The Brabants’ Farm
A Horsefarming Project Promoting Sustainable Agricultural Practices in the Colombian Highlands
by Hugo Sanhueza of Bogota?, Columbia
Agronomist & Draft Horse Breeder
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
We regularly use in our farming activities the following animal-drawn machinery and implements:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
- Two liquid fertilizer sprayers, we occasionally use to spray liquid fertilizer and/or spray “bug control” chemicals when strictly necessary;
- German made potato digger (HK?). We have not had the opportunity to use it, yet!
- We had a VICON fertilizer spreader which we sold to a local dairy farmer who needed it more.
- A rented mini round baler and plastic wrapper we use when we are ready to make hay, haylage, and/or silage.
- Soil reaper or sub-soiler, for superficial break up of the soil for seeding/planting.
- Two-way plow, for mechanical weed control or for re-establishing a new pasture.
- 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 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.
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.
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:
- Educate future farmers and agricultural professionals in new ways of farming, forest work, rural economic development/growth, and natural resource management (and conservation).
- Share information through field demonstrations and social media.
- Manufacture horse drawn machinery and implements appropriate for the type of farming being practiced.
- Develop technological packages specific to the type of productive activity (i.e. silage and hay production for dairy and horse farms, horticultural production, etc).
- Identify and/or develop newer tools and tillage methods to lessen the negative impact of current farm machinery and heavy tools on agricultural soils.
- Improve local equine resources by utilizing heavy draft type stallions.
- Promote concrete ideas, such as: Brabant type workcarts, motorized work-carts, single axle horse carts, mechanical horse mowers, etc.
- Incorporate bio-fuel technology with animal power technology to provide “power on demand” options.
- Incorporate “horse-drawn agricultural technology” curriculum in Universities and Technical Colleges.