Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

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: Equipment & Facilities

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

by:
from issue:

From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

An Efficient, Economical Barn

by:
from issue:

A well thought out, functional barn should be the center piece of any farming endeavor, horse powered or fossil fueled, that involves livestock. After building and using two previous barns during our lifetimes, I think the one we now have has achieved a level of convenience, efficiency, and economy that is worth passing on.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

by:
from issue:

In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

McCormick-Deering Potato Digger

McCormick-Deering Potato Digger

from issue:

McCormick Deering (eventually International Harvestor) made what many believe to be one of the outstanding potato digger models. This post features the text and illustrations from the original manufacturer’s setup and operation literature, handed to the new owners upon purchase. This implement, pulled by two horses or a small suitable tractor, dug up the taters and conveyed them up an inclined, rattling chain which shook off most of the dirt and laid the crop on top of the ground for collection

John Deere Portable Bridge-Trussed Grain Elevator

John Deere Portable Bridge-Trussed Grain Elevator

from issue:

When bolting the sections of elevator together be sure the upper trough ends overlap the upper trough ahead, and each lower trough is underneath the trough ahead, so the chains will slide smoothly. Bolt the short tie plates to the underside of troughs at the embossed holes in the middle of trough. When bolting on the head section, have the end of scroll sheet underneath the upper trough section. The lower cross plate in the head section must bolt on top of the return trough.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Farm Drum 26 John Deere Grain Binders

Farm Drum #26: John Deere Grain Binders

by:

Friend and Auctioneer Dennis Turmon told us about a couple of John Deere Grain Binders he has in an upcoming auction, and we couldn’t wait to take a look. On a blustery Central Oregon day (sorry about the wind noise), Lynn takes us on a guided tour of the PTO and Ground-Drive versions of this important implement.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

by:
from issue:

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.

Farm Drum 25 Two-Way Plow

Farm Drum #25: Two-Way Plow

by:

Lynn Miller and Ed Joseph discuss the merits of the two-way plow, what to look for when considering purchase, and a little bit of the history of this unique IH / P&O model.

Permanent Corncribs

A short piece on the construction of corncribs.

Basil Scarberrys Ground-Drive Forecart

Basil Scarberry’s Ground-Drive Forecart

by:
from issue:

I used an ’84 Chevrolet S-10 rear end to build my forecart, turn it over to get right rotation, used master cylinder off buggy and 2” Reese hitch, extend hitch out to use P.T.O. The cart is especially useful for tedding hay. However, its uses are virtually unlimited. We use it for hauling firewood on a trailer, for pulling a disc and peg tooth harrow, for hauling baled hay on an 8’ x 16’ hay wagon, and just for a jaunt about the farm and community.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

by:
from issue:

The 18th century saw a tremendous interest in landscaping private parkland on a grand scale with the movement of entire hills and mature trees, all by man and horse power, to fulfill the designs of celebrated gardeners such as Capability Brown. In the mid 1800s the movement of mature trees was revolutionised by the introduction of the Barron tree transplanter. The first planter was designed and built by Barron for the transplantation of maturing trees at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire.

McD Lime Spreader

Parts lists and illustrations are included in this comprehensive overview

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

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