Sustainable Logging With Draft Animals

Sustainable logging of small and/or inaccessible woodlots using draft animals is often cheaper, easier, and less damaging to the land.

| April/May 1994

143 sustainable logging - horse

Draft animals allow for more sustainable logging practices as they make it possible to log selectively instead of clearcutting an area.


Sustainable logging with horses, mules, or oxen is an idea whose time has come again. Draft animals are once again becoming popular sources of power in today's woodlots, because they are environmentally friendly and make good economic sense. Draft animals are particularly well suited to the 57% of commercial timberlands consisting of privately owned small woodlots, since they allow selective timbering as opposed to clearcutting. Why? There are three main reasons.

1. Compared to mechanical means of harvesting, draft animals cost less to purchase and maintain, and they don't need constant repair. They don't compact the soil, they do less damage to young trees, and they make it economically feasible to harvest timber on tracts containing too few trees to warrant mechanized logging.

2. Draft animals need not be confined to areas accessible by road and, because they vary their routes according to the locations of felled trees, they don't leave trails that erode into ruts and washouts. They can work in steep or damp terrain that defies machinery and they don't produce noise pollution. Best of all, a draft animal can be handled by one person of any size—I'm willing to bet you'll find more women logging with horses than with mechanical skidders.

3. While any piece of machinery loses value the moment it leaves the sales yard and continues rapidly depreciating thereafter, a well-trained draft animal increases in value as it gains experience. Draft animals also offer an excellent opportunity for additional outside income, besides the sale of firewood or sawlogs. Experienced loggers are increasingly being sought out by woodlot owners who wish to minimize environmental damage and operating costs.

When we purchased the woodlot adjoining our farm, we used a horse to log the salable timber. Today, seven years later, you cannot tell the land was recently logged unless you take a good close look at the healthy stand of young trees. Our low overhead gave us the flexibility to maximize our profits by skidding out not only large sawlogs and midsize pallet logs, but also the smaller diameter firewood most mechanized loggers leave behind, and even the thinner poles we use to boil down our annual supply of maple syrup. In just one year, besides supplying our household with several season's worth of firewood, we recouped the purchase price of the land.

Drew Conroy of Berwick, Maine, went us one better. Needing a barn, but not having the money to build one, he trained a team of oxen to log his property. He then sold the experienced team for enough money to pay most of the expenses of raising the barn, including having the logs sawed at a local mill.

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