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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 PST

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: Livestock

Fjordworks Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

By waking up so fully to the tasks at hand we are empowered to be more present, more available, and thus able to offer a compassionate and skillful response to the needs of our horses even as we ask them to accomplish heavy work on the farm. It is not up to the horses to trust us; it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of their trust. What the horses can offer to us are new avenues to freedom and resilience, sustainability and hope.

My First Team of Workhorses

My First Team of Workhorses

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In A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses, a greenhorn (myself) tried a single work horse named Lady for farm and woods work. It was probably natural that, having acquired some experience with one horse, I should want to see what it was like to use two. Perhaps it is more exciting to see a good team pull together, and there is the added challenge to the teamster of making certain that the horses pull smoothly rather than seesaw.

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.

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

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Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

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In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

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I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

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I hear time and time again at the outset of each workshop, “I don’t know anything about working oxen.” And I say, “There is no more fun than being a beginner.” Myself and the staff get great pleasure in sharing our knowledge of working steers and oxen. For as long as there are those interested in working cattle, the men I mentioned early in this article will not be forgotten. I believe there will always be cattle worked on small farms and in the woods.

Sheep A Logical Choice

Sheep: A Logical Choice

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Sheep have numerous uses on a smallholding. They are excellent grazers and are ideal at revitalizing old pastures as well as an excellent follower of the cows in a rotational grazing system. Cropping the grass at 2-3 inches that the cows have left at 8 inches encourages new growth in the spring. Their manure is usually in pellet form and is spread throughout a pasture as they graze. A sheep shares a ton a year of fertilizer with the earth.

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Black Pigs & Speckled Beans

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As country pigs go the Large Blacks are superb. They are true grazing pigs, thriving on grass and respectful of fences. Protected from sunburn by their dark skin and hair they are tolerant of heat and cold and do well even in rugged conditions. Having retained valuable instincts, the sows are naturally careful, dedicated, and able mothers. The boars I’ve seen are friendly and docile.

The Big Hitch

The Big Hitch

In 1925 Slim Moorehouse drove a hitch of 36 Percheron Horses pulling 10 grain wagons loaded with 1477 bushesl of wheat through the Calgary Stampede Parade. It is out intention to honor a man who was a great horseman and a world record holder. The hitch, horses and wagons, was 350 feet in length and he was the only driver.

The Equine Eye

The Equine Eye

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The horse’s head is large, with eyes set wide apart at the sides of his head; he seldom sees an object with both eyes at the same time and generally sees a different picture with each eye. In the wild, this double vision was a big advantage, making it difficult for a predator to sneak up on him. He can focus both eyes to the front to watch something, but it takes more effort. Only when making a concentrated effort to look straight ahead does the horse have depth perception as we know it.

Camel Power in Georgia

Camel Power in Georgia

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Last spring we got the bright idea to plow some corn with one of the camels, so we went to the shed and drug out the “Planet Jr. one camel cultivating plow”. My 86 year old Grandfather said “Son, don’t worry about thinning that corn, those camels are going to do a fine job of it, for you!” We plowed corn and I have some video to prove it, and as soon as I quit running over the corn and learned how to “drive the plow” we didn’t lose any more corn!

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

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The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

Words for the Novice Teamster

Words for the Novice Teamster

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Many people who are new to the world of draft horses are intimidated by what seems to them to be a foreign language. This “workhorse language” can be frustrating for novices who would like to use draft horses, or who would just like to understand what people who do use them are talking about. The knowledge of some basic draft horse terminology can end most of the beginner’s confusion about the special jargon used in this trade.

Calves that Don't Breathe at Birth

Calves that Don’t Breathe at Birth

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Heart rate is one way to tell if the calf is in respiratory distress, since it drops as the body is deprived of oxygen. Normal heart rate in a newborn calf is 100 to 120 beats per minute. Place your hand over the lower left side of the ribcage, just behind and above the elbow of his front leg. If heart rate has dropped as low as 40, the calf ’s condition is critical; he needs to start breathing immediately.

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

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