The 13th Annual U.S. Draft Horse and Mule Plowing Contest was hosted again this year by Mike and Joyce Downs on their farm located in Olympia, KY. This is the 2nd year for the competition to be held on this majestic piece of land located in Bath County, KY, where teamsters did not have to do the dead furry mambo in the back part of the field. This year’s competition was held in late October 2017, hosting 21 teamsters from six different states.
Mr. Scarberry had come from West Virginia to share, in the purest sense of the word, his implement ideas. His implements were not for sale, they were there for people to see, measure, ask about and enjoy. He wanted it to belong to everyone; he wanted it to be seen and known as his gift to us.
Dale Befus introduced me to a plow I had not set eyes on before, most unusual affair though Dale assures me not uncommon in Alberta, this implement is a beam-hung riding plow (wheels hang from the beam) as versus the frame-hung units (where the beam hangs under the wheel-supported frame).
In a horse-powered market garden in the 1- to 10-acre range the moldboard plow can still serve us very well as one valuable component within a whole tool kit of tillage methods. In the market garden the plow is used principally to turn in crop residue or cover crops with the intention of preparing the ground to sow new seeds. In these instances, the plow is often the most effective tool the horse-powered farmer has on hand for beginning the process of creating a fine seed bed.
Within the context of the market garden, the principal aim for utilizing the moldboard is to initiate the process of creating a friable zone for the root systems of direct-seeded or transplanted cash crops to establish themselves in, where they will have sufficient access to all the plant nutrients, air, and moisture they require to bear successful fruits. To this end, it is critical for good plant growth to render the soil into a fine-textured crumbly condition and to ensure there is no compaction within the root zone.
from issue: 38-3
In this series of articles we are taking a look at how contemporary horse-powered farmers are making use of the moldboard plow, with an emphasis on the use of the moldboard as primary tillage in the market garden. In this installment we will hear “Reports from the Field” from two small farmers who favor the walking plow and a report from one farmer who farms tens of acres of forage crops and is decidedly in favor of the sulky. But first, we’ll dig into the SFJ archives to get a little perspective on the evolution of the manufacture of the walking plow from the late 19th century to the present.
No matter how well your team is matched to the size plow, they are going to have to put in some hard work to pull it through the ground. Plowing represents one of the heaviest exertions of draft power your horses will face in the course of working the market garden. Before you hitch your horses to the plow you will want to get them in shape with lighter tasks. Your horses will tell you if the draft of the plow is too much for them. Your experience of plowing will be immeasurably more satisfactory if your horses can pull the plow comfortably, without wanting to go too fast. If the team is walking too fast they are probably feeling the pull is too hard, as most horses will tend to turn up the throttle (before they balk) when they are feeling over-taxed by the load.
Leo initiated the circle letter discussion on plowing in their very first letter. Already familiar with turning ground with the sulky, he asked for tips on taking the first steps behind the walking plow. The following advice may not be complete, but it is unique in that it combines the fresh impressions and lessons of teamsters who first put their hand to the plow this past year with the seasoned experience of those who have been walking the furrow half of their lives.
Dinnertime rolled around before we could get people and horses off the field so that results of judging could be announced. I learned a lot that day, one thing being that people were there to share; not many took the competition side of the competition very seriously. Don Anderson of Toledo, WA was our judge — with a tough job handed to him. Everyone was helping each other so he had to really stay on his toes to know who had done what on the various plots.
The John Deere-Syracuse No. 210 Sulky Plow is acknowledged to be the lightest-draft plow of its type. It does an extra good job of plowing in any kind of soil and under all conditions. It runs level and plows at uniform depth, always — even when turning square corners. It’s the all-wheel-carried plow that has established its superiority wherever the use of this type of plow is practical. The advantages of the No. 210 over the ordinary sulky are many. The special design of rolling landside, and the fact that the plow can be used with either the Syracuse or John Deere clean-shedding bottoms are features responsible for the extremely light-draft and good working qualities of the No. 210 in a variety of conditions.
Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.
There are four general plans, or methods of plowing fields. These are: (1) to plow from one side of a field to the other; (2) to plow around the field; (3) to plow a field in lands; and (4) to start the plowing in the center of the field.
There are several prerequisites to ploughing successfully: you need a workable plough, somewhere suitable to plough, and horses which will walk where you want them to, at a slow to moderate pace. You also need to know the feel of the plough, how to adjust it, and how to control the horses. Once you can do all these things, then you can plough, but for each one that you cannot yet tick off your list, the harder it will be to learn. Fortunately, some of these skills can be achieved before you ever get near a moving plough, and the more boxes you can tick before you start, the easier it will be. Let’s start by breaking down the act of ploughing into its component parts.
If we agree that quality of plowing is subject to different criteria at different times and in different fields, then perhaps the most important thing to consider is control. How effectively can I plow to attain my desired field condition based on my choice of plow? The old time plow manufacturers understood this. At one time there were specific moldboards available for every imaginable soil type and condition.
The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.
After a hiatus of more than a decade, the Oregon Draft Horse community has a full-fledged Draft Horse and Mule Plowing Competition once again. Organization president Duane Van Dyke was quite excited about the conversion back to competition from the long standing ‘demonstration’ play days that have been held over recent years. This year’s May event featured a whole lot of animals and a great crowd of participants and spectators all enjoying the emerald green beauty of Champoeg State Park.
The lifting mechanism for this plow is a foot-operated lever which allows the operator to use both legs for lifting and setting. This foot-operated action means the operator can keep his hands on the lines at all times. The steering tongue means the plow will turn sharp on headlands for safety and efficiency. It also provides assurance on hilly terrain or with new horses, that the plow will not run up on their heels. Levers on both sides permit the operator to set the frame level for accurate plowing.
They advertise “rain or shine” for the Rock Creek Plowing Exhibition and this year they were put to the test. I’m happy to tell you that the horses and teamsters and spectators passed the test with flying, if soaked, colors. But I had forgotten that folks west of the Cascade Mountain range are accustomed to this sort of weather. I think it was my friend Ron VanGrunsven who, when I asked him why he was there, remarked “It’s too wet to do anything else.”
Plowing demands more skill and precision from the teamster and the horses than almost any other farm-related task performed with a team. This is true whether you use a walking plow or a wheel-mounted sulky plow. This discussion will be limited to the sulky plow, both because the wheel-mounted sulky is easier to use and my experience is limited to this type, except for one disastrous attempt with a single horse walking plow described in “A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses.”
All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.
As an anniversary gift my wife took me to Horse Progress Days in Pennsylvania for 2017. I watched the haying display and a few other things before meandering out behind the big field to the vegetable tillage area. As I walked down the lines of equipment I spotted a plow. The world sort of faded away as a rush of awe swept over me. My chest was tight as I neared the plow and I stood breathlessly looking at everything I had hoped for in a small plow bottom.
The plough guy is close to my heart. I miss getting my bare feet in a furrow as the earth goes back to work. I wonder what my Amish neighbor would do if I pulled over my Jetta, took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my pant legs and fell in behind his plough. He might shake his head, but I think he would understand. He would probably stop his team and look behind him and recognize a 38 year-old farmer’s daughter and say, “Well, if you’re gonna walk in my furrow you might as well be helpful and pick up some rocks.” I’ll let you know how it works out.
We had all the time in the world, the day was cool and lovely, and there was no reason not to just keep at it. During a short break, Charlie gave me some pointers, but he added that it was mostly a matter of “getting the feel of it.” He said he couldn’t really explain how to hold a plow; the knowledge would have to come to me as I held it. When we started up again, an old memory welled up: that first exultant glide after my father’s steadying hand had lifted from the back of my bicycle seat. All at once I relaxed and felt connected not to a lump of contrary metal, but to the living force that a plow becomes behind a team of horses. And a long cusp of earth curled over like an unbidden line of poetry, all but making music.
In order to secure the ideal condition for seed germination and plant growth, a seed-bed for planting should not be too deep and mellow. The soil should be mellow and well pulverized only about as deep as the seed is to be planted. Below this the soil should be firm and well settled, making a good connection with the subsoil, so that the water stored therein may be drawn up into the surface soil. The firm soil below the seed supplies the needed moisture, while the mellow soil above it allows sufficient circulation of air to supply oxygen and favors the warming of the soil by gathering the heat of sunshine during the day and acting as a blanket to conserve the soil heat during the night.
Within true horse-power circles, where natural partnerships with working animals are embraced and cherished, the family unit is paramount. Tools are being designed today so that a husband and wife with two to four work animals can see their work done. Scale is a defining aspect, going forward and backward. It is liberating and it is enlivening. Elegant even. And for us, we see the evidence both from afar and up close. Now to focus on what 25 years has taught us.
A hallmark of the Pioneer Equipment system has been their superb, field-tested engineering coupled with production-line planning which has resulted, repeatedly, in affordable, durable implements sold now ‘round the world. But I must hazard to offer that ahead of even that, has been vision. Wayne saw a need and a possibility when many, back then in the 70’s and 80’s, saw little or none.
It’s hard to say why I chose a walking plow. My neighbor tells me they make them with wheels. They make chairs with wheels, too, but I’m not anxious to own one. Land size figured in, and price, and working order, and things said by farmers old and young. I didn’t flip a coin, but I might as well. I decided to start with a walking plow, and at the Small Farmers’ Gathering in Missouri in 1987, I found just the one; a John Deere 16-inch plow with good wood handles.
We were most fortunate to be able to see and try the new White Horse Machine Leaf Spring Reset Plow at this year’s Auction. The Gap, Pennsylvania company has come up with a most important innovation permitting its riding plow to trip with an obstruction and then reset itself once the obstruction is passed. This is made possible with the ingenious flat spring that bows upwards to allow the jointed plow beam to swing back until the underground obstruction is passed.
White Horse Machine, in Pike Gap, PA, is an excellent Amish implement company that has been around for a very long time. They advertise with us regularly. Year after year, their innovations have created quite a stir at the annual Horse Progress Days. White Horse is one of a dozen or so successful and responsible horsedrawn equipment companies in the U.S. They offer an ingenious forecart design with many options. Their line of plows is especially good.