Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Sustainable Living and Land use › Sustainable Forestry › NE Animal Powered Loggers United??
- March 6, 2016 at 9:16 am #87963
As I spend more and more time working in the woods here in central VT, I keep coming back a simple yet seemingly unattainable goal: how do I cover more ground while still applying the positive impact strategies that I want to adhere to? I think I am moving toward maximizing my own potential in terms of the amount of wood I can cut in a year. Using a small tractor and fit horses together is making a substantial difference. And, the more I cut the more I am able to utilize efficiencies that allow for greater prodcution. And yet, it feels as though I am up against a concrete limitation in terms of production given the tools I am using. Even when the weather is good and I have a second logger working well with me, the annual totals are relatively meager. I tend to try to focus on the acres covered rather than log and top wood totals to remind myself that my value is what I am leaving behind in terms of well managed acres, rather than just a number of board feet or cords cut. I want to point out that I am not striving to make more money alone, as I make a decent living with my current production rates, but I do want to see more acres covered. Put another way, I hope to see a time when we can work on a larger percentage of the wood lots cut in NE. The benefits of these tools are so obvious to me, as are the inherent limitations of the mechanized operators. Animal powered tools are not the right tool in every case, but we could certainly be working more acres and the impacts would be enormously beneficial.
So, how do we go about affecting this type of change? First, it seems to me that there a few factors working against us when we ponder an increase in animal powered production. First, there just aren’t that many animal powered loggers out there right now. The work is challenging, physically and mentally, and it requires a very specific skill set and tools. You can’t go anywhere that I know of for trade school in logging with horses or oxen. Apprenticeships in the woods are few and far between, and some of the folks that have worked with me in the woods have decided that this occupation is not for them, which is fine. Second, the economics of cutting wood with any tool, much less with animals, are not that great. Lots of work yields relatively little net income; you have to love it do make it work for you. In addition, the realities of insurance, workers comp, health care, etc. are daunting for the small operation to say the least. Third, this evolving NE weather seems to offer little in the way of predictable, seasonal weather. Uncertainty is certain, and I don’t see it getting better in the future. And finally, the climate amongst conventional foresters tends to be unfriendly to those of using animals in the woods. Foresters tend to focus on maximum landowner profit, whole tree utilization, and speed rather than on the long-term value that we can add to a woodlot with animals used skillfully.
So where does this leave us? I have talked with lots of practitioners over the few years I have been doing this work, and the conversation always comes back to the frustrations posed by these challenges. We seem relegated to small, single teamster operations that are by definition limited in scope and practice. I have though a great deal about some sort of non-profit trade school designed to teach interested folks the skills they need do this kind of work effectively. But, this strategy seems to have insurmountable challenges – location, instructors, seed money, enough good horses or oxen with which to teach students, insurance, etc. I do think that in our area there is enough work for animals in the woods, and momentum for this find of logging would build if we could manage to get more animals and teamsters logging. But, how do we get there? Another option I have considered is some type of association that would allow us to pool our resources to generate work locations, buy collective insurance, place foresters that can see the value of animals in the woods, and give us all access to tools that we may not be able to own on our own (tractors, forwarders, even teams of animals…). To make such an association viable, we would have infrastructure to build and we would need an institutional structure to support our efforts. All of this seems like a tough nut to crack, particularly given the fiercely independent nature of loggers in general.
However, the advantages of some sort of association seem obvious to me. We could work more ground each year. We could share equipment and other costs such as equipment. We could develop a network of like-minded foresters who believe in the tools and techniques we want to use in the woods. The area in Northfield, VT where I am working currently is a good example of how this idea might work. I know of four woodlots of 75-140 acres that are available for animal powered operations. One of them has been fully harvested and I am working on a second now, but there are a lot of acres over there that might be cut soon with the right operator. The lot adjacent to mine is now being harvested with by a mechanized operator because the landowner ran of patience to wait for us to get on it. They might well have agreed to let me cut I had I the time to do so.
I am trying here to start a conversation about how we might organize ourselves to make such an association work. Or maybe there is a better idea to accomplish these goals? Are there others out there who feel similarly, or are we happy chipping away at our current rates? Please chime in, as I am far from having this figured out to. NE forests need us to be making a greater impact, and I want to find a way to make it happen!
-BradMarch 6, 2016 at 7:09 pm #87966
I am scaling way back on commercial work, but I remain interested in this concept.March 7, 2016 at 8:16 am #87969RonParticipant
You are not alone in your frustration. It is not just horse logging or forestry that is so outcast by the conventional commercial industry. I look at the UN figures for Farming and see that there is approximately 570 million farmers in the world today. Of that number just over 50 million have tractors the rest use some form of animal power to produce 75% of the worlds food. That is a pretty amazing figure considering there is virtually no money spent on research and development to improve the work done by this form of agriculture. The prejudice and misconceptions towards draft animals runs deep and is difficult to manage.
For many years I taught the draft horse course at a local agri college and the animosity from the conventional staff towards that course boarded on paranoia. Even though these courses and support groups are relatively self funding and well received by the participants they will be torpedoed at every opportunity.
RonMarch 7, 2016 at 10:07 am #87970Carl RussellModerator
Brad and others, I also find this idea interesting, but find it difficult to work on at the same time we are running small businesses.
From my vantage point I see a steady growth of good practitioners throughout the region. I expect that there are some good reasons why association would be beneficial, not the least of which would be networking and the a coordination of more power to make the method more feasible in conventional terms.
I personally am ramping up my logging operation to accomplish more of the forestry activities that I have prescribed in plans for clients. That will also include more coordination and collaboration with other animal powered operators, which I also hope will help build the culture.
From my previous delving into this issue I found that the missing link is funding. Many such organizations grow from a grant that can fund the work of an organizer.
I have a lot of work lined up, and I see great opportunities to expand…… Not to more horses or equipment, but in building out the craft and the demand for the craft beyond my own operation. I have begun to develop draft animal harvesting plans to compliment forest management plans, so that LO can see how draft animals can be effective at accomplishing their goals. Beyond the financial realities of the logging industry, that is the weakest link I see. Most LO and nearly every forester have no idea how to apply draft animals to forestry, and therefore the expectations are unrealistic.
Anyway, that is what I will be working on. I am very supportive of the association idea, but I don’t have the time or resources to commit at this time for organizing. I would be glad to contribute to an effort to find funding so that someone else could be paid to put in he time.
I’m pleased to hear your enthusiasm Brad.
CarlMarch 7, 2016 at 11:40 am #87973LongViewFarmParticipant
I am one of those future operators I believe. When my teaching job becomes less sustainable I look to draft powered forestry to be part of a large pillar of a diversified farm plan. Having taken all GOL levels, attended workshops, and harvesting my own timber and firewood, I think I’m ready. The business side of it intrigues and scares me at the same time.
As an educator I’d love to put together a rotation of sustainable skills courses to offer at a dedicated learning facility in the Connecticut River Valley. I may have such a site available soon. I imagine people could come stay for the length of each course (variable length), choosing what course(s) interest them, and returning for multiple courses to maybe earn a certificate in certain trades. I would try to be the middle man bringing together interested learners and professionals from their field, designing curriculum to mesh the two, (and selfishly learning a lot along the way.)
That’s my pipe dream, but either way you’ll see me in the woods at some point soon.
To that end, if there’s a job I can help out on in late July/early August I’ll have almost a month free, a team, arch, and gear. I’d love to be the greenhorn on a real job in order to get a better feel for that vs/ weekend warrioring.
I’m going to keep watching how all of this emerges and will lend my support.March 7, 2016 at 12:56 pm #87974Mike RockParticipant
“For many years I taught the draft horse course at a local agri college and the animosity from the conventional staff towards that course boarded on paranoia. Even though these courses and support groups are relatively self funding and well received by the participants they will be torpedoed at every opportunity.”
Might I ask what forms that animosity took and what possible reason there might be for it?March 7, 2016 at 2:06 pm #87975JaredWoodcockParticipant
You have another greenhorn on board with me! I am putting together a certificate course for the college I work at right now (SUNY Adirondack) for landowners with woodlots and how they can begin to manage and harvest them. Part of this course is going to revolve around who do you hire? I hope to cover small machine operators and draft animal loggers and within the next few months I will be reaching out to the draft animal world to see who would like to present and demo their craft. This only tangentially relates to what you are talking about but it is another way of getting a better understanding of draft animal traction into the minds of the general public.
I would love for their to be some sort of association. Two factors gave me the confidence to take the plunge this year: 1) Our local state forester told me that when I get my business going he will feed me much more work than I can even handle. He says there is a huge need for the small horse loggers in our area, the second was having great conversations at the field days this last summer. Being able to talk to many different folks about the way they operate their business was priceless.
I am running the logging business a lot like my small farm though. I am only offering the horses and I as a service and we are charging hourly. I am not confident in selling logs but people keep asking me if I will help them out in various ways, so work is starting to pile up. My current job includes a 2200ft skid to the landing which is not cheap by the hour, but the landowner is going to add value to the timber by building a barn with it. He also feels that it is priceless to be able to work side by side with the horses to harvest the timber for the barn that he will be building with his own hands. The rest of the work that is waiting is mostly pulling firewood. Most of the landowners will agree it is worth paying me hourly to pull the wood because it may cost a little more than doing it themselves, but the first time they fold their pickup truck around a tree their firewood operation gets really expensive quickly.
I will see you this weekend and maybe we can talk more about how I may be able to help move this forward with my connections in academia. (or maybe why we should keep it far away from academia?)March 9, 2016 at 10:50 am #88004
To keep this topic active, here are a few thoughts.
There are already plenty of good trainers – Carl, John Plowden, Jason Rutledge, Tim Carroll and Taylor Johnson to name a few.
What we need is viable full-time job opportunities with respectable pay. The one-man crew thing, hopping from job site to job site with big gaps between paydays, gets old fast and it’s far from safe.March 9, 2016 at 3:46 pm #88005
I agree on both counts Rick. One of the challenges in matching up the work with those teamsters close enough to get the job done. We have lots of work available around here, but I know others do not have jobs close enough to make sense.
-BradMarch 10, 2016 at 10:03 am #88007
One thought to mitigate the travel challenge might be to work out something with a mom and pop motel.
A few years back I did this – off season, linen changed only once a week, cash in advance- $200 a week.
It was still expensive for a logger, but with three or four guys in the bargain, it might get cheaper.March 10, 2016 at 1:48 pm #88008RonParticipant
Most of the animosity associated with any college setting is pretty normal kinds of Jealousy and funding stealing. What I think set the draft horse course attacks apart are the out of proportion to the perceived threat side of things. The conventional side of any college has little to worry about concerning the draft horse side taking over the college yet they feel very threatened by the fact that horses are on “their campus”. The idea that there was something to be learned from small farming, logging or that anything from the past was still relevant to the present or the future was absurd to them.
You asked what the reason was for this behaviour. I suspect that most of the teaching staff at most colleges realize we as a society have made a wrong turn down a slippery slope economically, environmentally and technically. Like all people every where, myself included, no one likes to admit this or have that exposed. I think the fear of draft horses, sustainable forestry and small scale farming on a campus will give rise to embarrassing questions…
That would be my guess on that.
RonMarch 10, 2016 at 7:40 pm #88010JaredWoodcockParticipant
As a college administrator I say Ron is spot on. Pretty frustrating.March 10, 2016 at 9:17 pm #88011Mike RockParticipant
Ron and Jared,
Thanks. I did not pursue tenure track years ago and don’t regret it. Metallurgical engineering was my field.
I saw some pretty monumental egos at work in other departments and also the petty bullshit in our own.
I can see how some might feel threatened by the past, having dedicated their skills and emotions to the future. Many have never worked outside academia a day in their lives however, and are viewing the world through soda straws of their own making. In one of our publications, SFJ, RH or some other, there was a statistic this month on the percentage of the world’s food raised by draft power. It was astonishing at some incredibly high number…..that I can’t recall offhand. Like 85%+. And the number of farmers with only a single draft animal to feed their families and generate surplus for sale to their neighbours and the market was equally high. Draft animals might be anachronistic in Europe and the US but worldwide their usage is normal, everyday life, and the sooner we understand that the better. I am not a ‘peak oil’ preacher, but things are going to change, later if not sooner. I don’t know the answers, or even the questions, but draft animals will be a much larger part of our future, and petrochemicals a much smaller portion. The fact that we have driven several thousand local varieties of maize, melons and other vegetables to extinction by allowing Monsanto to take over the lands in central and South America and Africa is deplorable, at best. Much of he northward migration seen world wide is due to these folks being pushed off the land.
I won’t even address the population problems…… but I will mention them.
God bless.March 11, 2016 at 6:45 am #88012Carl RussellModerator
So I have a few thoughts about the training component. I am an educator at heart. Even in my forestry consulting business, I am more of a LO educator than an agent for hire.
That being said, I have found that practicing a craft like this one while trying to educate is not fulfilling. Over the last 10 years I have put a lot of time into organizing and offering opportunity for folks to learn and share the craft. Organizing and educating in the modern context are very distracting from actually performing the craft.
I have found that most of my time working as an educator ends up hovering around novice execution. There is a lot of interest at the introductory level, but little growth there.
While I remain in support of these initiatives, I have found myself needing to perform at a higher level, where I can challenge myself to grow and advance. When I think of the men I learned from, I realize that they didn’t reduce their level of performance to accommodate me. I had to stay out of their way, learn how to help, and keep up.
It is the example they set for me, rather than the specifics they taught. I have found that it is the best education I can offer too. It does me no good, and does the novice little good, for me to spend hours every day allowing them to learn to drive a team of horses in my logging operation. When we do this kind of work we are diluting the real opportunity to see the capabilities that years of work and understanding can bring to the use of draft animals.
That realization has driven me to reassert myself toward more commercial work, and to set the best example of what I know about doing this business. That does not mean that I do not work with novices, or that I will isolate myself, but I know that I need to use the resources I have gathered in a more effective way…. And I know that by doing that I can be the best example I can be for anyone who wants to learn from me.
I am coming to the end of a custom timberframe harvest where I had the help of an advanced novice with chainsaw and horse experience, on a farm where the owners may become owners of my current team. I have been putting these renewed principles to the test. For the mostpart it has been a production operation. Using the Barden cart does allow for folks to ride with me, so they can get firsthand experience without having to drive, or really be in the way.
It has been challenging weather, on challenging terrain, with big timber, long skids, and unprecedented unpredictable winter weather, so I have been challenged at a high level to put my animals, and myself through some tough situations…. Certainly beyond the scope of experience of my companions. From my perspective, I feel really good about applying myself at that level, and I feel that they all have gained immeasurably because they have been able to witness the kinds of things that I witnessed as I was forming my vision of my own future doing this work.
This is all to say that I think that allowing beginners to start at a novice level, provides a novice perspective….. My experience is that it sets up the practitioner with unrealistic expectations. As we build this craft, I think we most effectively build it with a higher introductory entry.
I personally am less interested in finding ways to associate, and more interested in finding ways for us to excel at our craft. I have used, and will continue to use, the cooperative model for all the reasons that have been discussed to make animal powered harvesting more proficient in the conventional context. To some extent volunteer contribution can fit into that model too, but my emphasis will be on the execution of the craft, using the combined resources to rise above the normal expectations.
I think that there are glass ceiling to crash in many aspects of this work, from horsemanship to forestry, and pushing the envelope is where I will be putting my energy in the next ten years.
CarlMarch 11, 2016 at 10:16 am #88013
Thanks for your thoughts here. I was struck by your description of the teaching strategies that your mentor teamsters used with you. When I think about my most important experiences as a student or a teacher, the effectiveness of this strategy jumps out at me. I learn best and, I think, teach best when it is within the context or real work, done on the job. I almost never teach apprentices in any other setting, for better or worse. From time to time, such as this winter, this approach has created some challenging situations for my students, and for me. Do I send an apprentice down a steep landing approach with a big load of pine when the ground is bullet proof and icy? In most cases, yes I do. Have I had bad outcomes from doing so? Yes, I haven but I have also seen the relationship and confidence in both my apprentice and student grown immensely from such challenges. And, I can’t really afford to spend a lot of time teaching if I am not generating income.
That said, I am not sure that this hands-on the lines approach allows me to make the greatest teaching contribution. It does allow me to make a living and teach as I go, which is very important. And, this hands on plan also allows apprentices to see the honest struggles that this way of life promotes; this is not easy work and it is not for everyone. I am striving to discover a way to continue teaching this way but reach a wider audience. We are trying to teach the craft with skill and effectiveness, and I am struggling to find the way to best do so.
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