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.
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.
Market gardeners who already have an up and running tractor-powered operation and think they might want to explore transitioning to live horse power are often attracted to the idea of starting with a single horse. The single horse can also be a viable option for creating a mixed power system where the tractor is used for heavy tillage and the horse is used for secondary tillage, cultivation, and other light draft tasks around the farm. And for the complete beginner looking to get started in market gardening and working with horses, a single horse has a lot of appeal.
As the years continue to roll on, as busy as ever, I have had plenty of time for considering the pros and cons of farming. So many people have asked me why in the world I would even want to, let alone like, a farm lifestyle. It’s definitely not easy, but I guess my only answer would be that I just plain love it. No noisy things. Peace and quiet. Lots of hard work. Time with the family. Oh, and there’s stress, too! Like when everything is coming in at once and the days aren’t long enough. But there’s also a great satisfaction of making it on your own. I do understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Only people who are crazy like we are, who are for simplicity and hard work over convenience will enjoy it. I do!
The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.