The Benefits and Drawbacks of Farming With Horses

This article discusses the benefits and drawbacks of farming with horses, including comments from farmers with real-world experience, different varieties of draft horses, and ideal size farms for draft horses.

| July/August 1987

Farm Practicalities: The benefits—and drawbacks—of farming with horses vs farming with equipment. 

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Farming With Horses

Let's pull back from Jason Rutledge and consider the significance of this hillside scene. After all, as the saying goes, nostalgia and scenery make thin soup. Are Rutledge and his Suffolks an isolated agricultural anachronism? Or does farming with horses—the draft horse—have a practical place on the farm today?

Bill Gibbons, 300 acres, Ontario: "I've got a small dairy—15 to 20 cows. I use two teams of Belgians to spread manure, haul maple syrup sap, do all the planting and rake, ted and haul my hay. I use a tractor to load the manure, bale the hay and do heavy field work like plowing and disking."

Pat Miller, 160 acres, Montana: "I raise horses and cattle, restore wagons and work an outside job at a lumberyard. I use Percherons whenever possible, most often to feed and harrow. If I didn't have an outside job, I could do it all with horses. In winter, I don't hardly start a tractor, but do all my stock feeding with horses."

Paul Birdsell, seven-acre market garden, 55 acres in pasture and hay, Maine: "I use four, sometimes five, Belgians for all my farm work—plowing, cultivating and haying. In the winter, I log with them; I've got a 50-cord contract with Champion. Draft horses have held on well in this area. They're good for our poor soil, long winters and mud season. This farm has never been tractor-worked."

Robin Reading, 1,500 acres, Alberta: "I'm a cattle farmer, raise 120 head and 120 calves every year. This farm's been in my family for generations. We were pretty much out of horses in the '60s, but then we got a lot of snow and couldn't feed the animals with tractors. Now I have 10 Belgians and use them for about a fifth of my farm work. I cultivate, seed and cut, shock and load hay with them."

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