Market Gardening






Work Horses in a Market Garden: Part 2
Draft Horse Breeds


fjord team prepares seedbed
The author prepares a seedbed on his four-acre market garden farm with his Fjord team. Photo by Margaret Fanning
by Steven Leslie
These days many of the young and new farmers who are choosing to utilize draft horse power are drawn to market gardening as a way to make a relatively decent living off of limited acreage. I have always found much good sense in the old maxim that to understand where we are going it is worthwhile to have some perspective of where we have come from. In this article we will take a glance at the evolution of the equine species and the cultural forces that shaped the modern draft horse. The next installment will briefly discuss the five most prominent breeds of draft horse and round out that discussion with a glance at the lighter draft breeds and ponies. Finally, we will join in with several skilled horse farmers for a “teamster roundtable” concerning what qualities make for the best work horse in the market garden.

The Shire

The Shire is a coal black horse with dinner-plate hooves and feathered lower shanks (though other color phases are accepted within the registry). It is the most massive of the draft breeds. It originates out of western and southern England. Although today the Shire is mainly bred for the show ring and performance in multiple hitches, in an age before mechanical transport, these gentle giants were first employed as cart horses for hauling farm products and sundry goods. In the golden age of horse power in Great Britain, the Shire did every kind of work on the farm. The Shire is believed to trace its roots back to the “Black Horse” of Great Britain—a type first introduced by the Romans.
Report from the Field - They Will Work
Richard Cameron
Rockin Runaway
Farms, Ellensburg, Washington

Things I like about shires: Their drive is a big thing for me. They are not dead heads. You must drive them. Their work ethic goes right along with their drive. They will work. They can walk a good pace and cover ground to get work done.

 A good Roman-nosed horse will have plenty of smarts about them. They will learn quickly and retain their knowledge. There used to be a saying around here: “If you want some fire get a Shire.” That fire and determination are what makes a great Shire horse, no matter the actual size of horse.

 I can take my Shires and work the ground, mow hay, go to a show and then enter the pulling competition with one team for all of it. They will work their hardest for you at everything you ask them.

The Clydesdale

The Clydesdale originally hailed from Scotland and is said to share common ancestry with the Shire. The Clydesdale is typically, but not exclusively, a bay horse. For all its massiveness, it has an agile step and a quick wit. Given their enormous body size and massive hooves, neither the Shire nor Clydesdale is the first obvious choice for the small-scale market garden, but they are certainly capable of being trained to this work and would fit in well on a farm where produce is grown on a larger scale.

 In this next report, a Wyoming rancher tells us why he has come to regard the Clydesdale as a valuable work animal for winter feeding chores and summer hay making.
natural horses
Wes Lupher's Clydesdale team pulling a sled.
Report from the Field - Working Clydesdales

Wes Lupher
Bridger Valley, Wyoming


This winter I'm feeding 245 mother cows. Some of them belong to my brothers, but I run the place for them while they teach school. We sell the calves in the fall to highest bidder. Usually they wind up in Japan — Known Source Program. I also have an AI (Artificial Insemination) program and sell some breeding stock. I break horses in winter as an extra income as well. I have 14 horses and mules. Most of them wear harness for a living. I was raised with horses. We fed cattle with a team and used them for other chores. Also on a scatter rake in hay fields when putting up loose hay. I have taken it a few steps further, though.

I have to admit I thought of Clydesdale (and Shire) horses as hitch animals for the show ring. The notion was stuck in my mind that they were not much but fluffy feather and a lot of wasted motion in their gates. Serious work was to be done with the more common Belgian or Percheron horses. They also had the reputation, in my mind at least, of being somewhat flighty critters to boot. To be fair to myself, this was all based on working one mare that belonged to my dad as a young lad. We did not get along.

 Fast forward a few decades and I found myself working some horses with Clydesdale blood flowing through their veins. I just happened on to the first pair through a friend, and it wasn’t long before I owned them. I was surprised to find how much these horses pleased me and not just in looks. Good, honest, using type horses. Not long after the first pair, came another. These were purebred black Clydesdale horses. I have put them through the whole routine on the ranch. Everything from feeding cattle to haying, and don’t find them lacking at all. While feeding cattle isn’t always the hardest job, it is steady work for months on end. They have held up to that kind of work, no problem.

 We have been most pleasantly surprised when we put them on the haying equipment. Mowing and raking hay in the heat of summer is hard, sweaty work. I put up enough hay to feed 185 cows, plus some yearlings, and the horse herd. We’ll cover from 260-320 acres of ground, depending on the year.

 In doing so, we will work four to five teams of horses and mules. The Clydesdale horses have been right there alongside the Percherons and mules, doing their share of the work. In fact, I see some positives for the breed in this kind of work. They seem to have a good, long stride. A horse slightly lighter muscled and with more freedom of movement is a good fit for moderate loads of a long duration, as in mowing and raking hay. Right up the alley for the Clydesdale horse.

 In the end, I have to say that the Clydesdale horse has proven itself as a breed, to me, as a legitimate horse for ranch work. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone that’s interested in working horses. Clydesdales are not just for looking at.

natural horses
Belgian horses pulling a seed drell at Natural Roots Farm in Conway, Mass. photo courtesy of Lisa Gaeddert

The Belgian

The Belgian horse is currently the most popular breed of draft horse in North America. The American Belgian was first developed in the Upper Midwest in the late 19th century by crossing valued farm horses with imports of the Flemish, Brabant, and Ardennes breeds. These European ancestors of the modern American Belgian draft horse are shorter and stockier, with more feathering on the legs. Their calm temperament, hardiness and strength made them ideal work partners for every kind of farm work. The American Belgians were consistently selected to produce a sorrel type with flaxen mane and tail, along with a white stripe and socks. These horses tend to have more height and refinement than their European forbears and soon gained renown among stockmen for their stout body mass and immense pulling strength. Many contemporary horse-powered market gardeners employ Belgian horses (the ones bred for work, not for the show ring), finding that their relatively compact mass and somewhat smaller hooves in comparison to the Shire or Clydesdale make for a horse of great pulling power but with sufficient agility to perform well in more confined spaces.

The Percheron

The Percheron comes from the abundant pasturelands of Normandy; a gently rolling and well-watered hill country that presents an ideal climate for raising livestock. This horse has roots that trace directly back to the age of knightly warfare. More than any other draft type, this spotted gray giant clearly reflects the breeding up from Oriental blood lines. This horse has a lively step, refined head, longish neck, and enthusiastic temperament. In France, the Percheron was employed to haul stagecoaches, a job that required not only tremendous size and strength but also the stamina to move at a trot over long distances. For this work on the roads, the light colored greys and whites were most often selected because of their visibility at night.

Once it was imported to England, the Percheron was bred to be heavier and thicker of limb and proved to be a tireless worker in the furrow. In the early 20th century, at the height of horse-powered farming in the United States, the Percheron far outnumbered all the other draft breeds, and its influence was reflected in many grade draft horses. Even today, the Percheron still ranks as the second most popular draft horse breed in North America. With their strength and stamina, Percheron and Percheron-cross horses are well suited for market garden work, particularly on a larger scale.

In the next report, former equestrian competitive rider and current horse farmer/homesteader Jennifer Judkins offers us her reflections on the qualities and attributes of the Percheron horse and why she believes they can play a vital role in the successful management of your farm.

Report from the Field - Excelling at Farm and Woods Work



Jennifer Judkins
Resting Heart Farm, Danby, Vermont


Percherons are a very distinctive draft horse. They are all born black, some remaining this color and others lightening to a dapple gray as they age. I’m told there has been the odd bay or chestnut Percheron, but these are quite rare. The breed was developed in Europe, in Le Perche, a district of Normandy, and the entire line stems from two gray Arabian stallions, imported to the area in 1820. With additional genetic input from the Thoroughbred, Andalusian, Flemish and Oriental breeds, it is thought that all of the existing Percherons today can be traced back to a single horse named Jean Le Blanc, born in 1823.

The original breeding of these horses was for a lighter draft horse suitable both for light work as well as riding and, indeed, these horses were drafted into the military extensively during World War I, used as cavalry mounts or for pulling artillery. Once replaced by more modern war machines, in the early 1900s, breeders started to develop the heavier Percheron that we know today, excelling at heavy farm and woods work.

The modern Percheron can be found living in virtually all parts of the world and is considered highly adaptable to a variety of climates. Modern breeders tend to breed for two “styles” of Percheron. The first is a shorter, chunkier style, very well suited for heavy work with a lot of lifting power in the haunches. The other is a taller, more refined Percheron, which is very popular for showing and carriage work. Because of this, the Percheron ranges widely in size, from 16.1 to 18 hands and can weigh between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. In the past decade, a lighter Percheron has once again become popular, crossing these large drafts with the lighter Thoroughbred, Morgan, Arabian or Quarterhorse, to create a light draft horse, happy to provide some light farm power or skid wood and small enough for riding. In fact, many of these light Percheron crosses excel at disciplines such as show jumping, dressage and eventing.

knight on horseback vintage drawing
Percherons plowing
 The Percheron is known for their quiet, sociable, inquisitive nature. Percherons are very curious creatures and have very mobile lips that they use as hands. Though very respectful of fencing, most can open doors and windows with a little practice, so containment sometimes needs some additional reinforcement. Typically though, they have a short flight line and do not wander very far. They move energetically and enjoy the working partnership with man. Very intelligent, the Percheron is a powerful animal, but very easy to work around and handle. Like most draft breeds, they learn and understand the working relationship and routine very quickly and appear to enjoy their work and relationships. They are very easy to maintain and require little in the way of grain unless working hard. They are as happy to stand out in the rain or snow, as they are to stand in the barn munching on hay. Topping out their amazing attributes is uniformly stunning good looks. Well balanced heads with a broad forehead, large intelligent eyes and small ears. They have a broad chest and powerful haunches. Legs are heavily muscled and feet are solid. The overall impression is of power and ruggedness.

The Suffolk Punch

Bred for the furrow — the Suffolk Punch of East Anglia bears the distinction of being the only member of the heavy draft breeds that was developed exclusively as a farm horse. These sorrel horses tend to be a little shorter than the other drafts, with thick necks, stout limbs, short backs, and a lower center of gravity. Pound for pound they are reputed to be the most powerful and efficient of the draft horse breeds. Their low center of gravity makes it easier to establish the ideal line of draft. By the mid-20th century the demise of horse-powered agriculture caused the Suffolk’s ranks to fall to perilously low numbers. With the resurgence of interest in farming with horses over the last few decades, the Suffolk has begun to enjoy a modest comeback. This mighty titan of the draft horse breeds makes an excellent breed of choice for the small to midscale market garden.

 In the following report, we will hear from a woodsman and farmer who has devoted his life to promoting good land stewardship practices in partnership with draft animal power. Jason Rutledge not only practices what he preaches, through an established apprenticeship network, he has also trained many novice teamsters to work competently and sustainably in the forest with horses. Jason is the owner of the Environmentally Sensitive Logging Company and is a founding member of the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation and Draftwood Forest Products initiative.


Report from the Field - Round All Over


Jason Rutledge
Ridgewind Farm, Cooper Hill, Virginia

The Suffolk Punch is the rarest of the major draft breeds. They also have the oldest registry and breeding records in the draft horses of the western world. They're second oldest worldwide, of all breeds, to the Thoroughbred, which is only a few years older than the Original Suffolk Stud book in England. This breed was developed by farmers of the East Anglia, Suffolk County, England region, in what amounts to be the plains of the country. They were the primary power source for hundreds of years. The original studbook traces all of the horses as starting from a Chestnut Stallion called Crisp's Horse of Ufford, England. They were expressly developed for farm work by the same farmers that developed Suffolk Sheep and Red Poll cattle as foundation breeds of useful livestock. The Suffolk was a third member in the "Trident of Agriculture" that came out of that area and era.

Historically, there were 30,000 Suffolk horses farming in the fields of the most productive land in the British Isles. Today, there are around 300 in the entire homeland country. Keeping, breeding and showing the Suffolk horse is subsidized in the U.K. to preserve rare breeds. There are at least twice (some say three times) that number of registered Suffolk horses in North America today. Due to the purity of the breed, they have remained very true to type. They always breed true to color as chestnut of various shades. The English spelling leaves out the "t" in chesnut. The name Punch is an English colloquialism for "round all over."

This breed has many unique characteristics. The most powerful is their temperament and disposition. They are extremely willing to please and the epitome of tractable and easy to train. Their conformation is built for work in heavy clay soils. The Suffolk cannon bone is generally shorter in front and rear than most modern draft breeds. This makes for a longer forearm and a more flat shoulder and collar seat. The low set knee makes the horses efficient in movement by not having any extra action than that necessary to walk in a furrow or, in my case, over forest debris. They tend to be based narrow and low withered as a criticism, but that translates into a deep body with a big heart, lungs and muscular development to fill the frame. The body is well sprung with rib cages that are flat and broad proportionately. They are famed as truly easy keepers and hard workers.  They often are the smallest of the draft breeds averaging around 16 hands high and 1,600 pounds fit. There are several bloodlines available in North America that produce somewhat larger Suffolk horses being over 17 hands high and a ton fit. Most of the English horses are larger than the American Suffolk Punch.

I have been raising and actually working this breed longer than anyone I know in the country — for more than 30 years. Before that, I worked all the other major breeds. This is the hardest pulling, longest working, easiest horse to get along with. When folks ask me why I chose Suffolk, I tell them it is laziness. If one decides to do the hard work of working horses — why not at least have the easiest horse to work with? These horses are loyal, kind and responsive. They have that sought after characteristic of "heart." They will try over and over on heavy loads or light, just for the asking in the language of a horseman.

We currently have a 5-year-old imported English Stallion named Eyke Sovereign 3396-S ASHA ES 9035. We keep two teams for our logging business and some farm work. We usually breed around a dozen mares a year in the community and have some horses in various levels of training as time allows. Most of the horses move along quickly to "on-the-job" training and soon become contributors when given a chance.

I am a fan of all draft breeds. They are all more alike than different, yet each one an individual. I just happened to fall in love with the Suffolk Punch early on.


Other draft breeds of note are the American Cream Draft Horse, the North American Spotted Draft Horse, and the Canadian Horse. These are the only three breeds of draft horses that are indigenous to North America (though it could be argued that the American Belgian also belongs in this category). Like the Suffolk, the Cream and the Canadian almost perished with the demise of horse-powered agriculture in the mid-20th century, but through the efforts of breed conservancies they have been brought back from the brink. The Spotted Draft traces its heritage back to the Indian ponies of the Nez Perce. It is a relative newcomer that is highly favored in the show ring, parades, and for commercial transport, on account of its extraordinary appearance.

 Many contemporary horse-powered market gardeners find that draft horses crossed to saddle horses can result in excellent working stock. The Standardbred trotter is commonly employed by plain families as a buggy horse. When crossed with any of the major draft breeds they produce progeny with strength, size, and endurance that can make them valuable assets for a horse-powered market garden — as long as one is an experienced horseman — as they can be a little more high-strung than the average draft horse. And too, horses that are not from purebred stock are often more affordable. For the horse-powered market gardener of today the only compelling reason to purchase purebred registered horses is if the farm business will also be involved with raising registered foals for sale. Otherwise, good conformation and temperament are all that are truly important. The sale of registered stock can be a moderately lucrative income stream, but it is a business in and of itself and will require significant inputs of time and infrastructure to breed, raise, train, and market young horses.

In this next section we will take a look at some of the smaller breeds of horses that have also proven suitable as draft animals.


The Morgan Horse

Renowned as the first American breed of horse, the Morgan traces its lineage back to the champion stallion originally named Figure, but soon after called after the name of his owner, the Vermont schoolmaster, Justin Morgan. Born in the late 1780s in Springfield, Mass. The storied horse lived until 1821, and, throughout his long life, he was incomparable in his abilities to plow hard ground, haul logs from the forest, and tirelessly pull sleigh or wagon. He proved unbeatable in pulling contests and races at every distance, despite the fact that he was all of 14.2 hands high and weighed about 950 pounds. Every Morgan horse traces back to this sire. The Morgan was bred to be the all-around useful horse for country life, equally adept at plowing, under saddle, or pulling a carriage or sleigh. In modern times, many lines of Morgan have been bred up to a leaner and leggier animal for the show ring, but some breeders have retained or bred to retrieve the characteristics of the old-time Morgan more suitable to the rigors of farm work. The Lippit Morgan and the Phillip’s Old Style Morgans are the most widely recognized results of these recovery efforts. These old-style Morgans are well-adapted in temperament and conformation to the work of the market garden. A Morgan horse crossed to a draft horse will also produce a very suitable progeny with a little more heft and pulling power.


Draft Ponies

The word pony is a derivative of the French poulenet, which connotes a small horse or foal. Technically than 14.2 hands high. This measure is applied broadly in competitions such as pulling events, where animals are classed in divisions according to size and weight regardless of breed. In genetic terms, the pony breeds tend to have short legs and a large head in proportion to their body mass. They have a short, steep slope of shoulder, short coupling of the back, and strong, compact hindquarters. The horn of their feet is ironhard. The pony breeds are long-lived and durable creatures and are often able to carry or pull a larger percentage of their weight than their larger cousins. For instance, a 13-hands-high Icelandic horse may have an easier time carrying a full-grown man than a 17-handshigh thoroughbred. Much of the stock of the modern pony breeds derives from the hardy creatures that inhabit the highlands and moorlands of Great Britain, such as the Highland, Exmoor, Shetland, Welsh, Dale, Fell, and Irish Connemara. The Icelandic horse is an incredibly strong and rugged animal for its size. They usually stand between 12–13 hands high and weigh 850- 1,000 pounds. The breed was developed by the Vikings through crossing their native Fjord horses with ponies from the British Isles.

 The classification of a pony based on height can become confusing, because often lighter horses such as Mustangs, Morgans, and Arabians stand under 14.2 hands high yet, clearly, they are horses. The so-called draft pony types such as the Fjord, Haflinger, Dale, and Fell ponies appear more like small horses than do the true ponies such as the Shetland and the Exmoor. In terms of height, these draft pony breeds often straddle the line between horse and pony. These little horses are well suited to the work demands of a small-scale market garden and all-around farm chores. However, three draft ponies may be required to take on a workload comparable to that of a full-sized team of heavy horses.

 

The Fjord Horse

hotovy Fjords plowing
Rich Hotovy of Jones, Mich., plow withthree of his Fjord horses at a field day at the Farm at Prophetstown. Rural Heritage photo.
The Norwegian Fjord is often classed as a pony, but the Norwegians insist that it is a true horse. The Fjord is a breed that is renowned for being hardy and thrifty and for having tough feet. This may be in part due to how little they have been “bred up” from the original primitive horse stock from which they were first domesticated some 2,000 years ago. They are direct descendants of the now extinct eastern European and Asiatic wild horses that once roamed the vast steppes from Mongolia to eastern Poland. Unlike most every other breed of European horse, the Fjord has had virtually no influence from crossing with the hot-blooded horses that originated from the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. In Norway, breeding stallion selection has been a reserved right of royalty for over 500 years. However, unlike the major heavy draft horses, the Fjord is not a “cold-blooded” horse, but is classed as a “warm-blood.” In practical terms, this means the tractable Fjord often shows a lot of snappy energy and explains how, with proper training, these work horses can also excel at such disciplines as event jumping and dressage.

We have four registered Fjords on our farm all of whom are about 14 hands high and weigh in the vicinity of 1,000 pounds (our Fjords are sired by the stallions: Hostar, Erlund, Kila Grani, and Flotren). To call the Fjord an easy-keeper is an understatement — these animals can get fat just looking at a pile of debarked sticks. Our horses have regular work during the growing season. We have found they do best on limited pasture — about 2-3 hours per day on rotationally managed grazing — supplemented with about 5 pounds a day of decent long-stem first cut hay fed out morning and night. They also receive a daily 11/2 pounds grain and feed supplement (offered in two feedings — mostly to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals). In winter, a third feeding of hay replaces the mid-day grazing (amount fed is adjusted to outside temperature). The Fjords have such good feet that, even in our stony soil, we don’t need to put shoes on them. Since we have taught ourselves how to trim barefoot, we save a bundle on farrier expenses.

We have found the Fjords to be highly intelligent and trainable, nimble and careful with their steps, and possessed of both great endurance and “try.” Our Fjord horses are the traction power in our 4-acre market garden. With our teams, we use a 12-inch bottom walking plow, a 10-inch bottom riding plow, a 6-foot single-action disc, a 60-bushel single-axle grounddriven spreader, a flex (pasture) harrow, a springtooth and a spike-tooth harrow, a riding cultivator, an elevator-style potato digger, a McCormick-Deering No. 6 mower with a 5-foot bar for clipping cover crops, and a multi-tool carrier called the All-In-One. We pull the spreaders, disc, and other harrows behind a standard Pioneer Equipment Draft forecart (with the tongue length cut down from 13 feet to 12 feet, 6 inches). Come haying time, the Fjords also pull a Grimm tedder and a New Holland side-delivery rake behind the cart. This year (2014) we are sometimes hitching the horses threeabreast to accomplish bigger tasks such as spreading compost on hay fields or discing plowed ground so that the horses’ workload will be lightened. Generally speaking, three Fjords can take on the workload of a team of full-size draft horses.

In the winter, a single and teams are used to help skid out firewood. The Fjord also makes for a good riding horse, not only providing the farm family with a form of homegrown recreation but also useful for such farm tasks as checking fence lines or moving groups of livestock.

When it came to deciding what kind of draft animal to employ, we chose to work with the smaller Fjords because we felt that a full-sized team of heavy draft horses would be overkill for the scale of market garden we envisioned developing, in the same way that you would not purchase a 50-HP tractor to accomplish the workload that could be handled by a 20-HP tractor. We were drawn to the Fjords in particular because of their reputation for a mild temperament, intelligence, and willingness to work. Most of the equipment we use is vintage  drawn implements that have been restored. Working within the scale of a 4-acre garden, a team of Fjords are able to pull these implements without a problem. From a historical perspective, the typical Fjord is not much smaller than the grade draft types that were common on most family farms in the early to mid- 20th century. I often tell people that, in this respect, the Fjords have many similarities to the old-time Morgan — a versatile, hardworking, all-around good horse for the farmstead.

In our next report, longtime Fjord horse enthusiast and natural horsewoman, Cathy Greatorex, explains why the qualities that make Fjords such good workers also make them perfect helpmates for teaching novice teamsters to drive.


fjord team prepares seedbed
Cathy Greatorex and a team of her Fjords harrowing pasture. Photo courtesty of Cathy Greatorex.
Report from the Field – Teachers of People

Cathy Greatorex
Education Director of Doc Hammill Horsemanship, Eureka, Montana

Initially, I chose to purchase Norwegian Fjord Horses because my research told me that they would be versatile animals. I wanted horses that could do harness and pulling work around my small place and that would also work for pleasure driving and as saddle horses as well. The Norwegian Fjord Horse is found in a variety of sizes, typically ranging in height from 13.1 hands high to 14.3 hands high, and 900 to 1,200 pounds, with individuals off the scale at either end. Fjord horse conformation ranges from the lighter type sought for saddle, carriage, competitive and show driving, to the heavier draft type often desired for farm, ranch, and logging work. There is also a range of temperaments displayed within the breed; a generally higher-energy type Fjord ranging to a generally lowerenergy type Fjord. I have owned Fjord horses for more than 10 years; my initial studies about the breed led me to choose individuals that suited me, heavier boned and muscled with calm demeanors. I have become very fond of horses of this breed over time and have sought out information about Fjord horses as well as interaction with many individual Fjords horses and their owners for several years now.

Doc and I live on a ranch in northwestern Montana, where we and our horse partners do ranch work that includes mowing, raking, plowing, discing, harrowing, and other tillage, log skidding, buggy, cart, and wagon work. We also use sleds and, in snowy winters, use equipment that is on runners. We work horses as singles and in teams of two or more. Sometimes we take the time to ride our horses. We own and use 10 horses. My original two Fjords still live and work with us, and we have since added three Norwegian Fjord horses.

We earn part of our livelihood holding workshops that teach people to drive and work horses in harness in a comfortable and safe environment. Being instructors in our workshops is the most important work our horses do! While we never have students in our workshops work alone, we must be reasonably certain that horses we use in our educational workshops are safe and dependable in many different situations. We like to work with horses that have quiet temperaments. Many Fjords have the drafty conformation we want, heavy bone, heavy muscle and they also have quiet temperaments that work so well with farming, ranching, and logging/woods activities and especially with students who are sometimes new to horses and are certainly learning new activities with horses.

What do I like about Fjord Horses, and why do we partner with them for our ranch work and educational activities? I like everything about them: their strength, their robust health, their determination, their good feet, the way they look, their manes and primitive markings, their energy efficiency, and their personalities. We have come to realize that there are many good reasons to have smaller equines (and often single horses) to do the work on a small scale farm. Smaller equines are more economical to feed (we have calculated that the largest Fjord eats about 60 percent of what our largest Suffolk Punch horse eats, remembering that Suffolks and Fjords are generally both easy keepers). The Fjord's smaller stature may be a positive factor for many: there is economy in providing living space, food, farrier work, and grooming for smaller rather than larger horses. Harness does not cost much less for a smaller horse than it does for a larger horse, however, a smaller equine's harness weighs less than the larger animal’s, and this fact can be a consideration for the teamster. Above all else, I like our Fjord’s calm temperaments. The Fjord horses we own and many others we have come to know through our work have a willingness to learn, to learn new jobs and to learn them in new ways; they are smart and very tractable. They have a willingness to accept me as the trusted leader while they are learning and working at their jobs. They are calm; they have patience and tolerance for what may be encountered in their work of the day. For our horses that might mean that they will be driven by as many as seven sets of hands and listen to seven voices giving commands in one day, and still they keep their wits about them. This work takes exceptional calmness and tolerance, and only specific individual horses, from any breed, are well suited for it.

Here on the ranch, we have 10 equines; four Suffolk Punch Draft Horses, five Norwegian Fjord Horses, and one Welsh Pony. There is a range in personalities and temperaments within our herd. They are each suited better for some jobs over others. This is not breed specific, rather personality and temperament specific. A person looking to acquire a horse would do well to select a horse based on the desired qualities they want in an individual, regardless of the breed they are considering. As in most breeds, including draft breeds, humans have created, through selective breeding, within the Fjord breed a continuum of individuals from lighter bodied, lighter boned, generally higher energy type Fjords through to heavier bodied and heavier boned, generally lower energy type of Fjords. All types are loved and appreciated by their respective owners; all have different jobs that they are suited for.


The Haflinger

 The Haflinger is another noteworthy draft pony breed that is enjoying a modest degree of popularity on small horse-powered farms. Comparable in size and conformation to the Fjord, the Haflinger was developed in the late 19th century by crossing a native Austrian mountain pony with an Arabian stallion. The breed combines the rugged qualities of the mountain horse accustomed to the harness with the dash and endurance of the Arabian. The traditional Haflinger is an animal of stout conformation but has a refined head, often with the dished profile that reveals its Arab heritage. Because of their popularity in the show ring some breeders of Haflingers in North America have favored a lighter and leggier progeny. As a result, we can see in this breed a growing distinction between a more traditional “draft” type and a modern “show” type. There are approximately 18,000 registered Haflingers in North America, which means in practical terms that they are more widely available and usually more affordable than the Norwegian Fjord; there are approximately 6,000 Fjords in North America, and this relative scarcity is often reflected in a higher asking price.

Report from the Field – The Feed Efficient Haflinger

William Foster
Poland, Maine

For my wife, Paulette, and I, the decision to use Haflingers on our farm was a deliberate one, one that was made based on the horse’s efficiency and our ability to care for them efficiently. Being a smaller farm, around 60 acres, we had a hard time justifying a larger team for multiple reasons. We primarily use our horses to harvest hay and Haflingers on the mowing machine.  firewood, with sporadic tasks like plowing the garden, grading the road and brush hogging fields. To make a profit on a small New England farm one must be “tight like a Yankee;” there is no room for inefficiencies. We have found the Haflinger breed to not only be thrifty but hardy and hard-working; they have proven to be the perfect contributor to our farm. The Haflinger has a reputation for good feet and for our purposes, we can keep them barefoot — which saves a bundle not having to get them shod. We can use standard work horse-sized equipment which, when purchased used, can be had at an affordable cost.

On our farm, we focus on raising market lambs; the size of the flock we can produce is directly related to the acres of forage we can provide, so grass is at a premium. Haflingers are cited as economical eaters. We have found that to be very true. At one point, we were feeding my wife’s old warmblood broodmare more than we were feeding two of our working Haffies. This past winter, we had been working three in the woods and feeding the entire group with two fair-quality small square bales a day. Each gets a handful of high-mineral grain daily but that is just because the hay I have been feeding is pretty coarse. During the growing season, they are given pasture for no more than a couple hours twice a day. Because their genetics originated from ponies, they do really well on feed that would most likely starve other horses. One of the largest problems I have is finding poor quality forage for them; high quality forage tends to be harder on their digestive system. I would never try it, but I bet one could let them run loose in the forest, and they could make it through a hard Maine winter.

Their hardiness traits pass through to their work ethic as well. I typically work two at a time, but a good-size single can do a respectable job twitching logs in the winter. A team of two can use any implement a “full size” team can, however, the duration tends to be shorter. Because they are a smaller animal we like the larger size geldings, with the ideal size being about 15 hands high and 1,200 pounds. I have heard on multiple occasions that those who work Haflingers alot (read Amish) have found working three-abreast can do the work of a fullsized team but for less feed. I don’t have much work requiring that kind of power, but I am not one to be contented with things being the way they are, so I am sure I will have a chance to test this idea. Perhaps I will use a longer bar on the mower or longer log behind the arch. If I am feeding three, it doesn’t cost me anything to increase my efficiency

Rounding out the list of efficiencies is “horse size.” Equipment like trailers and harness is cheaper; an old bumper tow horse trailer is really cheap. While I run our guys barefoot and trim their feet myself, a farrier visit is less expensive than for a full-sized draft. A smaller runin shed is more than enough shelter for them. We don’t even own blankets for them.

The Haflingers we keep on our farm have proven to be excellent contributors. Their good work ethic and easy-keep will most likely keep them here for some time. It is nice to be able to come back home after mowing or logging all day and have little more than removing harness to keep you from dinner. They certainly do fit into our small farm very well.

 

The Mule

The mule has a long and storied role in the history of North American agriculture. George Washington was the first Southern planter to employ mules in this country after he was presented with a gift pair of Catalan donkeys by the King of Spain. Harry Truman was also a proponent of the mule, having been raised on a Missouri farm where his father bred mules for sale as part of the family income. The mule swiftly became the preferred plow animal in the South. They were highly valued for their ability to withstand flies and heat and to thrive on rough forage. The mule was also favored as a wagon train and pack animal by the U.S. Army and the prospectors and settlers of the American West. Mule aficionados will tell you that this animal is a highly intelligent, versatile and personable working companion. They claim that mules show more patience, are surer-footed, hardier and longer-lived than horses, and they are considerably less obstinate, fastergaited, and brighter than donkeys. Today, many Plain farmers, particularly in Southeast Pennsylvania, prefer mules bred out of Mammoth Jack donkeys crossed to Belgian dams over horses and regularly employ hitches with six to eight draft mules.

Among the best, and certainly the noblest, teacher I have yet had in my horse-driving career was an old gangly brown molly mule named Becky. During the year that I spent on a North Idaho ranch that old Becky mule taught me more about driving than any other person or equine since. When she was treated with kindness and respect, she was a sensible and compliant animal. Despite my lack of driving experience, she never once tried to kick me or threaten me in any way. She was forgiving of mistakes, tolerant of indecision, and willing to patiently stop and stand if she sensed danger in a situation until I figured out how to make it right.


fjord team prepares seedbed
A mule team pulls a rotary tedder at the 2014 Horse Progress Days in Mount Hope, Ohio.
Becky had been trained by a neighbor of ours, an old cowboy named Dean Burly. Dean was a large man and had a handshake that could make a grown man wince with pain. His face was bludgeoned with the ravages of whiskey and time, but you could still catch glimpses of the handsome and proud bearing he must have presented in his youth. Dean was one quarter Blackfoot Indian. His grandmother was a full-blood from Montana. He and his wife lived in a little ranchette of 12 acres that lay under the power lines. The entrance to his property was festooned with admonitory signs such as; “No hunting — the blood you shed may be your own,” and “Keep out — prosecutors will be violated!” Dean had a colorful history. As a young fellow he had been employed as a working cowboy and had ridden bulls in the professional rodeo. Later in his life he’d spent a number of years working as a wrangler for a Hollywood movie studio. But Dean’s true passion was for mules.

Dean loved to extol the virtues of mules. He would continually hold forth on the biological superiority of the mule, on their attributes of toughness, surefootedness, longevity and sense of self-preservation. He told us about the occasion when he’d been guiding some hunters on a packing trip in the Bitteroot Mountains and Becky was in the string. She slipped and fell over a steep ledge and rolled a full 360 degrees and landed cat-like on her feet at the bottom of the ravine with her saddle pack in place and a look of: “Well, let’s get back to work,” on her face.

We stopped by Dean’s place one day when he was plowing up the kitchen garden for his wife with a team of mini-mules hitched to a single-horse plow. Everywhere we looked there was some kind of mule or donkey eating up whatever shard of green matter was still left on the property. I noticed another pair of mules wandering about and what caught my attention was the way in which they were joined together by a short line tethering halter to halter. Dean saw me looking, and he explained that the mules were in training and he found the best way to get them working and thinking as a team was to make them go about their day together tied at the head like that until they learned to move about as a unit.

Dean told us that if we wanted to see him working the mini-mules we should come by a woodlot near the center of town the next day as he was going to be employing them to skid out some logs. We did indeed show up at the center of town (which consisted of a gas station/mini-mart, a Laundromat and a post office). True to his word, Dean was skidding logs across the way and had a coterie of onlookers and followers gathered to watch him work his magic. The mules pulled in perfect unison. I noticed that Dean held the lines quite slack and low by his waist, so that it was clear he was driving them almost entirely by voice command. After he brought a load down to the landing he looked up and saw us and said; “Want to see me load ’em up in the truck?” Of course we wanted to see it, so Dean drove the team up to the open bed of the truck. The truck itself was a full-sized jumble of mismatched colors and parts all slap-dashed together and sporting a bumper sticker which read; “What the hell? — she runs!” Once Dean had the mules tip-toed right up to the tailgate, he whispered “Load up, mules.” And, soft as a breeze, the pair leapt up nimbly onto the bed. “Come round,” he told them, and they carefully edged themselves all the way around until they were facing out the back of the truck. “Step up, mules,” he asked, and easy as a falling leaf, they came back down to the ground and stood at the ready.

Dean’s love of mules was only eclipsed by his admiration of the wild ass. He had one on the place that was a rescue animal from the forest service. Dean said of the wild ass that anything that little and ugly that had learned to survive in the desert regions of the world had to be about the toughest thing on earth. In this next report we hear from a farmer and environmental advocate who has also been smitten with a love for the donkey and a growing admiration of their qualities as a working animal.

Report from the Field – Draft Donkeys

Charlie Tennessen
Eco-Justice Center, Racine, Wisconsin

I am a beginning draft animal farmer. I've been able to use my team of miniature donkeys to disc, harrow, and cultivate in my 1/2-acre food plot over the past two years. So far, I only trust my mustang mare enough to pull a tire around the arena, but the donkeys have been very reliable and safe. I sure love those little guys! I first built them a forecart, but I think it wastes a lot of their effort so I don't do much with it. They have a tandem disc I built out of a 30-inch Brinley garden-tractor disc and they do great with it. They also do well with a 3-foot spring tooth section. Either one of my donkeys can pull a walk-behind cultivator, but I keep the teeth very sharp to reduce the draft as much as possible. I suspect that a pair of standard donkeys (not minis, not mammoths) would be almost ideal for cultivating in a market garden. They would have plenty of power for everything except plowing sod, and the speed they walk at would be real good for cultivating. I taught single-row cultivating to my guys in about 20 minutes, all alone. I just drove them up and down a row a few times, hooked up the cultivator, and went to work. We also got a riding cultivator last year, and that worked well, too. Standard donkeys weigh about 500-600 pounds, eat little, live forever, and they are a dime a dozen from the Bureau of Land Management. Also, donkeys remember things and don't seem to need a lot of off-season work to be ready in the spring. Good for farmers who don't have a lot of equine experience. Safer, too. If I ever get a bigger place I will get a pair of BLM donkeys and try to prove this!

natural horses
Baling with ground drive cart at 2013 Horse Progress Days. Illustration by the author

We have completed our introductory survey to the major breeds of draft horses. In the third and final installment of this series we will lend an ear at the teamster round table, where the discussion is focused on the best qualities to look for in a draft horse that works in the market garden. rh horse logo

More Articles in this series:

Part 1 History of the Horse takes a glance at the history of the equine species and the cultural forces that shaped the modern draft horse.

Part 3 Best Horse for the Market Garden joins in with several skilled horse farmers for a “teamster roundtable” concerning what qualities make for the best work horse in the market garden. 

Author
Stephen Leslie, along with his wife, Kerry Gawalt, manages Cedar Mountain Farm (cedarmountainfarm.org); a 4-acre Fjord Horse-powered CSA and Jersey cow dairy, located at Cobb Hill Co-Housing in Hartland, VT. Stephen is the author of The New Horse-Powered Farm from Chelsea Green.
This article appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.


  • Copyright © 1997 − 2017 Rural Heritage
    Rural Heritage  |  PO Box 2067  |  Cedar Rapids, IA 52406
    Telephone (319) 362-3027

    This file last modified: September 20 2015.

    Designed by sbatemandesign.com