The Best Type of Horses for the Farmer
Prof. J.H. Skinner, of Indiana Experiment Station, lecture given before Nebraska Improved Stock Breeders in 1910
If we were asked to describe the best horse for farm work the task would not be so difficult. But no consideration of this subject would ignore the question of profit to be derived from horses on the farm. In fact farmers will find about as easy money in a few first-class horses to put on the market as in any other branch of his business. Someone must grow the horses for city and commercial use, and no one is better prepared to do it, so far as feed and surroundings are concerned, than the farmer. Under most conditions farmers cannot afford to lose sight of the profits to be made from this source.
On most farms a few colts can be grown each year very cheaply and with but little trouble. This enables one to dispose of the older horses and thus keep young stock which will be increasing in value. Geldings should never be kept beyond a salable age, as mares will be just as serviceable and at the same time produce a colt worth fifty to one hundred dollars. When we take into account the profits to be gained by such a method and the demands of the market we will doubtless be led to the conclusion that a farmer cannot afford to produce the horse exactly suited to farm work.
The press is full of discussions on the farm horse and how to breed him. Some recommend one, some another, but most all lose sight of the market value of the animal. Formerly what is known as a general purpose horse was commonly found on the farm, and there are those now who advocate such. The market, however, does not recognize any such class, and when they go there they are a cheap, unclassed horse. For this reason if no other they would be unprofitable for farmers. There is, however, another consideration of more importance. Modern agriculture is carried on by the use of heavy implements such as the binder, gang plow, manure spreader, and others. These require a great deal of power and consequently a heavier horse than our fathers used.
Market horses may be divided into two main classes: Those for draft purposes, such as heavy draft, bus, express, etc., and harness and saddle horses, which include drivers, coachers, and saddlers. The heavy draft horse must have weight and strength. It is not so much a question of height as weight. A strictly first-class draft horse must weight 1,600 pounds or more. The greater the weight the greater the value. They must have good feet, legs, plenty of bone and quality, and where these are accompanied with good style and action they command the highest market price. The bus and express horses are of lighter weight and not so strongly built, smoother, and have better action. They should not be thought of as small draft horses, as they are entirely distinct and different. A description of harness and saddle horses is scarcely necessary in this discussion, as I consider them altogether too light for farm work. Moreover, the average farmer cannot put them on the market profitably. The percent of high grade roadsters, drivers, and coachers produced from common mares is small and uncertain. The demand for these is poor.
A study of the market shows that a large percent of the horses that go there are light and unclassed, and as a rule these are cheap and plentiful. On the other hand, horses of the draft types, and particularly the heavy draft, find ready sale at good to high prices. There has been no time during the past decade when a first-class heavy drafter would not sell at a profit to the producer. Such horses are demanded by many manufacturers and wholesale merchants at high prices. In the markets today they will range in price from one hundred and fifty to five hundred dollars, depending on their size and quality. Everything considered, this type of horse will be most profitable for farmers. Some think the light horse such as used for bus and express purposes better adapted to the farmer’s conditions, but in his effort to produce the heavy type a sufficient number of failures will result in enough of the lighter type to supply the demand.
The heavy draft horse is the best for several reasons. He can be produced easily and cheaply, requires little attention, and is readily broken. Furthermore, he can be used on the farm from two to four years, and thus pay his way; blemishes do not detract so much from his sale as in the case of many other types, and he is well suited to the heavy work now found on the farm. It is not my purpose to advocate a coarse, awkward, extremely heavy horse for the farm. A few years ago much was said about the very short-legged, extremely blocky horse, and today such are good sellers, but a far superior farm horse is found in the active, upstanding horse of 1,600 pounds and upward with good action and style. Such a horse will not only sell to advantage but fill the role of farm horse well. He can be taught to walk rapidly, and does not know what a load is. Where such are bred and raised on the farm they cost very little and help mightily in making up for the losses from cattle feeding, etc. They can be produced by mating the heavier mares with pure-bred draft stallions of any of the leading draft breeds of approved type and quality. With the prevailing high prices it may be well to caution breeders against indiscriminate breeding to commoner or inferior sires. Many stallions are being imported annually, and among the number many that ought to be rejected by purchaser and breeder. They are bound to leave their impress on their offspring, and the farmer will be forced to pay the price when after several years the colts come to marketable age.