May 2017

1.Tell us about your business! Who, what, for whom?

Earthbound Forestry Service is my sole proprietorship based out of Greensboro Bend, Vermont where  I live and work at Black Dirt Farm which is also where my animals live.  Earthbound’s primary product is timber harvesting services. We focus on prescribed management and improvement thinnings with a forestry plan.  We base our business on a basic pay-as-you-cut percentage basic with the given landowner. Currently the power behind the operation is one 15 yo belgian horse, two 7 yo Devon Oxen and a 25 yo 7.3 Ford Diesel Engine. I have been in business for 3 years.

2. How long have you been working with draft animals?

I began working with horses in the summer of 2011 while I was a student at Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vermont. After being into my 6th year of working with large animals, my takeaway is that it is incredibly rewarding when you are active and in a groove with them and incredibly frustrating when the complexity become burdensome. Whether oxen or horse, work is a relationship, forming it around productivity has a lot more to do with working together than busting your a**, that comes much later.

The woods have an element of surprise and unpredictability which is not like farming with horses. Working in the woods is a job that with nothing more than a chainsaw and tractor.  A person can be learning and making mistakes for an entire lifetime. (Some, unfortunately don’t even make it that long.) When you add another element of surprise and unpredictability such as live power, you are creating a situation which some might call chaos or anarchy. This challenge of balance, of bringing all these elements together is where I find peace and serenity.

While searching out the best way to pull wood, I have used many different techniques with horses. I have aspired to find even more as I mature and perfect the way that I can arrive at success. Recently, I broadened my horizon across the species line and began to work with oxen. With little more than a verbal walk through and supervision from a practiced beginner, I took up the goad stick and began to meet my new workmates.

How did I decide to take on two completely different types of draft power you might ask? Well, I will tell you, a teacher of mine discovered this team of mature Devon bulls who had an undefined future. I was introduced to their current owner and struck up a conversation with him about his goals. Turns out his goals were quickly being overtaken by a lack of time so I asked if he would let me give them a try. Four days later after seeing these bulls’ intelligence and potential, I decided to make an offer. He accepted which allowed me to add a team of oxen for little more than a handshake and a few farm favors over the next few years.

I have now pulled logs, a scoot, and a bobsled with them, all with great success. They are not quite at the point where they are making me money out of the barn, but “I” will only get better with time, they have all the pieces they need.  I hope that with a summer of hardening and leaning them back to fighting shape, by next winter we should have a cross species twitching and forwarding system.

I have learned a lot from my mentors. Every time I have something that makes no sense or when I am pursuing a new function with my live power, I make a phone call. When I need a vet or a farrier question answer, phone call. When I’m looking at a new horse that happens to be in central Vermont, phone call. In need of an emergency borrow of animals, phone call. Oxen who won’t turn around and keep stepping on me, phone call. I have built a network of folks more than willing to help me answer all the questions that I need answered. Not to mention it is ALWAYS inspiring and reassuring when speaking with another teamster about THEIR problems.