Sunday, March 4, 2012

Learning to Farm With Draft Horses

Farming with horses, or any draft animals, is something I have been very interested in learning more about for many reasons. August of 2010 I purchased Jim and Jack, a team of Grey Percheron geldings, to use on our Sorghum project and for various farm work. Over that summer, before I bought them and as I was trying to decide if I wanted to get a team, I thought I'd be the only person trying to farm with horses or mules, other than the Amish. I quickly found out that I was very wrong. There are quite a few people, all over the country, using animals in harness as motive power on one level or another. It has been an interesting experiment, but up to this point, especially with the disruption of the storm, I haven't been able to work my horses nearly as much as I would have liked. It looks, however, like this may be the year we really try this horses in harness experiment. With that in mind, I went to Mississipi this February 23rd,24th and 25th to take a working horse school that Kenny Russell and His wife Renee have hosted for years.

Kenny's name is one that you'll hear highly spoken of sooner or later if you have any involvement in the Draft Horse world. His dad farmed with horses so he's worked with Drafts for most all of his life and is very highly spoken of. Another instructor was Jimmy Klein who used to run a large dairy and power the farming with horses. He farmed hundreds of acres with his teams and has worked for most of the big hitches at one time or another. The third instructor was my friend Carey Fulmer who runs his farm with three of the nicest black Percherons you'll every see and has Fulmer's General Store where he sells many old time items and horse drawn equipment. He and Jimmy have helped the Russells with this school for many years.

I really liked the laid back format to this class. The first morning we covered safety and then harnessing and after that the three instructors would take a team of two or three horses and hook to some implement which gave lots of practical, hands on teaching opportunities. The students could move freely from group to group based on what they wanted to work on and learn. We got lots of practice driving and harnessing and had plenty of opportunity to ask any questions.

We were able to try different equipment too, like the Disk, Wagon, Pioneer Spike Tooth Harrow, Pioneer Footlift plow, a walking plow and one of the most interesting pieces, the newly released Pioneer Homesteader that Carey brought. It worked really well and I think will be a very useful and versatile tool for many farms.

Here are some pictures and captions...

Carey on a New Idea manure spreader.
Glad to be turned out for the night.
Hitching to the hay wagon.
There were at least 12 really nice (and really big) horses for this class.
A very cool ground driven baler built on the gear from a manure spreader. Totally ground driven. This is what the Russells bale all their hay with.
Getting some of the Belgians ready for the harness. Each student was able to get a good bit of practice harnessing and unharnessing the horses.
Jimmy Klein and some students on the wagon. Jimmy spent most of the three days on the wagon helping us with our driving and telling stories. He was hilarious! One of a kind.
Carey with a Pioneer Spike Tooth Harrow and a Pioneer Harrow Cart behind his fine Percherons... Duke, Mike, and Bonnie.
Kenny giving some instruction on the use of a disk harrow behind three of his Percherons.
I really enjoyed driving so many great horses during this class.
A powerful three horse hitch
Kenny and a student on a disk.
Plowing with the walking plow behind Mike and Duke. I really like this plow. There's a lot of skill involved in plowing well with a walking plow. Those who are good make it look so easy but it's really an art and takes lots of practice.
Getting harnessed up for the day.
Jimmy going over how to attach the lines correctly
Turning them out for the night.
Big Belgians...
Taking Duke in after a good day.
The class.

I really enjoyed those three days at the Russell's farm. It was a real confidence booster and learning experiance just watching the instructors and how they interact with their horses, and also getting lots of time on the lines ourselves. It was great to be able to ask questions about specific problems I've encountered and get solutions from people who know so much about working horses. I came home really excited about working with my team and implementing the things I learned. Hopefully I can go again in November, Lynn Miller is going to be there doing a class on the McCormick #9 hay mower!