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Old 12-06-2011, 11:23 AM
 
Location: Planet Eaarth
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Is this a glimpse of the downsized future?

"there's little doubt that tractors have revolutionized farm labor and made farms much more efficient than they were in past centuries, a growing number of farmers are taking the back-to-the-land ethos as far as it will go and choosing horses and mules over John Deere."

Small farmers crave horse power | Grist
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Old 12-06-2011, 05:07 PM
 
Location: Not on the same page as most
2,503 posts, read 5,627,373 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tightwad View Post
Is this a glimpse of the downsized future?

"there's little doubt that tractors have revolutionized farm labor and made farms much more efficient than they were in past centuries, a growing number of farmers are taking the back-to-the-land ethos as far as it will go and choosing horses and mules over John Deere."

Small farmers crave horse power | Grist
Enjoyed the link.
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Old 12-06-2011, 08:49 PM
Status: " down to just 2 old dogs" (set 9 days ago)
 
Location: Floyd Co, VA
3,429 posts, read 5,259,256 times
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There are several people doing horse powered logging here in Floyd, VA

Healing Harvest Forest Foundation (http://www.healingharvestforestfoundation.org/HHFF-new/ - broken link)
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Old 12-07-2011, 02:19 AM
 
11,257 posts, read 44,325,691 times
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As a "small farmer" raising alfalfa/sheep/poultry/beef/vegetables in a natural local harvest environment in accordance with organic standards, I know what the economics of scale are and the potential for profits ... if any ... are in the business.

There's no way that I could begin to afford the luxury of limiting my productivity to what I could accomplish with horse-drawn equipment; as it is, I must work off-farm to support my farming and ranching habit. As does my wife because without those off-farm incomes, we'd not be able to afford our farm at all. Given the cost of land, water, soil amendments, and the amount of time it takes to cut/rake/bale/retrieve and stack small squares of hay, I know that horse drawn equipment would be an exercise in vanity, not productivity essential to survival.

The only places where it's possible to pencil out production using horses are in riparian areas with niche products and where there's a lot of human power to take care of the horses and the things they can't do for farm production. You have to balance how many acres of forage you are raising vs the ability to harvest; ie, if you can only harvest 20 acres/day, you can't have 300 acres of alfalfa ready to cut due to being at the stage of maturity/protein/RFV that is desirable. Your only alternative is to have many more teams and humans available (and more pieces of equipment for each of those teams), or to accept that you will have a wide range of hay quality which radically affects the feed value.

Similarly, you can't have tons and tons of cut forage on the ground and many acres to cover with a horse-drawn baler and preserve the quality of the hay. You don't have the luxury of time to leave it day in/day out until you get to it. When it's ready to bale, it's ready to bale and there's a very limited time window to do so after it's cured on the ground. You've got to get it off the hayfield or you'll destroy the plants below the crop on the ground.

While it may be an idyllic image of retrieving bales from the field with a horse-drawn flatbed and human power, it's tough enough with machinery driven equipment to do this. With horsepower, it's even slower to do. My old 1033 stackwagon and a JD 4020 can retrieve 100 bales per load and stack them in about 50 minutes from my fields; when I have thousands of bales to get off the fields, it's several days worth of work following the days of baling. Horse drawn? not even feasible. Even with hay at $200/ton with 12% protein and 160 RFV, I'm not able to make any money on this crop; what I'm able to produce is barely capable of feeding my sheep through an average winter in my Rocky Mountain climate zone 4.

There's another serious concern with using horse manure to fertilize many crops ... the salts that come with it. While horse manure can be a good amendment to cattle manure, it's at a ratio of about 1:4 to not be detrimental to the crops. The concept that all manure is good manure for crops is false; like any other fertilizer, you must balance out the components to get a product that is safe and effective for your soil/crop needs. I've seen the results when folk used only horse manure in a vegetable patch and it's devastating.

Outside of forage crops as a use of horsepower, plowing/planting/harvesting/threshing or retrieving crops such as wheat, corn, barley, beans, peas, or any other commodity crop you can think of ... simply doesn't begin to pencil out in today's economics of productivity per acre needed to make a living.

Outside of the "feel good" aspects of this article and a few people with a niche set of ideal circumstances ... and, I suspect an outside financial independence from the need for a farm to generate a living income ... this story is another one of those idealized dreams where the concept doesn't meet the test of practicality. I'd suggest that 40 acres is about the maximum that a farmer could effectively work with a team, and there's no way that can generate field crops on a scale to profitability. There's many reasons why most farmers jumped at the opportunity to buy an expensive tractor which went to the shed and was parked when not needed as opposed to a horse that required daily care whether it was being worked or not; the tractor could sit idle until needed for the next tasks and didn't need the level of daily care that a horse or team required.

I live in an area where there's an active marketplace for draft horse teams and several auctions per year of them. Outside of a few teams used for commercial carriage rides, the bulk of those teams are used by hunting outfitters or by folk who have a draft horse hobby and use their horses for the recreational/entertainment/therapeutic value as a way of life.

Other considerations: even a lightly used non-draft "easy keeper" horse of various breeds will consume the better part of a bale per day of 33 bales/ton. Here, I'll save you the number crunching ... it takes about 8 tons of high quality hay per year to keep most horses in good shape; working draft horses can take a lot more than that. 2 1/2 tons per year is not sufficient forage per horse even when supplemented with oats in a decent feed ratio ....

Oh, and where do the oats come from? Not gonna' raise them efficiently on a horse drawn farm implement operation, either.

T-wad, you've done it again. This article is about as practical as that fellow who used a bicycle to haul tons of rocks to do a patio and walkways around his house with a little trailer. Other than sounding romantic and fitting some idealized vision of non-fuel use, the practical results don't add up for 99.9999999% of the population. No more than commuting by bicycle here in the Rocky Mountain states or on the plains makes functional sense for many months of inclement weather each year ... and the plains states are where much of those agrarian lands of the country are located. You will not find extensive fields of wheat or corn or other food staples grown in other places around the country because they don't make economic sense to do so. Even if you could somehow raise enough crop tonnage on a horse-drawn farm, you've got to get it to a viable market in a timely fashion. Many crops are perishable and must be consumed or processed in a very narrow time window to have any market value; this simply isn't feasible with horsepower.

FWIW, the farmers I know that can pencil out a living ... and it's not a handsome one even in the recent few years of high prices after many of marginal prices ... at wheat farming, for example ... need to be farming about 3,000 acres to make it. That's living in a set of housing circumstances that wouldn't even be suitable for renewal funds in many locales .... it's a lifestyle and you've got to love it or it's not a path to economic survival or happiness.

I know a number of people who use teams to haul hay to their cattle in winter months. There's opportunities to do something that machinery doesn't do as well under the circumstances and a satisfaction to doing it with a team when there are few other time constraints in the winter time. But don't think for a minute that it's a pleasant task when doing so in cold temperatures with the winds howling about ... it's a difficult chore and demanding for man and horse to survive. It becomes a day-long operation for them and it's something done from necessity; when better conditions prevail, the tractors are used to do the job effectively and efficiently.

Last edited by sunsprit; 12-07-2011 at 02:33 AM..
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Old 12-08-2011, 07:57 AM
 
Location: Londonderry, NH
41,490 posts, read 52,115,106 times
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Sunspirit - thank you for the reality check. A lot of wanna be agrarians need to realize this before they go broke trying to farm for romance instead of money.

The same concept applies to the "off the "utility" grid" folks. (Off the grid defined as not connected to the electric utility.) Making your own electricity is a lot of expense and work. Diesel engines need to be fed and maintained, hydropower setups need maintenance and repairs and steam engines are way too complicated and dangerous.

The only place being off the electric grid makes sense is when the grid is too far away physically or economically to be afforded. Then there are some, in the right places, where Photovoltaic arrays make sense. In other places where for instance natural gas or light oil is available gas or diesel engine driven cogeneration of heat and electricity are feasible. It is expensive and high maintenance but feasible.

IMHO the people that want to live with animal and human powered equipment and tools without any modern utilities are in for a shock when they realize how much time and work is involved.
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Old 12-08-2011, 09:19 AM
 
373 posts, read 555,886 times
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Default I used to help a neighbor family growing up

There main tractor was a 1960's Ford that could move dirt, then got a 1921 John Deere.

They would have used horses if the horses penciled out. But obsolete tractor worked very well, and had a pully on the side for hooking up a belt to run other things. Many of the farms in Appalachia are quite small 30 to 50 acres, 80 rather large and 300 unusual.

They had fond memories of working the place with Horses in thier younger years. But not enough to do it again when tractors could be had used for a reasonable price.

However there were fields that the tractor never entered because they wre too steep, and horses had enough sense not to turn things over and kill or maim the operator. Animals could graze but no crops were sown.

They still spread manure on the fields from cows, goats and sheep when the barn needed cleaning.

In fact times got tough on the farm, really tough in the 1930's thanks to mechanizatoin elsewhere making it difficult to earn a living with horses. They lost/sold out land during the depression and worked many decades to buy some of it back. Even then often had jobs to keep the farm going.
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Old 12-08-2011, 02:44 PM
 
5,685 posts, read 8,704,092 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GregW View Post
Sunspirit - thank you for the reality check. A lot of wanna be agrarians need to realize this before they go broke trying to farm for romance instead of money.
The same concept applies to the "off the "utility" grid" folks. (Off the grid defined as not connected to the electric utility.) Making your own electricity is a lot of expense and work. Diesel engines need to be fed and maintained, hydropower setups need maintenance and repairs and steam engines are way too complicated and dangerous.
The only place being off the electric grid makes sense is when the grid is too far away physically or economically to be afforded. Then there are some, in the right places, where Photovoltaic arrays make sense. In other places where for instance natural gas or light oil is available gas or diesel engine driven cogeneration of heat and electricity are feasible. It is expensive and high maintenance but feasible.

IMHO the people that want to live with animal and human powered equipment and tools without any modern utilities are in for a shock when they realize how much time and work is involved.

I know too many success stories to believe this falsehood.

(Although I do agree about not having to feed a tractor every day!)
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Old 12-10-2011, 08:02 AM
 
25,880 posts, read 32,441,344 times
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It is a romantic notion, however it is not practical in the vast majority of operations.
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Old 12-10-2011, 09:33 AM
 
Location: Minnysoda
8,839 posts, read 8,712,961 times
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I don't know if any other posters even know anyone who has ployed a field with horses.....It is killing work for both man and beast. My grandpa who passed 2 yrs ago at 93 still had scars between his thumb and forefinger from running a plow...If your in production no way if your goffing of as a hobby (like me)it's fun most of the time.. Till you kicked or stepped on or chase a run away or put down a sick horse.....In a post apopalictic world it would be easier to raise food when the gas is gone.....
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Old 12-15-2011, 07:45 AM
 
4,135 posts, read 9,539,857 times
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Two or three guys do selective logging here with horse teams in the southern tier of NY; I have a friend who uses them ever 2 years or so to weed out older trees he marks ( he has 200 acres, mostly hardwood). He is very happy with the lack of machines on his property.
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