Coming soon: spring plowing.
It's early spring, which means it is manure spreading season at Howell Farm. March 23, 26, 27 and today, the 28th, have all seen Farmer Ian manning the pitchfork, and then the lines, as he (and other farmers and volunteers) fill the spreader manually and then spread it across the crop fields.
Coming soon: spring plowing.
The final count for this season's maple syruping activities are now in. The farm produced 76 gallons of finished syrup, shattering the previous 2005 record of 62.5 gallons. Those 76 gallons of syrup equal 1,055 8 oz. bottles. All of which can sweeten quite a few pancakes.
Earlier this week, Jack the draft horse helped plow up the kitchen garden. The soil in the kitchen garden is loose enough (and the garden small enough) that a single horse pulling a Syracuse 402 walking plow was plenty for the job.
According to Farmer Rob, the rest of the work to get the garden ready for spring vegetable planting will be human powered.
(photo 1 by Intern Virginia)
Jim and John, Howell Farm's new oxen, are a team of 4-year-old Shorthorns trained in Poland, Maine.
Farmer Rob's report on their first trip around the farm last week:
"Today was their first time in the yoke here, pulling the cart. A fairly idle winter, new surroundings, and a cold breezy morning made for a very fast walk. They would probably benefit from some time pulling a harrow in plowed ground to settle them down a little."
Since this first trip, Farmer Rob has found a better fitting yoke for the team, and is awaiting some new bows. The team has continued to pull the cart around the farm, picking up and delivering firewood. Farmer Rob reports that he and the team are looking forward to some heavier pulling:
"I'd say we were chomping at the bit to try some plowing, but the oxen don't have bits," he said.
(photos above by Jeff Kelley and Intern Virgina.)
This morning, Farmer Rob yoked up Howell Farm's new team of oxen and took them for a spin. With great vigor, Jim and John pulled a cart of brush to the brush pile. The maiden voyage was a success, though its pace was a little faster than Rob would have preferred. Part of the challenge was the light load. Rob is waiting on a new better fitting yoke before using the new team for heavy pulling.
At Howell Farm, a new team of draft animals is always an exciting and interesting time. More details to come.
This spring, as it happens every spring, the Howell Farm barnyard is filled with new faces:
-Tiny chicks arrived in the mail yesterday and are staying warm in the coal-fired brooder.
-New piglets are staying warm huddled up in the corner of the pig house.
-A new team of oxen (more on them soon) arrived from Maine over the weekend.
-Two baby lambs are growing bigger by the day in the sheep barn. (Update: A third lamb was born just this morning.)
This Saturday, animal visiting hours are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This morning, Farmer Ian gave me a refresher on the proper method to harness a draft horse. I still need a lot of practice -- so don't take the steps below as gospel -- but under Ian's watchful eye and Chester's patient gaze I was able to get the harness put on correctly.
Step 1: Clean the horse. After grabbing Chester's curry and brush from its spot along the barn wall, I approached Chester's stall. I called out Chester's name and touched his rear, to let him know I was coming in, lest he be startled. I told him to step over, and gave him a firm shove toward the left side of the stall. Once inside the stall, I went over Chester's coat with the curry, loosening dirt, and using the comb on more sensitive areas such as his face.
Step 2: Collar. I know from past conversations that a good fitting collar -- tight enough but not too tight -- is crucial to a draft horse's comfort while working. The collar goes around the horse's neck and is then clasped tight.
Step 3: Harness. The harness rests on a peg on the wall with the rear of the harness facing outward. Ian showed me how to feed my right arm through each section and then grab the hames, so I was ready to put the harness on the horse in the right order.
Step 4: Hames. I walked to the front of Chester's stall with the harness resting on my shoulder. The entire harness needs to be hoisted to rest on the top of the horse. The hames need to be fitted inside the horse collar and are then buckled as tight as possible. It's important to make sure the hames are even, so that the weight of the harness is distributed evenly.
Step 5. Britchen. Once the hames are secured, it's time to pull the rest of the horse harness back over the horse, finishing with the britchen. The horse's tail needs to be carefully pulled up over the britchen. Chester is sometimes sensitive about his backside, so I worked carefully.
Step 6. Straps. Now it's time to work under the horse. A strap called a "pole strap" is looped through a belly band. The pole strap runs up through Chester's front legs, and then around his collar. Quarter straps along the sides of the horse are fastened. Will need to practice all this a few more times before I feel comfortable knowing what I'm doing.
Step 7. Work.
Step 8. Unharness. When it's time to unharness the horse, everything comes off in the opposite order.
On a rainy day such as today, there's always some odds and ends to work on in the farm's workshop. There's harness to clean, a bookshelf to make, and, in the case of Intern Virginia, a cold frame to build for use in the kitchen garden.
Farmers Jeremy and Ian handle the day-to-day horse shoeing work at Howell Farm. Because our horses not only farm but also pull wagons over the stony farm lanes, they need shoes to keep their hooves in working condition.
When a complicated case comes up, however, we call in the professionals. Workhouse Tom has been having some foot problems, and so Farrier Craig from Winners Edge Horse Shoeing has been slowly nursing the wayward feet back to health.
I’ve always been impressed with the ease with which good farriers are able to handle large horses whom they barely know. Farrier Craig worked around Tom almost as if he’d known him for years.
With the horses out to pasture, I took an opportunity to take some detail shots in the barn -- lines and harness waiting ready for spring plowing, a recently used rake, horseshoes against an anvil.
In doing some research recently about the industrial revolution, I was reminded how Howell Farm's era -- the late 1800s and early 1900s -- was a time of rapid technological advancement. New machines and ways to hook a horse to machines were changing the way farming had been conducted for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years. It's easy to think of what happens at Howell Farm as old. But it's also interesting to step into the farmers' boots -- they lived during a time in which the old ways were constantly being replaced by something new.
The Furrow is the online newsletter of The Friends of Howell Living History Farm. We will be updating this site about once a week with crop reports and other insights into life on a horse-drawn living history farm.