Last Sunday, we were having dinner with Cory’s family, Tania, Georgia, Stefano, Connor and Marike. During the meal we’ve started talking about horses and the possibility for Cory to start working with a draft horses team on his farm in the near future. Already when I contacted Cory for the first time last winter, he told me his intention to move shortly towards this other way of working the land with. A totally different approach to farming indeed.
With a strong interest for horses, I was more curious about the different communities around here who are working with horses since a long time. The most known are probably the Amishs or the Menenites. They are the most knowledgeable people to meet if someone wants to know more about draft horses, that’s for sure.
This evening , we went to see Noah’s farm only a few kilometers away from Saugeen river CSA. He is part of an Amish community. As we entered the farm, a little boy of 8 years of age welcomed us with his piercing eyes and bright smile. « Noah is in the house » said he. Arriving in the middle of the farm, we were quickly surrounded by a bunch of kids of different ages wearing blue or green working clothes. The boys had straw hats on their heads. So much life was emanating from them.
As soon as the presentation was done, we went into the barn to look at the pair of Belgian horses who was in there. We hitched them behind the trailer, went for a short ride in the field and came back to the farm. Noah is working on a 200 acres farm, of which only 100 acres are under cultivation. Everything is done with the horses: the ploughing (30 acres every fall) , cutting the hay or carrying wood. No shoes are needed if the horses are not going on asphalt roads. With 5 horses, he is able to work his land entirely. He even uses them all five at the same time to pull a disk, an implement used to loosen the soil after ploughing or a cereal crop.
By far, my curiosity towards draft horses has been fulfilled tonight. Though, I already hear people saying that to work with horses is going backwards. Well, according to Rob Hopkins, the founder of the transition town movement which started in Ireland few years ago, the peak oil point being around 2015, an alternative way to use oil would be the horse power.
In France, more and more vineyards are moving towards draft horses: less compaction of the soils than a tractor, brings the animal aspect to the field, shallower ploughing, and of course free fresh manure. World reknown domains such as La Romanée Conti in Burgundy are working with horses even if they don’t advertise about it. In Bordeaux, Château Pontet-Canet is cultvating its 200 acres of vines only with them also.
Instead of going backwards, working with horses might be being 20 years ahead of time. The consumer wanting more and more quality in his food will certainly help the spreading of this movement.