February 10, 2014

If My Beloved Had His Druthers

After all this talk about master plans, barns, and plowing, I thought I'd let you all in on a little secret. While we've thought the most feasible tool for us would be a walk-behind (two wheeled) tractor if we can ever manage one, what Dan really would love to have ...

A team of Dutch Drafts. This is the breed Dan has been admiring.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

There are a few problems with fulfilling this particular dream, however.

  • cost of horses
  • cost of tack
  • availablity of horse drawn equipment
  • cost of horse drawn equipment
  • cost of feed
  • availability of non-GMO feed (or rather lack of)
  • housing (bigger barn or we'd have to kick out the goats)
  • land (we've only about 2 acres in pasture/forage which is also utilized by the chickens and goats)
  • zero experience with horses
  • zero experience with horse drawn equipment

There are lots of good resources on the subject out there, such as Small Farmer's Journal and books like Farming with Horses and Work Horse Handbook. And there are certainly apprenticeships and hands-on classes to gain a working knowledge, although none anywhere near us. Even so, in the end it all boils down to our piggy bank, which usually houses more moths than cash. Still, it's a wonderful dream and I wish I could make it come true for him. 

If My Beloved Had His Druthers © February 2014 


Quinn said...

I love heavy horses. Always have, always will.

Izzy said...

My Aunt and Uncle raised draft horses, they are spectacular! I don't think people understand the amount of care they require (as with most things). It's not as simple as putting them in the field and letting them fend for themselves. They brought great joy to them both. They actually competed in the upper Midwest, at draft horse pulls. Amazing to watch.

Leigh said...

Quinn, I was a horse crazy kid but I wanted to ride. I've tried to hint about a smaller dual purpose horse but to Dan, the bigger the better. :)

Izzy, I don't know how it is elsewhere, but around here horses are pretty much in the hobby category. That means everything for them is packaged in small, expensive amounts. Certainly nobody uses them for work, heck, nobody really farms around here. Hence no appreciation for these fine animals and what they can do.

Nina said...

Horses are expensive everywhere. There are still places to get tack for working animals, especially if there are local communities which use horse power on a regular basis. But those are pretty big animals for working such a small acreage. Sort of like having one of those mega-huge tractors for 2 acres. But Halflingers, Morgans, Canadians, might be a less costly, more feed and space efficient, solution for small acreage horsepower

helenabelle said...

Horses, in general, are an animal that we would love to add to our farm. The only thing that keeps us from doing it is the expense. Medical expenses scare us the most. They are majestic animals though.

Renee Nefe said...

Time to head to the fair. ;)

I'm assuming that there aren't any horses for hire near you either.

When I was a kid our neighbors had a horse in their back yard. Poor horse was a former rodeo horse and she was not happy back there. They bought the horse for their granddaughter who ignored her. The most attention the horse ever got was from us trying to feed her our grass. :(
Googling my old neighborhood, I see there are no longer any signs of the horse or it's roommates the chickens in the yard. I would assume the family has moved away a long time ago as it has been nearly 35 years now.

Leigh said...

Nina, it's a shame, isn't it? Once upon a time they were the mainstay of civilization. I really regret that motorized equipment edged them out. Morgans and Halflingers are two breeds I mentioned to Dan. Have to look up the Canadians. Of course since none of it is feasible, its rather moot. Fun to wish for though.

Helenabelle, medical expenses! I should have added that to my list! Also ferrier services.

Renee, I don't think anyone around here has that kind of horse. It's actually hard to find a tractor to hire to plow. Most folks just mow or bush hog their acres of lawns.

Ed said...

Since I live among a large colony of Amish, there are draft horses and horse drawn equipment everywhere. I'm betting that if you lived here, you could get a complete setup at a reasonable penny. That is if you don't count the feed going into them draft horses.

Ed said...

I should note that the draft horses up here I think are a Belgian breed and are much taller than those pictured in your post.

Mama Pea said...

Don't chalk it off to impossible. Remember Bloody Mary's words: "If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

Farmer Barb said...

What about an oxen team? Randalls are smaller and so are Dexters. Then, if things don't work out, you can EAT 'em. Can't say that about horses... Ever looked into a horse burial? Not cheap. Our Randalls at the farm are only up to chest and they are a year and a half old. Their manure is easy to handle (one big piece vs. a huge pile) and would you like to have a look at those farrier bills? We have a Shire and he is a big baby. The farrier is always having to take extra time to shape his feet because he kicks the stone wall of his stall.

I adore horses, but drafts are SO hard on the land. In mud season, it could end up being more than you bargained for. We are holding my daughter off on wanting a horse. We will clicker train the new goats to pull. There is a lot of mini harness material out there. I have a mini farm, why not mini everything?

Florida Farm Girl said...

I have a brother who swears he was born a hundred years too late. He loves his mules and all the implements that go with them. And, he uses them on his little spot of land.

Laura said...

You could also look at 1/2 drafts, like Tang. She's 15.1 hands (not huge), thrifty, and weighs 1500 lbs. She could (and someday will) pull a cart/plow/etc. easily. She's placid, rather lazy, and a delight.

However, as you said, If you're trying to feed from your own place, it would be difficult. Tang has no shelter, but has a great winter coat. Unless it's sleeting, she doesn't wear her blankie. You could learn to do feet - I used to to my own - but it 's a big job on a draft type. Her feet are 7" across.

While it's a marvelous dream, and workshops and seminars are great, horses are not just things. They are just like any animal - thinking beings. And they're big. I learn stuff all the time working with Tang, and I was a horse person from an early age.

I would encourage you to step away from that dream, in order to keep the base dream of sefl-suffiency going. It's better to choose wisely than try to do it all! I have lots of trouble with that last one...

Sandy Livesay said...


Oh WOW......those Dutch Drafts are gorgeous. Who wouldn't want a pair of these gorgeous work horses?
Horses and dreams can be very expensive. Have you considered looking into programs where horses have been given up by farmers because they can no longer take care of them? It's a thought, in most cases the horse is either free or at minimum cost.

I think Dan will be able to eventually manage the two wheel walk behind tractor.

Theresa said...

Leigh & Dan,
There are many lighter draft breeds, smaller and more thrifty, say Norwegian Fjords, but big or small,
they all require a high level of care, especially on small acreage. There is saying around horse circles. The way to make a small fortune in horses is to spend a large one. For the amount you would spend on a working trained pair, equipment, housing,good fencing and feed, not to mention farrier care and vet care (allow about 1k cushion for each horse per year) you could buy yourself a nice little tractor and some useful implements. And what would you do with one that suffered an injury and couldn't work or an aged one after a lifetime of work? No room on a small farm for a retired horse I suspect.

Tewshooz said...

Around here they still use draft horses when winters get really severe and cows are fed off sleds. Most are just pastured by the old time ranchers. When we moved here 20 years ago there was a pair of these magnificent animals in the pasture across the street. They were used in local parades. This winter they put the survivor down at 36 years because he was at the end of his life and just a rack of bones. I will miss seeing him. Sometimes the dream just stays a dream.

Leigh said...

Ed, if we lived in Amish country and had the acreage, I suspect Dan would want to make this a reality instead of just a dream!

Mama Pea, LOL. Well, it isn't realistic for all the reasons mentioned. Also because we have quite a few small areas that would be perfect for growing grains or hay but too small for a horse or 4 wheeled tractor. But all seem pretty impossible at the moment because of cost.

Barb, we have talked about training goats and wondering how many it would take to plow our heavy clay soil. :) There's actually a working goat website - www.workinggoats.com. Might be worth looking into.

Sue, that's pretty neat!

Laura, if one of us had a background with horses it might be a maybe. It's neat to read about others with horses, but that's as far as we'll likely ever go. :)

Sandy, we haven't looked into anything because it's really not possible. Hopefully we'll have a walk behind tractor one of these days!

Theresa, The Norwegian Fjords are beautiful horses too. But like I said, it's just a dream. :)

Leigh said...

Tewshooz, hello and welcome! Thank you for the visit and taking time to comment. I just missed your comment while I was posting mine. It would be wonderful to live close enough to some to see these fine animals in action.

Sarah said...

What beautiful horses! I've always joked that if I ever win the lottery that I'll go into breeding Percherons. Horses are without a doubt expensive. That said if you want to be off grid they help with that or in the case of the economy really going down the tubes and fuel becomes an issue you can always hook up the horses. Has your husband considered a mule that has a draft horse mother? Just throwing it out there. There is also something to be said for having a dream scenario!

Susan said...

If you haven't read 'Letters from Wingfield Farm" by Dan Needles I highly recommend it. It is very funny and much of the action surrounds the main character learning to plough with horses. The shire horses of my childhood were Suffolk Punches. I haven't seen one in a long time.

Leigh said...

Sarah, that's a good point about the economy and the grid. Yes, I have suggested mules but he turns nose up at that, LOL.

One consideration with a diesel tractor, is the potential to convert it to run on wood gas. If there's anything we have around here, it's wood!

Susan, thank you for the recommendation! I checked our county library but they don't have it so I'll have to check around elsewhere. Sounds like the kind of book Dan and I would love.

Anonymous said...

Would Dan every consider a smaller breed, like Haflingers? They are a really good horse, and work well. I know a friend back in NH that has one.

I don't blame him for wanting something other than power tool options....they are dang pretty to look at!


Woolly Bits said...

puh, I think those horses are only viable on a larger plot! they do look gorgeous though - I can understand Dan's dream:) I came close to some shire horses in scotland years back and they are giants! but very docile, too. and in forestry regions in germany they use horses to move timber, but I think they use smaller breeds there, as the large ones need a lot of space to maneuvre in between the trees. about the comment that you cannot eat horses: of course you can - as the scandals in the european meat industry prove! nobody noticed until they did some laboratory tests! but apart from not wanting to - there would be a huge amount of meat on a horse like this, all in one go! and I think the cost of getting them in the first place would be totally prohibitive to that "use"!

loren said...

Just saw your blog. Kinda got excited as I've got acreage I'm turning into a retreat. Then I saw the comment "availability of non-GMO feed " and realized just anther dimwit nutter worried about something he doesn't understand.

Leigh said...

Stephanie, we really don't have the land for horses no matter the size. I think if we'd grown up with them, we would have looked for a place to accomodate them in the first place.

Bettina, I agree. I knew someone in Arkansas who was going to breed Shires. Gorgeous! And actually, our illustrious president has recently declared horse meat to be perfectly acceptable human food.

Loren, thanks for the laugh. I'll tell you what though, I absolutely support your choice and your right to eat genetically modified foods if you wish. Are you so insecure in that choice that you have to toss petty insults at someone who chooses something different?