and Barney.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

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?

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

by:
from issue:

We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

by:
from issue:

One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

by:
from issue:

After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

by:
from issue:

Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. 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.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

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.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

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.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

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