Horses, Mules & Oxen: Appropriate Technology for Todays’ Farms & Forests? Maybe.
It is fair season! We are all used to seeing horses, ponies and oxen pulling those tremendous loads of cement blocks across the pulling rings. Their sheer power is impressive, as is their ability to stand quietly until it is their turn and then dig in and pull at the drop of the evener.
But what else can horses & oxen do? How else can their strength, stamina and intelligence be used to our benefit? On a growing number of farms around New England and across the continent there are horses, mules and oxen being put back to work making hay, cultivating vegetables, logging and more. As the price of fuel increases it is easier to make the choice to harness a team instead of starting up the tractor. As bodies age it can be more comfortable to sit on a horse-drawn implement than a tractor. As we consider the costs and benefits of using an engine vs using muscle power for any given task, it becomes clearer that some tasks are uniquely suited to engines (loading manure in the spreader, for instance) and some are better suited to using animals (in the garden, they can learn to see the rows and not step on plants). It is all a matter of “appropriate technology” – choosing the best tool for the job at hand.
What are the equipment options for people interested in using animals to power their farms? Is it possible to put a Power Take-Off (PTO)shaft behind a team (yes!)? How do I choose a good team? Who can teach me more about using animals safely and efficiently? I’ve seen oxen pulling with their horns, using a yoke and working in harness – which is best? Do I need big horses or can a Morgan accomplish what I want to do? Mules are pretty neat, can I use them to work my fields? These questions and so many more will be answered in workshops and presentations at the Draft Animal Power Field Days being held at the Orleans County Fairgrounds in Barton, VT on September 28 & 29, 2013.
Equipment demonstrations will be ongoing throughout the weekend. Learn about plowing with former national Plowing Champion, Sam Rich. Watch veterinarian, horse trainer and teamster Doc Hammill start a young horse in harness over the course of the weekend. Local natural horsemanship trainer Neal Perry will start a horse under saddle and work with older horses who have issues that need to be straightened out. The VanOrd’s will have a collection of ox equipment and paraphernalia to see and ask questions about. Selections from Fred Websters’ collection will be on hand to hear about and see in action. There will be demonstrations and presentations related to using horses in CSA & market gardens all weekend and Stephen Leslie will be signing copies of his book, “The New Horse-powered Farm” on Saturdayafternoon. Enjoy a wagon ride, watch young oxen in training, learn how to adjust a mower for optimum results…and so much more! There is something for everyone so bring the family.
The Draft Animal-Power Field Days kick off on Friday afternoon, September 27 at 3:00 with a presentation by Doc Hammill called “The Heart & Mind of the Horse”. If you have interest in horses of any size for riding or driving, you won’t want to miss this fantastic presentation. Doc will combine his unique perspectives as a veterinarian and a Gentle Horsemanship trainer to explain and explore how horses think, react and respond to the world around them.
There will be presentations and demonstrations starting at 8:30 on Saturday morning and going through 5 pm. Join us for a Local Harvest Dinner on Saturday evening (pre-registration required for dinner) followed by Cowboy Poetry and an Open Mike Music evening on the theme of draft animals & sustainable land use. On Sunday morning, presentations will start at 8:45 am and go until noon. After lunch there will be a Teamster Round-table discussion and an Obstacle Course demonstration, among other activities.
Ticket prices are $15 for the day on Saturday or $10 for the afternoon. Sunday is $10. Reduced rates are available for teens and seniors, kids are free. For more information about the event or to purchase tickets online, go to www.animalpowerfielddays.org or call event organizer, Rebekah Perry: 802-754-2396