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Draft animals

                        


Joined: Apr 18, 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Conway, MA
Hi list,

      Long time reader, first time poster...is there anyone out there using draft animals (horses/oxen) for the early earthworks (swales, road-building, terraces)/infrastructure phase in their permaculture designs?  Or anything else, for that matter?

        I've got a fair bit of experience with the practical side of it - I've trained oxen and horses to work and built tools for them to use in doing it - but most of the fieldwork done with draft animals on the farms I've worked on uses them for tillage, which seems to be a no-no at any other stage but the outset of a project. 
     
    They are an incredible power source, though.  With the proper equipment, a lot of which is currently rusting in fencerows all over this country, you could use your milk cow - and a teammate - to log your woodlot, build your roads, dig and seal ponds and terraces, haul firewood and water.  There are also some more out-there ideas for using them to generate power on sweeps/treadmills.  Scale up most hand tools and you'll find an old horse-drawn implement if you know where to look.  A chicken/pig/goat is less investment/fewer functions.  But a horse or an ox?  They are nimble on hillsides, far stronger than we are, and (for me, at least) excellent companions. 

      For all the permaculture material I've read, I don't remember any mention of draft animals other than in one of David Holmgren's descent scenarios ("lifeboats", maybe?).  In terms of multi-functionality, they are hard to beat.  And didn't Sepp seem a bit sheepish about that giant excavator churning up the mountain behind him?  To be fair, massive earthmoving for the purpose of establishing passive/perennial systems does seem to be just about the most appropriate use of a finite fuel supply, but if one was willing to slow down...

      I have more to say and many resources to share on this subject, but I'd like to know if anyone is interested/on the same page first.  The only place I'm aware of is DAcres in New Hampshire (http://www.dacres.org/), but I haven't visited and don't know how much they use their oxen...

     

   
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4499
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
168
I have one of these...



To be honest though we don't use her very much, except as a source of manure and to try to keep the ground clear.  Mostly it's because I'm tied up caring for an elderly relative, but I also find that the available equipment available is old, heavy and badly designed.   

I've recently invested in a saddlechariot - it's a totally re-invented design and can be used with more modern implements.  The guy who invented is is totally into 'pony-power' and is busy designing all kinds of improved implements and trying to get people into actually using their animals instead of having them as lawn ornaments. 



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Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Burra, those are COOL!  I've debated about getting a pony or a burro here -- we only have an acre (1.1 acres if you want to be precise) and with the goats, I just don't think I should get any more critters that I'd need to buy hay for.  I could afford it now, but don't want to be among the people who end up having to abandon or butcher their equines when they can't afford to feed them anymore as our economy declines.  On the other hand, the animals could be very useful.  There is a real need, though, as you said, for manufacturers of well-designed, well-built, and affordable equipment for working with the smaller draft animals.  Large draft horses and oxen can work with a lot of equipment that was built for tractors, but when you go down to ponies and donkeys, the equipment just doesn't fit, especially if you only have one draft animal.  It is possible to get garden cultivators for goats to pull, but I wouldn't trust a goat in the garden without a muzzle on!  And those are too small for most ponies (except miniature horses).

Kathleen
                        


Joined: Apr 18, 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Conway, MA
A few notes: I worked for a non-profit in Michigan (tillersinternational.org) that focused on designing/retrofitting/adapting tools for farmers in developing countries.  We worked mostly with oxen, because that's the beast of burden most places (the horse - though not the donkey - being practically unheard of in Africa, for instance), and we worked with the assumption that the oxen available would be a good deal smaller than those one is used to seeing in old photos from this country. 

So, you either make the tools lighter/smaller or fasten more animals together.  Take a moldboard plow as an example: you can replace metal parts (i.e., the beam of a plow) with wooden ones, or reduce the size of the share, or soften the angle of the moldboard, or all three.  The net effect is reduced draft, which means a smaller animal can pull it.  See the photo below for the other option.

My original post was more about bringing over some of these annual crop production tools to landforming in the permaculture context.  There's the slip-scraper, the Martin (or V-blade) ditcher, and the plow.  It was teams of horses that constructed the railroad grade back in the day, after all.  In Asia, they use water buffalo to tread clay into the floor of a rice paddy until it seals.  One of Tillers' projects in Nicaragua used ten teams of oxen to construct and maintain rural roads.  Point being, there's a world of possibilities!

I guess it comes down to whether your place is big enough to make it worthwhile to feed them, as Kathleen says...just wanted to broach the subject.


[Thumbnail for photo.jpg]

Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I agree that there's a world of possibilities.  My father and grandfather used draft horses quite a bit when I was young -- they had a dairy farm in the Interior of Alaska, and also raised potatoes to sell.  They used a tractor for a lot of the work, but when it came to working in the potato fields, the horses did less damage to the crop.  I've known people who used horses for logging, and for a lot of other work.  Your ideas are totally practical, you just may be ahead of the curve a little bit (but probably not by much).

And I may seriously consider adding a sturdy pony to our place, as I've had a couple of thoughts on how to feed it.  For one thing, if (when) fuel gets too expensive for most of us to buy it, there are several places around here where I may be able to cut the hay on shares with my scythe.  And for another thing, there are two lots across the road from us (1 1/2 - 2 acres total) that are owned by people who don't live here.  The ground isn't in very good shape, but if it came down to it, I could probably use it for pasture (and improve the production on it thereby).  I had actually hoped to purchase those lots, as they sold a couple of years ago in a tax sale, but they had the price jacked up to $10,000 for unbuildable lots!  (They don't perk -- low and heavy clay soil.)  I'm hoping that the people who bought them know that they aren't buildable, else they got taken!

Kathleen
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
  One of the mainstays of permaculture is organizing other creatures to do much of the work. Sepp Holzer, for example, uses pigs. Geoff Lawton uses chicken tractors to clear grasses. Think of it as the same thing on a bigger scale. I would agree that it is certainly better than tractors.


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Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4499
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
168
One of our donkey's main 'jobs' is to clear the land around the olive trees - one or two days tethered to each tree seems to keep it all pretty clear! 

I'm based in Portugal, where the land is traditionally farmed using donkeys, and there is still a lot of traditional equipment around.  I've managed to pick up a few odds and ends and thought you guys might find it interesting if I posted a few photos up - feel free to comment, compare notes, gasp in horror at bad design, whatever seems appropriate...

This is a turnplough for a donkey



And the view from the back after it has been 'turned'



A harrow - fairly standard design.  The seller also had one that had 'sawn off' corners, designed to be used to clean between vines so that if you accidentally hit a vine it would slide past instead of just flattening it



And this is a 'nora' - a donkey powered system for raising water to a storage tank and for the irrigation system. Buckets are raised on a giant bicycle chain, emply into the channel, tip into a funnel, pass under the donkey track and into a storage tank. When full, the tank overflows into the raised irrigation channel (you can just see the top of it as a thin white line to the right of the funnel) and flows along watering trees as it goes.



It needs renovating, but it used to supply all the water for the farm and all the drinking water for the next village about 60 years ago. 

Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Thank you for posting those pictures, Burra.  We NEED stuff like that here, but it would be difficult to find.  Probably some folks around who could make it...hmm.  My ex now is good friends with TWO blacksmiths.  Hmmm.  (He -- and they -- are in New Hampshire, three thousand miles away, but still....)

I think that the problem in this country is that we went straight from a growing frontier nation to the industrial era.  There were, and are, small farms, but the get big or get out culture overwhelmed any innovations that might have made small farms more functional.  It wasn't 'cool' to continue farming with draft animals (with a few exceptions, and now a rising number are going back to it, because now it *is* 'cool' again!), and it certainly wasn't 'cool' to use ponies or donkeys!!!  'Cool' was lots of heavy metal, and farming hundreds or thousands of acres, otherwise you were looked down on and belittled (and still are in some places).  Never mind that the amount of debt that had to be taken on in order to farm that way pretty much puts the farmer into debt-slavery for the rest of his life. 

Kathleen
                                      


Joined: Apr 19, 2010
Posts: 2


I'm the guy who invented the system Burra has got, and this is me just mucking about. If anyone is interested I have a load of photos of the new wheelchair enabled version, the row crop system, disc harrows and varioous woodland tools.
Simon
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4499
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
168
Son of Levin wrote:


My original post was more about bringing over some of these annual crop production tools to landforming in the permaculture context.  There's the slip-scraper, the Martin (or V-blade) ditcher, and the plow. 


I'd love to know more about the slip-scraper and the V-blade ditcher.  Any chance of photos and more info?

And Saddlechariot - I've already given up rowcrops in favour of a forest garden, and I'm giving up harrowing in favour of mulching, but I'd love to see your woodland tools.  I know that one of the neighbours has some kind of logging skid hanging up in his barn - I'll have to try to sweet-talk him into showing me how it works and letting me take photos of it...
                        


Joined: Apr 18, 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Conway, MA
Here's a link to a few photos of road-work and tool design, with a few unrelated timber-framing pics at the end:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=13782&id=691716666&l=bbae9ba2be

Saddlechariot and Burra: fantastic pictures.  Burra, I had a few questions and impressions to share on the plow.  Have you used it?  If so, how does it perform compared to others you may have tried?  Does the moldboard swing easily?  And the furrow wheel adjustment is pretty ingenious too.  Looks like a hard pull to me, but really heavy-duty.   As for the handle design - do you one-hand it, and keep the lines in the other?  Or tie a plowman's knot and keep tension with one hand?  Or...?

The water lifting setup reminded me of some cool agricultural pedal-power designs I happened across recently.  For those, see: http://www.mayapedal.org/machines.html

And here's a link with photos of the slip-scraper http://dochammill.blogspot.com/2009/11/slip-scraper-and-three-abreast.html .  It's a little unclear from Doc's photos how the thing works, but the idea is that a slight lift on the handles causes the bucket to dig into the ground.  You (the bucket operator) lift, get as much dirt as you want, let off the handles, the load rides to its destination, you lift again, the front lip catches and the whole thing - dirt and all - flips forward (as long as the animals don't stop), unloading.

For some uncaptioned photos that capture the various tools at use in road-work, see: http://www.tillersinternational.org/international/images/slideshow_782_ruralroadsandfarmlanes/index.html

You say you have a forest garden?  Would it be handy to occasionally transplant a tree?  Check this out: http://www.tripplebrookfarm.com/newweb/general/tds_main.shtml   I think this system is definitely
adaptable to animal power.

Finally, I had - but can't find - a photo of a team of oxen hitched to a sled carrying about 5 cords of pulpwood.  This was the end of a big logging operation and what you notice is the slab road that the loggers had constructed - the runners of the the sled were being supported every 2-3 feet by a half-buried half-round six-footer.  MUCH less friction than dragging the sled runners through the forest floor.  If time is no object and you've got to move big logs with minimal power, that seems the way to do it.  And for anyone who has trail-building experience, the slabs could double as water bars to shunt runoff in the right direction.

Hope some of this is useful.

Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Well, I just spent the last hour or so looking at pictures and video of saddlechariots, with my DD peeking over my shoulder.  I'm impressed!  I was wondering, though, if larger wheels would be better, at least for rough terrain?  I like the large wheels on my garden cart better than the smaller wheels on a wheelbarrow, because they go over bumps that a smaller wheel would be stopped by. 

Kathleen
                                      


Joined: Apr 19, 2010
Posts: 2
Kathleen,
I agree, I like bigger wheels, but the problem is that neither Obama nor Henry do. Look at the skateboards and mountain boards that kids go flying around on. Not only are the wheels to small, but it is clear to me that you can't balance on anything that small. The trouble is they work.
A lot of the reasons for bigger wheels are the "twice the diameter, half the draft" stuff which is based on the bearings, or lack of them. I use top of the range, ultra modern bearings. If we are talking about extreme terrain, i tend to worry about the animals legs first and the wheels second.
Oh, and just as an added factor, the latest version of the saddlechariot can take larger wheels, it is just that the animal probably won't like it.
Simon


This photo shows the larger wheels on my latest vehicle. This doesn't have a disabled version becuase it can be driven from a wheelchair, or not as you choose.
As you can see here.


And may I apologise in advance for putting people with disabilities on a non disabled website. 2 people have complained when one of my friends posted a picture of herself driving my vehicle from an electric wheelchair, on a horse website, but NOT in the disabled section. I do hope pictures of people with disabilities don't upset anyone here.

And if they do...................... tough.
Simon

oh and a quick pic of Obama doing some work, 200kg of topsoil being shifted, just one of 30 loads that day.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4499
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
168
Son of Levin wrote:Burra, I had a few questions and impressions to share on the plow.  Have you used it?  If so, how does it perform compared to others you may have tried?  Does the moldboard swing easily?  And the furrow wheel adjustment is pretty ingenious too.  Looks like a hard pull to me, but really heavy-duty.   As for the handle design - do you one-hand it, and keep the lines in the other?  Or tie a plowman's knot and keep tension with one hand?  Or...?



I've never actually used the plough - I tried to set up training farm horses in the UK but it was soooo expensive trying to buy the equipment as they get snapped up as lawn ornaments outside people's fancy houses and I never managed to get my hands on a plough.  When we'd moved to Portugal and went to buy the donkey the bloke had loads of stuff around and he let us have the farm cart, two different types of collar and hames, plough chains, a plough, a harrow and delivery all for 150 euros so we just went for it even though I didn't really need the plough or harrow.  I'd spent so long wanting them back in the UK that I just couldn't resisit    So unfortunately I can't tell you anything about how it compares, as I've never used this one properly and never had a chance to use any other one either.  I've also not found anyone who can show me how to use it - all the old folk around here are now too old to want to come all the way over to the farm to show me, but I searched for photos and came accross this from this page http://images.google.pt/imgres?imgurl=http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3650/3546338027_de6d449a43_b.jpg&imgrefurl=http://aguasfrias.blogs.sapo.pt/2009/05/&usg=__UofaF8OPes3R6svGynwiS6aCnNI=&h=782&w=1024&sz=631&hl=en&start=14&sig2=lARnKHVdxsu15IAU-FRonw&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=6NdBR0Sd1h06EM:&tbnh=115&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Darado%2Bburro%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26sa%3DN%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-GBfficial%26tbs%3Disch:1&ei=iXLNS4aHJsLx-Qal16gY
which is a big, photo-heavy page but seems to be fairly typical of rural life in Portugal. 



He seems to have one hand on the handle and the lines in the other.

The mold-board on my plow (I've decided to turn American - it takes too long to type plough...) swings very easily - as I remember, you just kick out the two hooks and pull the handle sideways and it flops over.  I'm stuck indoors today, but next time I manage to get out I'll try to remember to take the camera and show you what I mean.

And Saddlechariot - I doubt you'll have anyone complaining about posting pictures of disabled people on this website!  It's a permaculture site, and one of the basic tenets of permaculture is 'care of people'.

Edit to say that you only have to kick out *one* hook, the top one, and it does swing really easily on the big hinge thing at the very back - with practice it would be a one-handed job to switch sides. 
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I certainly won't complain about you posting pictures of disabled people, because my youngest daughter (now thirty) is severely mentally handicapped.  One of the reasons I'd like to have either a donkey or a large pony is for her to ride, so I can take her for walks with me.  She's physically capable of walking, and even running (awkwardly) but I suspect that walking very far is uncomfortable for her, and possibly even hurts, as she protests.  She does also have lupus, which can cause joint pain, but since she doesn't communicate very well, I'm not sure if she has that problem from it or not.  Here's a picture of her:



We used to have horses -- mustangs, mostly, and then a couple of ponies for the girls when we lived in Alaska.  I wish I had a picture of the girls with those ponies -- they used to tie up to three or four plastic sleds on behind Prince, the larger one (tied to the saddle with a stick between the lines to keep them from tangling in his hind feet), gather up all their home-schooled friends in the neighborhood, and go racing around the snow-covered roads.  The ponies would take the corners at full gallop, usually flinging all the children off the sleds into the snow-bank, which they thought was great fun!  I had a pony when I was in my teens, a Shetland stallion, and we improvised harness and a cart for him, and took him everywhere, sometimes with two or three of the smaller children riding him at the same time.  (As you can probably tell, we never had much money for tack and equipment!)  I think that children and ponies are a great combination, better though with some education!

Simon, just curious, if your saddlechariots were available in the US, do you have any idea how much they would cost here?

Kathleen
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Eric Nordell, in this video, says that horses are an important part of his motivation:

Ridge-till organic vegetables

It looks like they only use draft animals. The presenter talks a little about their drawbacks (mostly, more passes for a given result), but it definitely looks doable.

Also, here's Bill Mollison digging into some of the thousands of miles of horse-built swales in the US, with some archival footage of their construction:

Global Gardener: New Deal earthworks


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
                        


Joined: Apr 18, 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Conway, MA
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Eric Nordell, in this video, says that horses are an important part of his motivation:

Ridge-till organic vegetables

It looks like they only use draft animals. The presenter talks a little about their drawbacks (mostly, more passes for a given result), but it definitely looks doable.



    They do.  They have a team of horses and make a living on 3 acres of vegetables.  The Nordells have developed an extremely effective, extremely simple system for producing vegetables, but one that is absolutely dependent on tillage for weed control.  They plow, harrow, and mechanically cultivate a LOT.  It works for weed control - no argument here - but I don't know that it builds soil.  I think they would/will till less once they feel they have exhausted the weed seed bank in the upper soil strata of their market garden.
gary koch


Joined: Mar 21, 2010
Posts: 8
Location: Bellingham (NW) WA
Good morning all,

Glad to have come across the draft animal topic.  I was lucky enough to have been able to work with  friends who was good with animals.  We were working at an historical farm outside of Gainesville, FL called Dudley Farm.  In the beginning, prior to the park being officially a state site, there were just the 3 of us routinely myself along with the ranger Sally, her partner Jerry and several volunteers.

We pulled alot of building rock, plowed some and ground sugar cane using Pete the mule.  Sadly, my friend Jerry is gone and so is Pete the mule.  Animals are not only useful, but they ground you back in sync with your being an animal yourself and being proud of that fact.

I started training a pair of dairy calves after that; Bud and Okie.  It was likely one of the most quietly satisfying things I've done.  Alas, we didn't get much beyond walking to the highway and back with them wearing their PVC training yoke.  They did learn whoa, get up, gee, haw and stand still.  I called them my oxi-morons. 

Given a choice between mules and oxen, I'd take the oxen.  I'm sure they each have their area of expertise.  I like oxens' placid patient ways.

I found a good book on oxen a few years back while on a trip to the Freiburg Fair in Maine:  The Oxen Handbood by Drew Conroy and Dwight Barney.  The fair was the best ag fair I've attended.

Yeah, animals are good folks.

Gary/Cucuteni



[Thumbnail for Gary with baby Oxen.jpg]


Happiness is:  Lower on the food chain, closer to the brainstem.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
as I don't generally approve of tillage, I clicked on this thread prepared to be disappointed by folks promoting tillage with draft animals.  instead, I'm very impressed by what folks are using animal power for.

so: right on, all around.  nice work, folks.


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Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Just came across this video:

Two horses + a mouldboard plow + three passes along the same contour = a swale.

Hazelnut planting

I'm as ambivalent as most people about the mouldboard plow, but any objections I would have don't apply when it only makes one pass at a given depth in a generation
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4499
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
168
I've just watched the first episode of Tales from the Green Valley, about a year on a farm in Wales using only equipment and techniques from the 17th century.

The first part includes plowing with English Longhorn oxen



4.22 start of plowing section and first view of 17th century wooden plow
4.47 John Johnston introducdes Arthur and Lancelot, a pair of 12 year old English Longhorn oxen
5.18 A look at the plow and starting to use it
6.31 adjusting the coulter

And the second part introduces Blackthorn, the Fell pony, and using her to pull a rustic harrow (ie a branch of hawthorn) to cover recently sown wheat grains.



2.38 introduction to Blackthorn, the Fell pony
8.09 making the rustic hawthorn harrow and attaching it to the pony
10.27 adding an extra log to weight the back down, and learning to control Blackthorn so they can work a bit more systematically
11.17 getting the hang of things

They don't talk about the collar, but it looks like an improvised breast collar, and it obviously slips down which isn't good. A strap to hold it up in the right place would be a big improvement in my opinion.

EDITED to merge the two (no longer working) links into a single (working) link.
(You will need to add aprox. 15 minutes to the times in the 2nd listing, as this is now a single 29 minute video.) JP






 
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