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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 Cutting Edge
The Cutting Edge

Original portable power trailer, contains panels, inverter and batteries.

The Cutting Edge

by Mary Steigerwald of Ojo Sarco, NM

Horses, Solar Powered Saws and Independence

I guess it all started the day I looked out the cabin window as my husband Rico passed by, bent over and straining as he dragged a sled full of heavy firewood through the deep snow: while plodding behind him came the two saddle horses we were boarding, looking mildly interested. “Wait a minute!” I remember chuckling to myself, “What is wrong with this picture?” It suddenly occurred to me that, given the conditions of our life here at 9400 feet in Northern New Mexico – snowed-in four months of the year, cutting and hauling timber, building our log cabin, breaking sod – what we needed was a draft horse or two. Our experience with horses was limited and to learn all there was to learn seemed to be a formidable task: yet it was easy to imagine how wonderful it would be.

That was five years ago. Little did I know, as I daydreamed that morning, what was in store for us here in our wilderness home we call Edge Habitat.

Shortly thereafter, in the spring of ’97, Rico, our daughter Aspen and I, spent one long night trying to get some sleep as the fifty-year-old cabin shook and the wind roared and shrieked deafeningly through the forest around us. In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We wandered around that morning in a daze as the reality of what had happened during the night sank in.

We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! We wanted to create a mountain retreat! To conduct a typical logging operation, we felt, would completely ruin all that made this place so special. Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

The Cutting Edge

The solar sawmill. Solar panels on the roof.

With the help of our solar gizmologist partner, Brad, we bought a Norwood portable bandsaw mill and after enduring the gas powered motor long enough to “learn the ropes,” we knew we had to convert to an electric motor to be run on solar power, as soon as possible.

If this had ever been done before, we were not aware of it. Brad set to work designing the system. After the gas motor was removed, an old 36 volt Cushman golf cart motor from a golf cart repair shop slipped right into place! He wired it to six golf cart batteries, bolted a 36 volt solar panel array to the mill shed roof and it worked perfectly! The mill was clean and quiet and it put out beautiful boards and beams, with a little help from the sun.

Inspired by our success, we turned our attention to the chainsaws. We knew electric chainsaws could be run on solar power, but we wondered if they had enough power to cut big logs, and the thought of using a long cord in the tangled mess of the blowdown was unnerving. But we knew we had to give it a try. Brad put together a portable solar power system, we bought a Stihl E220 electric chainsaw and the results were amazing. The saw has plenty of power. The cord is not a problem because the whole scene is more relaxed without the noise and stress of the gas saw and the user tends to move more slowly. As one onlooker commented, “It’s more like a sewing bee than a logging operation!” Rico finds the electric saw is much easier on his hands, which are damaged by years of gas chainsaw use, and of course he loves not having the noise and toxic exhaust right in his face for hours on end. Best of all, the power comes from the sun!

The Cutting Edge

Ingot and Rico hauling beams from the mill.

The next logical step in our sustainable logging operation was – a draft horse! The ad in the paper said “Norwegian Fjords, gentle, strong and unflappable.” We went to the breeders and there was Ingot, a three-year-old gelding with a strong, compact body, stout legs like pillars and about as calm a disposition as any horse could have. The breeders offered to send him to the trainer and allowed us to make payments. One month later, Ingot was here! He settled into his life here in Fjord horse heaven, let his mane grow out, and became a member of the family.

So then we had the horse but not the know-how. That’s when a friend told us about Small Farmer’s Journal. We immediately sent for the Workhorse Handbook and Training Workhorses, Training Teamsters. We read these books over and over, cover to cover, absorbing all we could of Lynn Miller’s wisdom. The books gave us the confidence to start ground driving Ingot, who already knew what to do, by running long lines through his tied-up saddle stirrups.

Lynn often stresses the value of finding somebody who’s already working with draft horses, to learn the hands-on stuff that books can’t quite convey. So, we were thrilled to hear about a weekend draft horse workshop being held in a town not too far from home. We spent two long days watching and participating as a couple of western movie stunt men – the guys who really drive the runaway stage coaches – took us through the whole process, from harnessing to hitching to driving. It was a crash course but combined with all of our studying, it gave Rico the confidence to give Ingot a try. He built a wooden stoneboat, hitched-up Ingot, gave a cluck and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. Ingot is amazingly calm, trusting and nearly fearless. He will pull anything we hitch him to, without blinders and without hesitation. Ingot pulls logs from the blowdown and pulls the mobile solar power sled that Rico built – a wooden sled with a pair of old skis mounted to the bottom – to wherever it is needed. He gives us sled rides in the snow and hauls our firewood and supplies.

The Cutting Edge

Thirteen year old Aspen drives Ingot while Rico practices his ballet. The cabin in the background is 50 years old.

Over the six years we’ve lived here in the mountains we’ve had to contrive to earn a living at home. We keep things simple and do a lot of trading. Plus, local folks have been very generous – our old friend Fidel, for instance, who with a tear in his eye presented Rico with a beautiful collar and harness, left over from his days long ago, working mules in the woods. “When I’m gone, my kids won’t know what to do with this stuff,” he said. But we do need cash and our animals are helping with that, too. Each year, we expand our garlic and potato fields, thanks to Ingot with his harrow and plow. Our little pinto pony, Amy Goodman, is ready to pull a little manure cart. Along with their saddle horse mascot, Calypso, and the three llamas, they provide entertainment and pack support for visitors to our camp and guide retreat.

We’re looking for another Fjord like Ingot to help him pull our big wagon and bigger sled loads, and we look forward to becoming less dependent on the gas-powered truck as we use the animals more and more.

We find that people are really drawn to our little scene. While many are impressed by the high-tech solar equipment, it is the horses at work, the organic farming, the simplicity and the natural lifestyle that speak the loudest and many a visitor has been inspired to reminisce about days gone by. Farm draft horses are no longer common in our local communities, having only recently been replaced by tractors and trucks, or more likely, abandoned as the farmers themselves have disappeared. Not long ago, horse drawn wagons on dirt roads were a common sight, now supplanted by the asphalt, the automobile and the insidious desire to go faster.

The Cutting Edge

Rico and Ingot.

We love the slow pace, the gentle strength, the warmth and breath and playful antics of our beloved horses. They’ve contributed to our lives and to the lives of those who’ve watched them work in ways that run deep, answering a longing for a time when life was more simple, folks moved more slowly, and a day spent at home on the farm held endless possibilities for work and creativity.

Our horse story began with a dream and simply flows from there on good intention, a sure sign that we’re on the right track. We hope it will inspire others to follow their dreams, grow some food, live more in harmony with nature, simplify their lives, spend more time at home and – consider the possibilities of the horse!

The Cutting Edge

We highly recommend that anyone who must use a chainsaw consider the option of switching to an electric chainsaw and, ideally, alternative power. The detestable task of running a chainsaw becomes almost pleasant once the noise, fumes and stress are eliminated. Short of using hand tools, or rigging some sort of horse or water powered device, this is the quietest and cleanest method that’s currently possible to cut timber.

Any stoneboat, sled, wagon or cart can become a portable power source. It can be pulled up to a stationary array of solar panels to be charged, and parked next to the house or shop to supply extra power when it’s not being used in the field.

To run the electric chainsaw with solar power requires a simple system of components that are readily available and easily assembled. A new system would look something like this:

Stihl E220 115v ac 15a $525
2 BP-585 PV modules, 170w at 12v, $480ea $960
Trace DR-2412 inverter, 2000w or comparable $1400
2 Exide GC-4 golf cart batteries, $80ea $160
2 fuse block and misc $100
PV mounting rack $85
Charge controller $75
$3305

This system uses two solar panels, which provide three to four hours of saw running time per day. Using one panel would provide one to two hours per day. Between cuts, the electric chainsaw is not running.

This may seem expensive, but considering the absence of fuel costs over time, the benefits to the sawer’s health, the fact that the system can be used to power the home, shop or other tools at remote sites, and perhaps most importantly, considering global climate change and the current worldwide political unrest, acquiring a cleaner, more independent power source is one of the best investments you can make.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

by:
from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

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.

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

McCormick-Deering No 7 Mower Manual in English & French

McCormick-Deering No. 7 Mower Manual in English & French

Instructions for Setting Up and Operating the McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 VERTICAL LIFT TWO-HORSE MOWERS — Instructions pour le Montage et le Fonctionnement des FAUCHEUSES A DEUX CHEVAUX McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 À RELEVAGE VERTICAL

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

Apples of North America

Freedom has been called the ugly duckling of disease-resistant apple varieties. But that shouldn’t detract from its many merits. These include the freedom from apple-scab infection for which it was named, a high rate of productivity, and an ability to serve as a good pollinator for its more attractive sibling, Liberty.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

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