To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support small scale farming and land stewardship. To show Draft Animal Power is possible, practical, and profitable.
This is the official mission statement of the annual horse farming event known as Horse Progress Days.
Because of the success of Horse Progress Days, its 25 year history, and its history of attracting crowds of 30,000 and up, it is becoming more customary to think of horses and progress alongside one another. This idea of using horses to effect progress in farming is not new. From early in the history of mankind up until the turn of the century from 19th to 20th, and even through the transition to combustible engine power by the end of WWII, it was taken for granted that the God given gift of draft animal power would forever be a part of farms everywhere. And then came the tractor. First small ones that replicated horse drawn tasks by pulling the same equipment as the horses were pulling. And then the sizes of the tractors began to grow, and the size of ancillary tractor equipment grew alongside. And horse farmers found it harder and harder to find new equipment to replace equipment that was wearing out. The conventional wisdom had it that horse farming in the western world was done for.
But, that stubborn group of souls called Amish continued their efforts to weave their understandings of Christian Faith and traditions into their everyday lives, within the larger cultures and societies in which they lived. And a big part of the tradition of living out that faith was, and is, the use of horses to farm. And even though the big tractor equipment manufacturers more and more abandoned production of horse drawn farm equipment, the need for it never went away. And in empty spaces in barns and sheds on Amish farms, lads who felt at home with nuts and bolts and welders studied the equipment that their counterparts in the “modern” world were abandoning, and figured out ways to make it themselves. In the meantime, the numbers of individuals who were born Amish continued to grow and large numbers of young people in Amish communities chose to embrace the faith of their fathers and mothers so that from the year 1951 when horses in North America had almost disappeared from farming, to the year 2014, which marks the 21st time Horse Progress Days will be held, the number of horse farms in North America has grown steadily.
A closer look at the Horse Progress Days Mission Statement
“The latest equipment innovations”
From the original idea of getting a bunch of people together to see the horse farming equipment demonstrated that is coming from Amish shops, Horse Progress Days has grown into an event that can, with utmost integrity, make a statement that enthusiastically supports encouraging and promoting the use of horses (animal power) to farm. And, while western hemisphere farmers and agri-business people have made the word innovation into something that is mainly used to market the latest and the greatest, the word is also appropriately used to describe the farming equipment the shop lads have come up with for use with horses. Much of the equipment used by today’s horse farmers is superior in its materials and design to that which was offered by John Deere and Cyrus McCormick back when they and others were pumping out piles of horse farming equipment. This is true due to the fact that there have been improvements in the components used to make it. And the makers of horse drawn equipment have put large amounts of time and effort into improving the way it works. This could be the subject of another article; there isn’t enough time or space here, but one example, at least, maybe two or three would be better.
Just about when there could have been more time and effort put into designing a plow moldboard that would be easier to pull through the dirt by reducing the friction between the moldboard and the dirt, gasoline powered tractors came along. Fuel was cheap and there was plenty of power, so making the plow more efficient wasn’t a big issue, especially for US farmers. And then a few years ago the Pioneer Equipment Company of Dalton Ohio began to think about this issue and began to look for a solution. They found it in a moldboard from a Norwegian manufacturer of farm equipment called Kvernland. This is a large international manufacturer of all types of farm equipment. In Norway fuel has always been expensive. So any improvement in the efficiency of a plow board sliding through the ground is important, since it would improve fuel efficiency. And so the Pioneer Company, a large company in Dalton Ohio devoted solely to the
production of horse drawn equipment, introduced the Kvernland plow bottom to their plows, and other plow manufacturers began to offer Kvernland bottoms on their plows. And then there is the White Horse Machinery Company in White Horse PA. This company is keeping its ear firmly to the ground on the issue of tillage. They are aware of the constant criticism leveled at plowing enthusiasts in this day and age of “conservation” farming, otherwise known as no till. Some time ago they began working on a plow moldboard of their own design. This moldboard is made to be used with healthy cover crops. Its design is such that it is meant to turn the soil over just enough so that it is standing on its side; the cover crop is not completely turned under. This allows the soil to absorb high levels of rainfall and to resist wind erosion in the event that these types of conditions prevail before final seed bed preparations can be made. And one more; I&J Manufacturing of Gap, PA offers a ground drive sickle bar mower as an alternative to the popular McCormack Deering ground drive mowers which are becoming harder to find and repair. But, the I&J mower comes with a scissors type sickle blade bar that consists of two blade bars working opposite one another. And, the blades are designed to be offset from one another on the bar so that the ground drive power needed to cut the hay is diluted a great deal. The actual cutting of the stalks, instead of all happening at the same time as with the traditional blade and guard model, is staggered. Instead of the stalks being caught between the blades and a guard to slice them off, they are wedged between two blades and cut. Again, a great reduction in power is needed for this type of cutting arrangement. And while the frame and final design of the mower comes from I&J, the sickle bar is imported from Germany. Is our present day horse farming equipment innovative?
“Effort to support small scale farming and land stewardship”
Horse farming, by nature, is on the smaller side. One person farming large numbers of acres with horses is not practical. Small farms managed for peak performance support good land stewardship. Production per acre is generally much higher on small, intensely managed farms than on mega farms. Horse farms have the added benefit of horse manure to replenish nutrients taken from the soil when crops are harvested. Small scale farming supports the local community since it may take 10 farmers to farm 1000 acres of land rather than one. Imagine what this kind of farming will do for rural communities as horse farming becomes more commonplace again. Another whole article could be written about the land stewardship benefits of horse farming, but that will have to wait. Suffice it to say for now, Horse Progress Days means to do all it can to support this part of the mission statement.
“To show that Draft Animal Power is possible, practical, and profitable”
This is probably the most important part of the mission statement for Horse Progress Days. As to possible, there are now examples of successful horse farming operations all over the US and Canada. There are Amish communities in more states and provinces than at any previous time. The farms in these communities are all horse farms. Horse Progress Days is actually only a representation of what is already happening every day on horse farms in North America. What more evidence is needed to support the fact that horse farming is possible? Anyone who is not convinced of it only needs to attend Horse Progress Days and see it for themselves. And then there is practical.
One of the first things that come to mind is the comparison of horse farming to tractor farming with regard to the environment. While many modern horse farms do use gasoline or diesel engines behind horses, the amount of fuel consumed for comparable tasks is much less on horse farms than on tractor farms. This is good for the environment. And then there is the issue of soil compaction. Horses hooves are so much smaller than even the smallest of tractor tires, and the weight of a team of horses is spread out over a large area instead of concentrated under a tire bearing up a heavy load of steel and aluminum. And there is the aforementioned benefit of horse manure to replenish soils. Consider this; everything it takes to make and sustain a horse comes from the earth. And horses replace themselves! And even when they die, their carcasses can safely be broken down by the forces of nature to nurture the earth one more time. And so horses take from the earth and give back to it. In the meantime they provide the power needed for a farmer to care for, to “farm” the earth. Tractors? Everything needed to make a tractor comes from the earth as well, as does the fuel it takes to make it work. And all the steel, plastic, spark plugs, wires, rubber it takes to make a tractor, all of it comes from the earth, all of it. And when it no longer functions or is replaced by something “better”, where does it go? Does it give anything back to the earth as it deteriorates in some landfill somewhere? The thing the horse and the tractor have in common on the farm is providing the forward power needed to make the equipment work that is attached to it, and both do it well. But the horse keeps giving back to the earth in equal measure everything it takes from it. How can this be considered anything but practical? And then there is the profitable part.
To support this part of the Horse Progress Days mission statement properly there needs to be an article written that establishes the cost of operating a horse farm and the bottom line profits that go with it. This can be a challenge since the actual value of a horse goes up as it ages before it declines because of old age, while the value of a tractor goes down steadily from the day it is put into operation. Consider this, a farmer is hauling manure with a young team and as he uses them and trains them they become more valuable. And the manure he is hauling will benefit the land by way of fertilizing it. How does he know which side of the ledger to put his time on? And is the manure he is hauling an expense or an asset? What about the feed he gives his horses, and the bedding he uses? It all turns into manure. How does he decide which side of the ledger to post it on? In these instances it is clear that once again, the horse is giving back to the operation much more than just forward motion for the equipment he is pulling. So it seems the farmer needs to ere on the side of profit when posting. And then there is the fact that, as was mentioned earlier, horse farming communities have grown significantly over the past 30 years or so while tractor farms have declined. ✸