Earning Their Keep! Feeding with the Draft Teams

What is a "draft" horse?  It is not a specific breed of horse, but any horse that is used to pull a heavy load. 

Alysha and her 2017 foal.  She is one half of our main team

Alysha and her 2017 foal.  She is one half of our main team

The breed of horse to be used was determined by the job that need to be done.  Small ponies were used in the mines.  Large horses such as Percheron or Belgian we used for logging.  Medium size horses were used for pulling carts and buggies.  We use a medium size horse for our farm work.  We do many different jobs with our teams.  Things like cutting and raking hay in preparation for baling, cultivating gardens and crop lands, sleigh rides and feeding hay to the cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses in the winter.  We have even used them to pull out vehicles that have gotten stuck in snow banks. 

Hay bales stacked in the bale yard ready for winter feeding.

Hay bales stacked in the bale yard ready for winter feeding.

We prefer to use the horses instead of the tractors for certain jobs on the farm.  Our horses are easier to get along with than the tractors most of the time.  We don't need a degree in heavy duty mechanics to keep the horses running.  They don't cost as much to maintain as the tractors.  It doesn't matter if it is 30C or -40C.  They start in any kind of weather.   You don't have to plug them in.  They never have flat tires.  They only need to have their feet trimmed in the summer.  When it gets icy in the winter we put horse shoes on them with special nails that give them better grip.  Just like studded tires on your vehicle.  If they get sore you just turn them out to pasture for a while and they usually heal by themselves. They harvest their own feed in summer and for winter.

Fun trails to play in between the stacks of hay

Fun trails to play in between the stacks of hay

All that being said, there are a few jobs that make the tractors indispensable.  We use them for baling, loading and stacking hay, heavy cultivating, plowing snow, and turning and spreading compost. 

The tractor saves us from having to accomplish a lot of heavy tasks that we don't want to do by hand anymore.  Things like turning the compost pile that is as big as the barn.  Then getting all that finished compost to the gardens and orchards.  If we want to start a new garden plot or orchard area, the cultivator gets hooked up to the tractor so we don't have to dig up the space by hand.

All that being said though, when the tasks match the methods the horses are the preferred way to get things done on our farm.

We do have  full line of horse drawn equipment which allows us to cultivate new ground, put up hay for our grassfed and pasture raised animals, to gather wood from our forest to heat our home and meat processing shop (which is done exclusively with wood), to enjoy sleigh rides in the winter and wagon rides in the summer and a multitude of other activities.  All of our "draft" horses are also trained for riding.  We have used them for moving cows around the farm, but the riders very much prefer the Quarter horses for that work.

Logan is getting ready to back the team into a bale in order to pick it up and take it out to feed the grass fed animals

Logan is getting ready to back the team into a bale in order to pick it up and take it out to feed the grass fed animals

We had a special sleigh manufactured that can lift the large round bales for us.  The driver backs the team up so that there is a sleigh runner on either side of the bale.  Then a set of arms with a spike on each side is tightened into the center of the bales.  Another hand winch is then used to lift the bale off the ground.  Now the driver can take the bale out to the pasture where it will be rolled out on clean ground for the animals to eat. 

Our bale hauling sleigh rolls the big round bales out so all the cattle can reach the hay.

Our bale hauling sleigh rolls the big round bales out so all the cattle can reach the hay.

Not only does this give the animals a clean place to eat, but it also spreads the manure around the fields where it helps build soil fertility.  If they don't finish every stalk of hay, which they don't the residue also adds to the fertility.  By feeding on the fields this eliminates the need to purchased, artificially, soil damaging fertilizers.  These residues create a natural fertility that helps feeds the soil.  In turn the grass grows lusher and more nutritious.

The sheep are waiting patiently for their turn to get a bale.  Echo, our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian pup is watching as we approach.

The sheep are waiting patiently for their turn to get a bale.  Echo, our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian pup is watching as we approach.

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