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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: Farming Systems & Approaches

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

TMAHK Tripod Haymaking

The Milk and Human Kindness: What I’ve Learned of Tri-Pod Haymaking

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I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

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Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

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Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

The Forcing of Plants

The Forcing of Plants

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It is always advisable to place coldframes and hotbeds in a protected place, and particularly to protect them from cold north winds. Buildings afford excellent protection, but the sun is sometimes too hot on the south side of large and light-colored buildings. One of the best means of protection is to plant a hedge of evergreens. It is always desirable, also, to place all the coldframes and hotbeds close together, for the purpose of economizing time and labor.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

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Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

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Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

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