New Farmer Getting into Horse Powered Farming

Good Afternoon,

I am new to the forum, and am hoping to meet and learn from some of you folks and gain any knowledge you can share. I live in the far North, I am looking to get into farming and have found a 100+ acre piece that will need some clearing. There are not many farms around due to the land mostly being heavily wooded, also, it is my goal to be almost 100% horse powered. Is there anyone here with experience in a horse powered farm? What equipment do you recommend/is necessary to begin running a small scale operation? I do work full time and this will be a piece by piece project until I have it fully operating and hopefully make a living at it. Do you have recommendations on crops for a first timer? I am sure I will think of more questions, but I appreciate any and all help or advice you can give. Thanks!

For the best in “horse power,” you can’t go wrong with a Suffolk Punch. There are some fantastic folks in the Suffolk community who can get you going. I’d start here: https://www.suffolkpunch.com/

If you’re willing to travel to Virginia for hands-on learning from one of the best, get with Jason Rutledge of Ridgewind Suffolks http://www.ridgewindsuffolks.com/?fbclid=IwAR0rDClwbW7r475AlkGdu08BdvRzqGKg6NM1Z762I_GJOuvsho_Ej5nQa9A

He has extensive knowledge in sustainable farming & logging using heavy horses, especially Suffolks, and is always willing to teach.

1 Like

Two primary networks to hook into are Rural Heritage and DAP.net (Draft Animal Power network). Not sure where exactly you are in terms of ‘north’. Dapnet is primarily east/north, but the horse power network is a small one, and they can direct you towards the equivalent western people. Jason Rutledge is down towards Virginia. If you are in New York/New England, Carl Russell of Earthwise Farm would be an excellent resource for working in the woods with horses. For farming, I would highly recommend looking up Donn Hewes. All of those guys are on Youtube and are part of Dapnet.
In terms of horses, I’ll disagree a little with Chocomare here, sorry! Nothing against Suffolks, but they are very rare and you are unlikely to find an older one available. If you are starting out farming/logging with horses, I highly recommend looking for an older animal, doesn’t matter the breed, that can teach you the ropes. Don’t go looking for a specific breed, look for sane and safe first. Do look for horses that have a farming background, horses that have been exclusively show hitch or pulling competition horses are not recommend for beginning farmers!
Expect a fun, hard, and steep learning curve! But there is nothing like it!

3 Likes

Thanks for the information guys, I was leaning towards percherons, there seem to be quite a few here in the Midwest. Unfortunately, I am not in the NE, I am up way up in the northern reaches of the Midwest. I would like to hopefully get started on hay this year, and then use the sale of that to offset any boarding costs until I am living on the land. Are there any other recommendations on beginner crops and the equipment needed? Those resources will be a great help, my other struggle is that since we are remote, with few farms there are not many people I can reach out to, it is mostly hobby farmers with chickens or a few cows etc.

Okay, for the midwest, Jason Julian (Julian Family Farm) might be a resource; he uses Brabrants (European Belgians). He is in Wisconsin.
A lot of resources are online or in books. What you need is going to be very site specific. A good book to have is ‘Horse Powered Farming for the 21st Century’ by Stephen Leslie. Also his other book ‘The New Horse Powered Farm’
I would recommend getting your land cleared for pasture first if you are currently boarding.
How much experience with draft horses do you have?

2 Likes

Driving horses is a special skillset, and draft horses are much bigger than riding horses. I’d suggest finding someone in your region to learn and apprentice with. I mean, I am a competent skilled rider and horse handler, but when I watch a plowing demonstration at the fall Fair I realize that is a completely different skillset!

6 Likes

If you need to clear the land, the horses can do a lot of work with very little equipment: a singletree/evener and choker chain. A logging arch or Barden cart, however, makes it easier and safer for you and the horses; and a lot more productive. Don’t expect to make money on it though, certainly not at first. But, you really need to know what you are doing. We’ve made it work because I know how to work with the horses and my husband knows how to drop trees (professional logger). So he cuts and I skid. Horse farming and logging combines three of the most dangerous industries into one…

4 Likes

Ditto, then, on Jason Julian. Good trainer.

And, no offense taken, B_and_B!! I just loff the big reds :smiley:

I grew up in the mountains where we farmed with mostly mules, some times with horses.
We had a horse, but most around had mules.
We didn’t have tractors and if we had, we could not have driven a tractor into the many little terraced clearings that were our fields.
We used one horse and one bottom plow that we picked up at the end of the row, pulled a rod, flipped the blade to the other side and went down the next row to prepare the ground to sow.
We had burlap sacks we hung around our necks with seeds in them and walked and swung the seeds out, then ran the dragging implement over the sowed ground, boards down, not points in, to cover it so the many birds would not eat them.
Then we spent the growing season walking the rows weeding some crops, like vegetables.
We harvested grains by hand swathing and bundling, bundles we used a sled to pull to the flat stone farm yard front, that we ran the horse dragging some boards to trash the grain out.
We used pitchforks to make straw piles around poles right below the yards and swept the grain into burlap sacks, to sell to the mill and some for our use.

I would say, farming like that today would never support a family raising commodity products, but if you can raise niche products and build up a following for those, you may make it work for you?
The horse part is the easy part, figuring what to raise and market it profitably, that will take some work.

As already explained by others, once you decide what you want to do, then pick the right kind of experienced animal to help you learn.
A human mentor would be priceless.

I actually saw that book on Amazon and it is in my cart as we speak along with, “Draft Horses: An Owner’s Manual”.

I do not have any horses yet, and until I can live on the land full time I figured boarding would be the best option, thoughts? I would call myself a novice when it comes to drafts, but as suggested above, I have been looking at older, experienced horses, including teams being sold together.

That makes total sense, I will do some searching, I was also wondering, if I wish to plant just one crop, for example, hay, what equipment would you recommend, my thinking is plow (one blade, two, or three?), drag, and planter? Thoughts? I don’t mind the felling of trees, stuck cutting firewood every summer/fall to heat the camp for the winter.

Have you farmed at all before?

Hay grass is a perennial crop that can take a year or two to get nicely established. So you only plow and seed once. Maybe additional seed down the road. You don’t plow and seed annually as with wheat or oats.

How are you planning to market your hay?
Old fashioned farmers cut hay, dried it, and then loaded it loose into a barn for winter feed. But modern hay is baled for shipping and sales. I don’t nt know if there is a non motorizedoption for baling hay.

Realize that’s a lot of mechanical investment to use one week of the year.

2 Likes

I would start with a forecart as my first piece of equipment. It usually consists of an axle with auto tire wheels, a long pole out the front. Has a seat for the driver. This will turn the pair of horses into a “tractor” that you can ateach implement to. Do you have any Amish communities near you? They can be a source of equipment, harness, trained horses.

Many working drafts are sold with their collar, because finding and fitting a collar can be time consuming. In choosing a pair of horses, you can go with smaller, but muscular animals, cross bred animals. The big drafts (show hitches, Budweiser Clydes use tall, leggy horses) can be expensive to maintain. They need grain, as well as hay, which can get expensive. The Suffolk mentioned before are getting a bit more common, along with their crossbreed offspring. They are not flashy, clean legged, and very economical to feed. Part of their appeal to the Amish is that they look good on pasture, minimal grain and still can do a good days work! They do have beautiful eyes. The ones I have met were pretty docile, liked people. Of course other breeds can work too, but seem to run to bigger animals.

My Grampa farmed with horses a lot of years ago. All of his working horses were smaller, 15-16H or less. He said it cost too much to use the bigger animals, in feed to work returned. Big horses did not stay plump on pasture and a handful of oats. They were harder to harness with heads way up there, higher backs to lift harness up onto for work on a daily basis . Shoes cost more, when they needed to be shod. He usually kept them barefooted in work and they could still pull well. He only got beat at the horse pulls by shod horses, usually placing 2nd or 3rd, for good prize money. His horses were mannerly at the pulls, he put the evener on the machine himself, no danger of them taking off like the other pairs! Mixed breeding, probably some old QH and draft. They did seem to all be the same lines “out of The West by Truck or Train.” Ha ha

Not sure if you can get away to attend training to learn draft animal training. Tillers International near Kalamazoo, Michigan has such classes. Their website should show the schedule of classes. Kayo Fraser of the Fraser School of Driving in Montana gets high recommendations from driving acquaintances. You could call them to see what is offered.

There are several Auctions selling draft horses and farming equipment in the midwest, Indiana has Topeka and Shipshewana, while Ohio has the Mt Hope auctions. Waverly Horse Sale is in Waverly Iowa. All the sales are coming up soon, March, so check for dates to attend.

I have not farmed before, just a backyard garden. I am planning to market it via the usual social media outlets, but I would hope to barter it for boarding or lowering that cost, or selling to local farmers. I would like to get an antique rake, and bailer if at all possible.

Thanks, Wisconsin or Iowa or Minnesota would be closest for me. Unfortunately there are no amish communities, maybe a mennonite group or two, but that won’t be as easy as if I lived elsewhere. But, Facebook marketplace has actually turned out to be rich ground for antique instruments.

Is Mr. Julian on here, or does anyone have contact information for him?

Your best bet to get hold of Jason Julian may be his farm website: https://www.julianfamilyfarm.com/american-brabant-horses.html or through Rural Heritage. I’m pretty sure he isn’t on this board, if he is he is pretty incognito :slight_smile:
Goodhors is right, you can think of a forecart as your ‘link’ between any horses and any ground driven farming equipment (or PTO driven, but that is getting beyond ourselves here). Your horse is your motive power and could just pull most farming equipment, as was traditional. But a forecart allows you to hook up to any ground drive equipment or any trailer drawn equipment with a horse or team; and have a safe place to drive from. Since most equipment these days assumes a tractor is pulling it, we have lost that seat upon which to perch. Most forecarts have or can have welded to them a standard 2 inch hitch receiver. At which point, you can hook up to really anything your horses can pull…

1 Like

There is no such thing as a small scale farming scheme. To make one bale of hay you need the same amount of machinery as someone who make 1,000 bales of hay.

It depends on what type of farming you want to do but the old saying comes in. To make a small fortune in farming then start with a large fortune.

We have 100 acres and use tractors. There is nowhere near 100 acres of crops. Less than 50 now I would say. We don’t have trees. To plough takes weeks and with a wooded area you will probably need whatever is modern for a stump jump plough.

To cut takes a full day. To rake the first time takes me about 6 hours. It has to be raked daily. So 3 hours the next day down to 1.5 hours later. With more than one paddock, it is timed so that the less time you need to rake you have more paddocks.

You have a window for raking and have to rake in that time, so as not to damage the crop. Baling takes half the night and again you have a window to get it done. You have to stop when the dew comes down.

You have to make hay when the sun shines and get it in before it rains. You are competing against time and Mother Nature.

Where we are we can cut again 3 weeks later. We could not do what we do with horses.

As I said it depends on what type of farming you want to do.

3 Likes

You might want to search, but there are Amish communities in in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Might be worthwhile to go to a couple of draft auctions and just meet people and find a good trainer that can help you get started safely. Amish usually have some older pairs that have been doing what your looking for and teach you the ropes a bit. You need to learn basic horse care and handling, harness fitting and putting it on and off, plus how to drive safely. Its harder than it looks. :slight_smile:

Things can do sour quickly with a draft if your not careful, so please get an experienced person to help you.

For your first crop contact your local ag office and have them take a soil sample and give you some recommendations on what to grow and plan for the next year or so. They have a wealth of knowledge and are paid to share it.

3 Likes

Historic Prophetstown, an extention of Perdue University, had adult ‘summer camps’ for learning to hay & other farm work with drafts. I used to do a little with mine here & there – just dropping a singletree to an occasional log or roundbale. Once had the Shire help me pull a small tree stump after he stood at the fence for 30 minutes staring holes through my back as I huffed & puffed trying to dig it out by myself. :joy:

Never got around to buying any equipment personally, but mowing is generally acknowledged as the easiest to start with. They make gang reel mowers now that you can pull behind a farm forecart & mow your lawn, fields, etc. A neighbor up the road has a couple teams of Belgian & uses them to plow a truck patch sized garden every year.