Draft Animal Farming

How Much Power Do You Need?

by Sam Moore
A mistake many beginning horse farmers make is failing to allow for special conditions under which teams must work. You can't assume that a certain number of horses will handle a certain implement under any and all conditions.

A team of Haflingers may easily pull a 12" plow in moist, stubble ground, while an 8" or a 10" plow might give them trouble in dry, alfalfa sod. A grain binder in clean, dry wheat on hard ground will pull easier than the same machine in weedy or lodged wheat on
soft ground.

The contour of the land can also affect the amount of power needed. Over hilly land, an implement is harder to pull uphill and tougher to hold back when traveling downgrade. Now that we've established that there are no hard and fast rules about what size equipment can be used with a given amount of horse power, we can put forth some general guidelines.

Tillage can be easily carried out by a single horse or, better yet, by a light team. The equipment used is smaller, and progress is slower, but it can be done. The old John Deere and International Harvester catalogs for horse-drawn equipment recommend a 10" plow for one horse, 12" for a light 2-horse team, and 14" for a regular 2-horse team. New 12", 14" and 16" walking plows are available from Pioneer Equipment, and I&J Equipment offers an 8" walking plow. Almost any size walking plow may be found at farm auctions. A small team should be able to handle a 12" sulky plow in ordinary conditions, and these are sold new by Pioneer and White Horse Machine.

Both spring tooth and spike tooth harrows can be purchased new from Pioneer Equipment. An old rule of thumb is one harrow section per horse. Small disc harrows are offered by Groffdale Machine and Kota Manufacturing, and 4' or 5' single gang disc harrows might be found at farm auctions.

A cultivator that straddles a single-row would require a team, while a single horse could pull a hand cultivator that goes between two rows, such as the one sold by I & J Manufacturing.

A team would be sufficient to operate a mower with a 5' cutter bar, but a single animal would be better off with a 4' machine. I know of no source for new horse-drawn mowers, but used and rebuilt ones--usually McCormick-Deering or John Deere--can readily be found.

Side delivery hay rakes and tedders can be bought new from most equipment dealers, including I&J Equipment and Pequea Machine. I&J's side rake is ground driven, as are Pequea's hay tedders, and may easily be pulled behind a forecart by a light team.

A two-row corn planter and a small 9- or 10-row grain drill are two-horse machines.
A one-row corn planter and a five-row grain drill, meant to be pulled by one horse, were once built by most of the major manufacturers, and used ones can still be found.

Corn and grain binders were often pulled by medium- and large-sized teams of two horses, but three- and four-horse teams were more efficient and provided enough power to make the ground-driven mechanism work properly. Pulling a wagon and hayloader might be practical on flat land, but would be a big load for a single horse or a team in hilly country.

During the early days of mechanical grain threshing, machines were often driven by one or two animals on a treadmill. These machines basically threshed the grain from the heads. Winnowing—or separating the grain from the chaff and straw—was accomplished by hand or with a fanning mill. In the last half of the 19th century—as threshing machines were improved by the addition of cleaning fans, self-feeders, straw walkers, and wind stackers—power requirements increased until 8, 10, and 12 horses were needed to run the things. I suppose that if you could find one of the early, small, wooden threshers, you could get by with your one or two animals.

The used machinery mentioned above can be found at farm sales, especially in areas where horse farming is popular. These same areas will usually have a number of implement dealers who specialize in finding, refurbishing, and reselling horse machinery. Several of these dealers advertise in Rural Heritage.

Much of the horse-drawn equipment manufactured today is aimed at larger farmers who use big teams. These manufacturers display and demonstrate their equipment each year at the annual 4th of July Horse Progress Days trade show, an extensive report about which appears in each October/November issue of Rural Heritage. Prices depend on what options you want, and whether you purchase the equipment new or used. rh horse logo


Sam Moore's column "Let's Talk Rusty Iron" ran regularly in Rural Heritage magazine for many years Rural Heritage for many years. He is now retired.

DVD tours of past Horse Progress Days are available through mischka.com, the bookstore at Mischka Press.

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