Working with the Living Realm: Draft Horses and the Farm Organism
Third installment in the Tierra Viva series
Excerpt from Light Root Community Farm‘s Summer Newsletter (Boulder, CO)
We are in the midst of the hazy summer dream time here on the farm — long hot days abuzz with activity. The days seem to run into one another, waking early and working late into the evenings on the farm. Our summertime schedule is a solid rhythm of early morning milking and farm chores, mid-day lunch break and siesta time to escape the heat of the day, and when the heat breaks we emerge back out for an evening session of farm chores and other various projects as the sun sets behind the foothills. Farming is not your typical 9-5 occupation. Our work day is directed by the seasonal rhythms, the needs of the animals, and of the overall needs of the farm. These rhythms are balanced with the needs of our family life, and they are very much intertwined. Farming is not an occupation, but a way of life, closely knit with the natural cycles of the Earth. And this time of year we fully experience the Earth in its summertime expression.
Amidst these long days, we had a good stretch of dry hot weather last week — a perfect window to make hay. We cut and raked about 35 acres with our two teams of draft horses, Belle and Beauty, and Dolly and Dixie. It was a week of long days for all of us, horses included, but the hay got baled and stored dry in the barn before any rain hit the ground. This is always a success for the farm, since putting up good quality dry hay ensures good feed for the dairy cows thru the winter months. The field we cut hay on is a well-traveled road, so there were many passersby waving us on and stopping to take pictures throughout the week.
Making hay with draft horses is not a common sight to see these days, especially in this part of the country, and arguably not as “efficient” as utilizing a tractor run on fossil fuels. We certainly value the role of a tractor, and while we cut and rake all the hay with horses, we do hire a custom tractor service to come and bale the hay, making it easier for us to haul it back to the main farm for winter feed. We choose to work primarily with draft horses in our farming endeavors for a variety of reasons that may not fit the modern values of conventional agriculture, but we deem to be essential to the values we hold on our farming path. As biodynamic farmers, we work with the living realm of plants and animals and the natural cycles and rhythms of the earth. We are continually striving to bring together and orchestrate these living dynamics into a harmonious dance we call the farm.
At Light Root Community Farm the draft horses are integral to our farming dance. Draft horses have been bred and worked on farms for centuries, and as human beings we have cultivated a relationship with draft horses that is mutually respectful and beneficial. The farmer strives to understand the nature and needs of the horse and thus provides a healthy living environment for the horse. The draft horse with its massive strength is a willing worker for the gentle farmer who leads the way. This relationship is a living dynamic relationship between man and beast, and when cultivated it is quite beautiful and harmonious. This working relationship is quintessential to the farming that we practice at Light Root Community Farm and keeps us closely connected to the living realm. The horse is also lighter on the land, leaving less impact than heavy farm equipment. Instead of burning fossil fuels to work the land, they work on true solar power — grass is their fuel— and their only emissions are the manure they drop to fertilize the land. Draft horses, being living creatures, have the capacity to reproduce themselves as well, so that over time you can replace an older working team of horses with younger ones raised on your farm. Breeding the farm’s draft power is another way we strive to build a self-sustaining farm organism at Light Root Community Farm.
Cameron Genter of Light Root Community Farm will share his experiences in the workshop Integrating Draft Animals into a Biodynamic Farm at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference, along with Stephen Decater, Cory Eichman, and Mac Mead.