Northeast Animal-Powered Field Days 2008
by Rebekah Murchison of Fairwinds Farm
The steady, rainy drizzle on Friday afternoon, September 26th, did not dampen spirits nor participation, as Animal-Power devotees from across the Northeast came to the 2008 Northeast Animal-Power Field Days in Tunbridge, Vermont, to gather around teams, to ask questions, and to watch and learn.
In the hayfield at Howevale Farm, Donn Hewes and Andre Palmer hooked a young Percheron to a noisy motorized forecart and round-baler for the first time. Using three more experienced horses, they carefully introduced the young horse to the new concept, outlining their approach and considerations as they went. Although there were some questions about the logic of running the baler in the rain, by the time the team came back around the field, the horse had settled in nicely.
Across the brook, participants watched and queried Jay Bailey and Sam Rich as they plowed. Jay Bailey demonstrated a Pioneer sulky plow while Sam, the 2nd place finisher of The International Walking Plow Competition at the 2008 US Plowing Contest, demonstrated his fine skill with a fundamental draft-powered farming tool. Both were discussing plow adjustments, tactics and strategies. Also in this field was Bob Crichton driving eight mules, including pairs belonging to Evelyn Pike and Patricia Bacon, hitched on a set of gang harrows. He handed the lines off to others to drive, providing the thrill of a lifetime, and sewing seeds for tomorrow’s crop of teamsters.
Folks who went up to the woodlot saw Ray Cote and Ben Wallen working with their teams of steers and Neal Perry logging with his Morgans. More than one onlooker commented on how much work those “little Morgans” could do. David Sharp and Liz Guenther rounded out the woods crew with their teams of horses, while Bob Capobianco and Paul Ruta made sure there was a constant supply of logs on the ground, and Ben Canonica kept the landing cleaned up.
In each case, NEAPFD Event Organizers Carl Russell and Lisa McCrory chose excellent experienced teamsters, who are passionate about what they do, and who can communicate clearly to folks who are interested in learning more. The teamsters shared their knowledge, collaborated with others who they didn’t necessarily know, and provided an outstanding learning opportunity for everyone in attendance.
Although it did not rain on Saturday and Sunday at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds, Hurricane Kyle and flood warnings throughout the Northeast created significant challenges for folks thinking about making the trip. This may have dampened the attendance levels, but certainly not the spirits of those who did come out. The workshops covered a huge variety of topics and were led by people with expertise in sustainable farming practices, renewable energy, working with draft animals, and issues around food policy. Rob Flory gave the Feature Farm presentation, detailing his work at Howell Living History Farm, in Mercer County, New Jersey.
The Equipment Demonstration area was a popular place, with logging, haying, and fieldwork equipment on display and in use. It was a place where local innovators such as Mark Cowdrey with his Piggyback Arch, could demonstrate their products for others to see in action and evaluate for themselves. Pioneer Equipment, White Horse Machine, I & J Manufacturing, Mascot Sharpening, Payeur Distributors, Log Rite, Boynton’s Yokes ‘n’ Bows, and Berry Brook Ox Supply also provided brand new animal drawn farming and forestry implements to the demonstrations.
The Pulling Arena featured a variety of presentations, including a demonstration by 4-H youths with teams of steers ranging from “just started” all the way up to “fully trained” and many in between. Regional experts on working cattle, Howie Van Ord, Ray Ludwig, and Tim Huppe, led several workshops on starting calves, working with the 2-month old bulls that became the grand prize of the event raffle-drawing. The audience was able to watch and learn about the training progression and potential challenges along the way in a very logical format. Among that audience was a young girl, Sophie, who became so attached to the calves that she took the liberty of naming them Charlie and Dave, and when she ended up with the winning raffle ticket it created a heart-warming conclusion to the entire weekend.
The Pulling Arena also hosted horse trainers, Neal Perry, Donn Hewes and Rebekah Murchison. They were working together for the first time and took turns doing demonstrations and narrating. They brought a young horse along, putting harness on and driving the horse for the first time. Alternating him with an older horse that had experienced poor handling earlier in his life. Later they worked with a “broke” mare, demonstrating that training is an ongoing process, and that there is always more to learn and teach your horse. Throughout the afternoon, the importance of developing a relationship between horse and person was emphasized.
Other workshops and demonstrations ranged from wild edibles to effective pasture management, to challenges facing women teamsters, and teaching your goat to drive. The “Swap Meet” was a place that folks could display equipment that they were offering for sale, including a small livestock trailer, single horse mower, several harnesses and more.
The Farmers’ Market and food vendors featured local growers with end-of-season delights. The Exhibitor Hall provided books and products for sale, educational exhibits, and a place to relax and network.
The weekend was a wonderful event, serving many functions for the working animal community in the Northeast. Folks came to visit with old friends and met new ones along the way. People came to look at a certain piece of equipment and found something else instead. They arrived looking for new ideas, and found more than they could absorb.
With grateful appreciation for all of the work, financial support, and volunteer effort that goes into this event, this teamster anticipates another fantastic event next year.