Percheron Power

Especially when your goals are lofty, or simply different from what most folks are doing, it’s good to start preparing early. And as Anne and I consider our long-term farm philosophy and vision, we frequently come around to the importance of closed systems, self-reliance within a community and a return to farming with limited fossil fuel inputs. Few things embody this more than draft animals – beautiful, muscular creatures who eat from the land (you can grow your own hay, grain, and pasture), provide more power than even a sizable group of people, and give you free poop in return, not to mention being wonderful companions. What a deal!

So we are incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to learn how to work with draft horses. Pictured here is Anne in her signature colorful hat driving a mother-daughter team of Percherons this morning. Once a week we drive out to our friends’ farm and harness up the team for a round of wagon driving. Once there is finally some snow on the ground we’ll probably pull a sled around off-road.

The art of training and working with draft animals is almost a lost art, but in my humble opinion it’s the wave of the future, since there won’t be such a copious supply of fossil fuels to power our machinery. It is an immersive experience to drive a team, requiring alertness, awareness and a willingness to communicate with the animals, both to them through subtle tugs on the lines and verbal commands as well as from them – where are they looking, what are they paying attention to, they seem frightened; what could it be, are they tired, or full of energy? You provide food, shelter, comfortable living, guidance and protection, they happily provide their muscles to work for the benefit of the herd. Trust is everything, and you have to earn it. Someday in the next few years we hope to have draft animals as well, bringing their own power and personality to our farm.

This year we will be taking some more formalized classes at Tillers International, an incredible organization doing lots and lots of work with draft animals and heritage skills. The best part is that they are keenly focused on practical applications – a lot of their techniques and machinery designs are exported to third-world countries where draft animals are still commonly used in agriculture and other industries.

–Dennis 1/2/12