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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.”

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

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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.

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Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

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Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

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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?

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

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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.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

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There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

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Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

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Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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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.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

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