Draft Animal-Power Network Annual Gathering 2016

Attendees watch as farmers demonstrate the use of a loose hay loader to collect hay to put in the barn.

Thanks to Beth Hallissey for covering this event for DAPNet!

The Draft Animal Power Network held its 2016 Annual Gathering in Charlestown, NH. DAPNet is based in the Northeast and has been organizing draft animal events since 2011. Its mission is to advance the use of draft animals and promoting sustainable land stewardship to build community through education and networking.

Jay Fisher hosted the event on the 1828 farm his family is bringing back to life. Owned by the same family since 1828, the old farm had lain fallow for 30 years until Jay and his family purchased it in 2014. Since then, they have gutted the farmhouse and prepared it for restoration, restored the equipment barn, and built an outbuilding from wood harvested and milled on the property.

The main activities during the Annual Gathering included logging, collecting hay and plowing parcels of the 30 year old sod. After pitching tents and a few hours of logging, everyone came together for pot luck dinner, and introductions Friday evening.  Folks from all over New England, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, Canada attended the event. There was a good representation from the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Assoc. in NY, and one family travelled 8 hours for the event with children and a large trailer with oxen in tow.


Saturday morning started with breakfast in the carriage barn and more interesting conversations.    Donn Hewes, DAPNet president, gave a talk on “Wrecks and Runaways”.     He said that communication with the team and observing their behavior is key.  Even a normally calm team can become flustered.   If they do, continue to give them direction.   Working with your team daily or as often as possible so that they are used to receiving instruction from the driver is very important.

The morning fog lingered for a few hours as the pine logging presentation began in an area to be cleared for future pasture.     Carl Russell led the workshop accompanied by several other experienced and Game of Logging trained horse-loggers, including John Smolinsky and Tom Jenkins.  While a few safety tips were given, the intention of the presentation was not to teach chainsaw safety, but to convey that safety and competency are keys to successful application of animal power in the woods.  According to Carl, knowing the risks and how to minimize them is part of a professional approach that strives for constant improvement. Working under these principles helps us to be the confident and effective leaders that we need to be in order to use animals successfully.  Safe and competent use of the tools and methods of timber harvest, and knowledge of markets and effective processing allow us to focus on the horses, mules, or oxen more completely, fitting them into a successful productive system.  

During the presentation, Carl focused on a tree with a back-lean. He spoke about the need to fell the tree in a location opposite the lean so that it could be accessed most effectively with the animals in the woods that day.  Directional felling is a key component of logging with animals because live power is limited, and placing a felled tree in an advantageous location will provide significant benefit.  Then he felled the tree and showed delimbing techniques and talked about how to determine the best forest products to be harvested. The tree was cut into sawlogs and skidded out with Brad Johnson’s team of horses, using a John Plowden’s log arch.

For those looking for training, Carl suggested working with others who log with animals and enrolling in first aid and chainsaw safety courses. He recommended Northeast Woodland Training, which offers Game of Logging courses that are exceptional. They offer levels 1-4 and certificates of completion, starting at the basics all the way up to complicated felling of hazard trees.

Meanwhile, over in the hay field, the hay was already raked and ready.  A hay loader and wagon were put to use with Jay Fisher driving his pair of Percherons.  Jay Bailey gave instruction on packing down the hay to the gathering group.   Jay has been putting up loose hay for many years.  After a while, one of the two chains on the hayloader  broke and it was thought best to set it aside and continue with pitchfork, to avoid stressing the remaining chain.  A helpful crew pitched in with their pitchforks and continued until the wagon was full.

Also Saturday Neal and Bekah (Bailey) Perry gave a presentation on ”Retraining the unused horse”.  Neal and Bekah are both experienced horse trainers.   

Saturday evening concluded with a bonfire and film presentation of “Root, Hog or Die,” a 1973 documentary chronicling the recollections of elderly farmers in Western MA and Southern VT.

Sunday morning began with Cowboy church, a non denominational tradition at our gatherings, given by Neal Perry. After breakfast, the annual meeting took place in the barn and everyone was welcome to attend and ask questions.  New board members were nominated and added to the board.  This group is continuing to grow and expand, and more help is always welcome.

The gathering concluded with a logging obstacle course.  Course participants included horses and steers, adults and children. Everyone managed the course skillfully—twitching a log through a slalom of cones and balancing the log over a cross piece to mark the finish line.

When asked whether the annual gathering met his goals for the weekend Jay Fisher responded  “My goals were first and foremost to have a safe and fun event on a scale where those who came would enjoy themselves and find it worthwhile. On balance point was being able to showcase a variety of animal powered skills but also be able to show each one well, with depth. There is certainly more we could have done- mowing for example, but having 4 main events allowed us to spend some time with each. For the farm the pine harvest was my biggest goal. I am attempting to reclaim 5 acres of pasture over several years. I had removed much of the hardwood under story and was saving the pine until I had the ability to do a larger harvest than just 1-2 trees per day. My goals were to have great time with people, harvest some pine for lumber to use on the farm, demonstrate a variety of skills, and bring the farm back into production.  I hope to build it up to agricultural use again, set up for the efficient use of animal power.  Killian and Moose are both Percherons. I have had them since April of 2015. They will be a big part of the farm growth. I hope to pursue forestry, hay production, agricultural tourism, and some form of gardening with them on our farm. The annual gathering let me get a taste of what that might be like. So yes, the Annual Gathering met and exceeded my goals.”

Next year, DAPNet’s biennial Field Days will be at Cornish, NH Sept 30- Oct 2, 2017.  More information and a schedule will be available on the website www.draftanimalpower.org  as the event approaches.

Find us online at www.DraftAnimalPower.org where you will find the international DAP forum, and on Facebook at Draft Animal Power Network, or on Twitter at  #dapnet  #draftanimalpower.

Additional Resources:

Chainsaw Training;
Northeast Woodland Training
Instructors: John Adler, Dave Birdsall, Al Sands & Mark Saulsgiver
PO Box 1246
Middle Springs, VT 05757
Telephone: (802) 681-8249

Outdoor/Wilderness First Aid Training;
The SOLO School of Outdoor Medicine
621 Tasker Hill Rd., Conway, NH 03818

Jay Bailey’s workshops in Brattleboro, VT.  http://www.fairwindsfarm.org/  

Donn Hewes’s teamster school in Marathon, NY.  www.teamsterschool.com

Neal and Bekka Perry, horse trainers. neal@nealperryfarm.com

Author: daniel grover

I am a farmer teamster living and working in New England. I am passionate about farming and working with animals, am interested in horse-drawn equipment new and old, and am excited about building the draft powered farming community. I also work with Farm Hack, a on-line and in-person community for open source tool innovation.