Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Draft Animal Power › Working with Draft Animals › Challenges with A hybrid Model
- May 21, 2016 at 12:34 pm #88924Goranson FarmParticipant
Its been an intense spring here in Maine. Started out with the horses spreading fertilizer and seeding early spring cover crop then had to transition over to the tractor midway through due to horse health issues, training issues, and increased responsibilities in other areas of the farm.
It has really got me thinking about systems hybrid powered farms use to balance the use of horses and tractors and give the horses a “leg up.” Our farm is in its third season of integration and I’ve struggling with how to approach the transition of tasks from tractors to horses.
Its not a problem of identifying tasks for the horses, its about workflow, speed, and time…
Here is an example from this spring:
8 acres of spring cc to plant which horses can complete at about the same speed as a tractor. Finished about 1 acre with the Percherons right off (end of April 2 hitches). Lead horse starts popping and resting the leg she injured last season. I hitched my younger bay mare with the older Percheron and it was going pretty good but a substantially slower to hitch with the training involved. Both horses are pretty out of shape and I don’t want to push them too hard which reduces the period of time I could work them per hitching. Hitch three times spreading fertilizer (about 4.5 acres spread). Still difficult/dangerous to hitch. The deadline for getting an effective spring cover crop in is approaching and I have trouble legitimizing the uncovered soil, summer annual weed competition, and fertilizer N loss if I keep struggling through with the horses. Start using tractor… This is primarily faster on the front end (no grooming ext.), I can work for longer periods of time per hitch/has lights to work at night, and most importantly it seems to fit with the sometimes chaotic dynamic of our farm. This does not lend itself well to working horses which I’ve found require punctuality and deliberate planning to be efficient. If I loose an hour in the onset of a day, this has a substantial impact on the total hrs of the work session. As the increased time with the horse is primarily in grooming, harnessing, hitching and travel to and from field I suddenly have one hr less to spread that hitching time out over increasing the efficiency of the tractor. This is exacerbated by out of shape horses that have an even shorter working period.
I can’t imagine farming solely with horses after the curve balls I’ve been swinging at this yr and have an even greater respect for those that do. I’ve begun to realize the unique challenges of pursuing a hybrid model on a large (80 acre) diversified vegetable farm. In the end its faster, easier, and more cost effective to just hook up to the tractor and go. It reminds me of this story our 83 yr old mechanic told me when I first started to get into horses. He grew up in quebec and experienced the transition from horses to tractors personally. He talked about how when his father bought their first tractor they started plowing through the night, his father, brother, and himself taking shifts. They only stopped that tractor to fill it up. But even with the tractor they continued to cultivate for many yrs with the horses.
CarlMay 21, 2016 at 1:25 pm #88925Crabapple FarmParticipant
This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for years. Unfortunately, I haven’t myself succeeded in finding those systems that you are looking for to give animal power a “leg up” over the tractor.
For a long time I had oxen, and since their training wasn’t at a level that I was comfortable with for cultivation, I thought of them as primarily for secondary tillage, cover cropping, and woods work. While I did use them in the woods in the winter, during the summer, the speed and ease of the tractor meant that they didn’t get used much for fieldwork.
Last year we got a pony, and this past winter sent the oxen away. I’ve shifted my own thinking, and am considering the pony a specialist for cultivation – with a walk behind cultivator he can get into places the tractor can’t (like between crops too tall/big to drive over). My current feeling is that I need to find/design tasks that the tractor can’t do as well or at all. The struggle is keeping the animals in good condition (physical and mental) when sidelined by the tractor, so that there isn’t the training issue inhibiting their use when you want them.
If things go well this summer with the pony, we’ll be looking for a larger team, and then the horses may move in on other tasks (tillage and haying). But time is a serious issue, that I haven’t figured out.
-TevisMay 21, 2016 at 9:57 pm #88926JayParticipant
I will start by acknowledging all the points in favor of using a tractor, particularly related to the front end time requirements.
“This is primarily faster on the front end (no grooming ext.), I can work for longer periods of time per hitch/has lights to work at night, and most importantly it seems to fit with the sometimes chaotic dynamic of our farm.”
We have farmed for 35 years with only horses for tractive effort by conscious choice. The biggest single reason in our thinking at the start was soil compaction. We had been using a Farmall Super A and watching the tire tracks in the dirt, I just knew that I was never getting close to undoing the compaction the wheels created with each pass across the field being tilled. My observation is the same on haying. Look at any hay field after the hay is picked up and there is no area of the field where the stubble standing up. It’s all lying down from wheel tracks. The compaction is over the entire field.
Now let me be clear: I am not making judgments here. I am bringing up what I see as a completely under emphasized economic issue here.
We have used only horse power(1-4 at a time) for all our field work, and I am quite sure there is some amount of economic advantage to the lack of compaction in our fields. We do use a tractor with a bucket loader to load the manure spreaders, but I don’t want that weight on the fields, so the horses pull the spreaders. If I drive our empty pickup across the field, it leaves tracks you can feel with your feet, an indication of the softness/uncompactedness of the soil in general. This has come at a cost – time on a daily basis. It has made me do all I can to make the chore routines as efficient as possible, but it could still be improved alot. We set out to use our land in ways that fit in with using the horses and what they could do well rather than deciding what we wanted to do and figuring out how to do it. I knew intuitively that if I had a tractor available, I would start using it more and more over time and we wanted to try to avoid that pitfall, since that was part of our overall goal.
How do I feel about it now? I think we were reasonably successful with the goals we set out to achieve and within the limitations (self imposed and external) we had. Necessity really is the mother of invention. When there is no other way available, you figure out how to get it done and I have learned more that I can begin to tell from having to figure out how to make it work with the horeses. Would I do it again? I don’t think I would change much. I have no regrets about the choices. It did mean we couldn’t do as much as we might otherwise have been able to do.
Recently we have taken on a younger couple with a 100 member CSA – they are using about 1/2 the land for their market gardens. We also share the horses 4 + 1 more borrowed occasionally. They came with 2 Farmall cubs which they used some the 1st 2 years and have not even gotten running this year. It makes a difference having help enough that every morning the horses are in the barn and most mornings are harnessed as part of chores, whether or not there are immediate plans to use any of them. The regular practice for both us and the horses is a real benefit for all. Hitching spots around the farm are another improvement that pays back way more than the time it took to make them.
I’ll stop before I ramble further.May 22, 2016 at 9:14 am #88927JaredWoodcockParticipant
Guilty of hopping on the tractor last night to “get it done” I am looking at it as a symptom of putting too much on my plate to actually work the way I want to. With that in mind, I am trying to address it by thinning out the work so that I can manage my time better. I dont like to “create work for the horses” I rather hitch the horses because I need them. I also have young children and a wife which consume way more time and energy than the farm.
My wife always reminds me that it is better to farm small and love it than to grow to a point where I am not savoring the moments that I love.
If you enjoy the scale you are working at and the pace then the tractor makes more sense, if you love horses keep then for that part, but don’t stress about justifying them.March 4, 2017 at 12:25 pm #90138hardpan99Participant
I tried farming with horses only for a 2 acre market garden for 4 years. I started with one tractor and ended up with 3 tractors and no horses. The following difficulties I faced were the reasons:
Many, many times I was faced with the choice of getting it done with horses or spending time with my family. Occasionally a horse would be lame just when I needed them most. Too many rocks made plowing with the tractor so much more efficient. Many jobs on this farm are 15 min tasks which don’t really justify harnessing up the team. Even if you do get a team of horses that doesn’t mean they will work in your system….then you’re still hunting for horses while work needs to get done. I would probably still keep a team for some tasks but the fact that a decent team of horses now costs more than a decent older tractor is a real show stopper from a business point of view. Most people don’t properly care for hooves but should and if you can’t do it yourself its a significant cost. All that being said, I think working with horses is great if it works for you.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by hardpan99.
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