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

The Brabants Farm
The Brabants Farm

Junior de Los Brabantes AgroExpo 2015.

The Brabants’ Farm

A Horsefarming Project Promoting Sustainable Agricultural Practices in the Colombian Highlands

by Hugo Sanhueza of Bogota?, Columbia
Agronomist & Draft Horse Breeder

A. INTRODUCTION

The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming” as an appropriate technology for farming, forestry and rural tourism. Our 3 ha farm is located high in the oriental mountain range of Colombia, at 2.860 mts a.s.l. (almost 9,400 ft elevation), and approximately 80 kms from the city of Bogota. We breed Belgian (Brabant) horses and fabricate horse drawn machinery for us and local farmers. Additionally, we import specialized horse drawn machinery, implements and harnesses from Amish (USA) manufacturers.

Our philosophy is to support the “transformation” of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

The Brabants Farm

ESM Mower.

B. HORSE BREEDING & RAISING

“Brabant” horses are our choice breed due to their excellent temperament, bone quality, “work ethic”, easy keep, and strength (horsepower). The locals are attracted to the feathers on their legs!

We have 9 draft horses of which 4 are mares, and they continue to produce high quality foals every year.

Our first 2 Brabant stallions were imported from Belgium back in 2006. We have used them to breed to our American Belgian mares with great results. Their colts have better bone structure and temperament, and adjust well to our type of local feed and feeding regime. We have noticed similar characteristics in foals of “small” local mares mated with our Brabant stallions.

We offer breeding services to local farmers interested in producing “draft quality” replacement foals with local mares. Our stallions have bred small size mares with great success. All pregnancies and foals have been normal without any kind of incident that could have potentially resulted in grave “accidents” due to the difference in size with the bigger stallions. We use artificial insemination to avoid injuring the small mare and reduce the risk of infection during mating. Our breeding program’s goal is to produce a draft horse, well adapted to local conditions and still a good “work” performer.

The Brabants Farm

Training a young stallion.

“Draft horse culture” is not strongly rooted in Colombian agricultural/rural society. The regional farming community is better acquainted (familiar) with the use of oxen, and this has been a learning experience for all of us. We have decided to leave the “oxen option” open, given the strong “oxen culture” in the Latin American region, and consider oxen specific training and equipment (harness, implements, etc.) for the near future.

One of the major challenges we have encountered since we started our horse farming enterprise has been the proper feeding of our draft horses. The Colombian equine feed industry is more focused on producing horse feeds for smaller, riding types of animals than for draft horses. We have learned that it takes a lot more (than usual) of Colombian made concentrate to adequately feed our draft horses. We haven’t run a test to determine the quality of the ingredients and the formulation of these feeds, but we are guessing this could be the issue/problem. Another key item we recently considered as a key factor in our strategy for properly and adequately feeding our horses is the quality of our pastures. We have now focused on regularly spreading the “collected” horse manure (mixed with lime) onto our pastures to feed the soil and obtain high quality forage. And, we have made “forage” the pillar of our feeding program, with excellent results. In addition to forage, we also add small portions of “feed additives” (vitamins, minerals, etc.) to the concentrate to complement the forage based diet. Occasionally, we feed portions of oats or barley to complement their diet with good fiber. Unfortunately, the local market does not offer these grains regularly, so we buy it when seasonally available. Because of this, we have decided to produce our own grains on rented land, in the near future.

We feed “green forage” on a daily basis. Most recently, we started feeding mixed green forage with haylage and hay, with good results. We have not had any colic incidents as a result of feeding haylage. We think our strategy of opening our small bales and letting them be sun cured/rain washed a day prior to feeding the haylage to our horses has been the reason for the lack of colic incidents when feeding haylage. And they love it!! A single, well packed mini-bale (65-70 kg) of haylage, mixed with a similar quantity of green cut forage, allows us to feed 4 adult horses per day.

The Brabants Farm

Team of Brabants hitched to our workcart.

C. FACILITIES

Our horse stables’ architecture has a European influence. Brabant horses are heavy and like to rub against anything to scratch their bodies. We thought that a well built structure is what we needed to avoid damages to our stables, so we have a “concrete-block-building” we enjoy very much. We took advantage of the local geography to build the 2-story stables, which we use for storing hay, grain, animal feed, harness, and veterinary products and medicines on the second floor. Occasionally, we use it for hosting University student visits, Field Day guests, and other events.

The way we like to set up our building complex allow us to circulate around the central corral/arena, with a single-horse workcart for delivering forage and for directly feeding the horses in the stables. The access to the second floor is by way of a bridge connecting the building to a hillside. We continue to improve our horse facilities to accommodate the ways we like to manage our horses, store our machinery, and move around a reduced space safely.

The Brabants Farm

Brabant workcart with aerator.

D. HORSEFARMING AND ANIMAL DRAWN TECHNOLOGY

We utilize our horses in many agricultural tasks, with a variety of farm machinery and implements. We normally hitch two horses for doing the majority of the work. We use two to three horses with the Brabant work-cart and a subsoiler/ripper to break the soil (in lieu of a plow), or lightly cut through the pasture to aerate, which allows rain water to get into the soil, as well as helping to minimize run-off from heavy rain. Then, we hitch to a motorized cart (26 hp) with two or three horses and a roto-tiller, to smooth out the soil for planting/seeding. We use a single horse work-cart for spreading manure (every three months) and for trans- porting forage straight to our stables on a daily basis.

We design “appropriate” machinery to meet our specific needs. This way we are simplifying the work and helping ourselves with the overall efficiency of horse-farming.

We have started producing hay, haylage, and silage in small round bales. We rent a mini round baler and a plastic wrapper for this purpose, although we continue to hand feed our horses with green forage. The idea for specializing in forage production is due to our proximity to Colombia’s main dairy regio?n, the Ubate Valley. This is the regio?n with the highest percentage of work horses being utilized for agricultural work in the country. Unfortunately, these horses are being underutilized and their tasks are limited to transporting green forage and milk containers to the milk processing plant and/or the milk collecting truck.

We like to modify and/or combine old with new mechanization ideas. This approach allows us to get the best of both, in terms of simplicity and efficiency.

The Brabants Farm

Two-horse team hitched to a Vicon Spreader installed on a Brabant workcart with a vintage horse-mower gear.

We regularly use in our farming activities the following animal-drawn machinery and implements:

  1. 25HP motorized workcart with 4 auxiliary hydraulic lines to ope?rate, a rotovator, an ESM mower, a plastic wrapper, and anything else that may require the hydraulic system and/or the PTO;
  2. Non-motorized workcart with a hydraulic system with 4 auxiliary lines, to raise or lower the workcart’s platform (floor) and working depth of implements;
  3. Single axle workcart to transport green forage, deliver compost to the fields, use it as a vehicle trailer to transport all kinds of building material, horse feeds, etc.
  4. Two liquid fertilizer sprayers, we occasionally use to spray liquid fertilizer and/or spray “bug control” chemicals when strictly necessary;
  5. German made potato digger (HK?). We have not had the opportunity to use it, yet!
  6. We had a VICON fertilizer spreader which we sold to a local dairy farmer who needed it more.
  7. A rented mini round baler and plastic wrapper we use when we are ready to make hay, haylage, and/or silage.
  8. Soil reaper or sub-soiler, for superficial break up of the soil for seeding/planting.
  9. Two-way plow, for mechanical weed control or for re-establishing a new pasture.
  10. Pasture aerator, for passing once or twice a year over the pastures to puncture small holes and allow rain water to get into the root system.
The Brabants Farm

Loading green cut forage.

The niche for fabricating horsedrawn machinery and implements is very limited, due to a lack of awareness and horsefarming culture among small farmers in the regio?n. Consequently, we buy/import commercially available horsedrawn machinery, for trials and demonstrations at our farm. Based on the results of our testing we make the recommendations or show the machinery working during our “Field Day.” Parallel to this, we continue to develop our own machinery with specific requirements to meet the needs of the local farming community. Presently, we are focusing on developing horsefarming techniques, methods, and “tools” for producing high quality hay, haylage, and silage for feeding dairy cattle and horses, especially during the “dry seasons,” which occur twice a year in this region. We have established strong support from several Amish farmers and manufacturers of animal drawn machinery, to provide us with appropriate horse drawn machinery and horsefarming ideas to get the job done. Presently, two of our dairy farmers in the area have imported ground-driven mowers with ESM Technology (from I&J). Another machine that is gaining in popularity among some of the farmers is the VICON “pendulum” type fertilizer spreader/ broadcaster. This machine could become highly popular in years to come given its efficacy in broadcasting fertilizer and for reseeding pasture. The majority of small and mid size farmers “broadcast” their fertilizers and pasture seeds by hand.

A major constraint for promoting horsefarming is the lack of “technical” knowledge of personnel working in metal fabrication and repair shops. They only have basic understanding and limited experience on how to repair farm machinery.

The Brabants Farm

Motorized workcart with plastic wrapper.

E. RESEARCH, EXTENSION & EDUCATION

Once a year, we conduct a field demonstration to share our ideas about horse-farming. We also share the results of our horsefarming R&D with local farmers. Presently, we are focusing on the production and conservation of forages. For our next activity, we may get involved in the production of potatoes, an important crop in the regio?n. One key farm implement for this production scheme is a German made potato digger (HK?). If well received, this machine can change the way small farmers harvest their potatoes. This machine would mechanize potato harvesting, and will required significantly less labour than is needed today. Currently, Colombian small farmers use “hoes” to seed and harvest potatoes, a “back-breaking” activity.

During 2015, we intend to offer “custom services” to small (and mid size) farmers, as part of our strategy for promoting horsefarming. We will provide these services within a 100 km radius of our farm. Many small farmers lack animal drawn farm machinery and implements, and the costs of renting the service of a tractor with implements is much higher than the fees we would charge on a daily basis. This strategy will allow the farmer to experience the quality work horses and their equipment can produce, and to create an incentive for purchasing their own team of animals and implements. At the same time we will try to develop a rapport with SENA, a government technical school and training center for collaborative work in the area of horsefarming training and the development of a “horsefarming curriculum,” to prepare animal traction “specialists” who may play a critical role in the promotion of horsefarming throughout the area and regio?n, in the future.

These challenges have come in ways of developing/employing: 1) better practices for protecting and managing our natural resources, specifically our agricultural (and forest) soils; 2) improved designs of farm implements and machinery to reduce the negative impact of modern equipment on agricultural soils being caused by heavy equipment, current tillage practices, and high consumption of petroleum based fuels; 3) reduced “carbon” emissions by reducing the employment of fossil fuel technologies versus increased use of bio-fuel technology for motorized workcarts; 4) increased role and participation of small scale farmers, in overall sustainable agricultural practices and rural economic growth.

The Brabants Farm

Motorized cart with mini-baler.

F. THE WAY AHEAD

Transforming conventional agriculture will require profound changes in individual and collective attitudes, personal values, and strategic vision. Major changes will not occur in terms of years but generations. To accomplish this it will be necessary to:

  1. Educate future farmers and agricultural professionals in new ways of farming, forest work, rural economic development/growth, and natural resource management (and conservation).
  2. Share information through field demonstrations and social media.
  3. Manufacture horse drawn machinery and implements appropriate for the type of farming being practiced.
  4. Develop technological packages specific to the type of productive activity (i.e. silage and hay production for dairy and horse farms, horticultural production, etc).
  5. Identify and/or develop newer tools and tillage methods to lessen the negative impact of current farm machinery and heavy tools on agricultural soils.
  6. Improve local equine resources by utilizing heavy draft type stallions.
  7. Promote concrete ideas, such as: Brabant type workcarts, motorized work-carts, single axle horse carts, mechanical horse mowers, etc.
  8. Incorporate bio-fuel technology with animal power technology to provide “power on demand” options.
  9. Incorporate “horse-drawn agricultural technology” curriculum in Universities and Technical Colleges.
The Brabants Farm

Two-horse field sprayer.

The Brabants Farm

Mowing overgrown oats.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants Farm

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

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The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

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We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

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Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

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