Farming with Horses
South Dakota man finds satisfaction farming with horses
A relic abandoned in a quiet corner of the barn? Not hardly. This John Deere no. 999 corn planter is a working implement on Alan Sorensen's South Dakota farm. Deere & Co. produced the 999 planter from 1913 into the mid-1940s.
Coming from a long line of farmers, Alan Sorensen knew he wanted to farm. But instead of embracing the newest technology, he skipped back a generation, and took up farming with horses.
Alan, who lives in Yankton, S.D., grew up in the southeastern part of the state in the 1950s. Today he works full-time as the county highway superintendent, and farms with horses as a sideline. "I don't know why I always wanted to try farming with horses," Alan says. "I was 4 when my folks bought me a horse. He was a mid-sized kid horse and I loved to ride."
Alan was even more fascinated by the teams his father occasionally used around the farm. One team, Pat and Mike, was used for fieldwork. Some of the other horses were driven for pleasure, sometimes singly on a cart.
When Alan was a teenager, an opportunity presented itself but the timing was wrong. "My dad's uncle sold out and moved to town when I was about 18," Alan says. "He had a lot of horse-drawn equipment out under his trees, but I didn't have any way to haul anything then and I didn't think much about buying any of it."
A few years later, after Alan had purchased his own team of draft horses, he went to an auction on a nearby farm. "Iron prices weren't very high then and nobody was interested in the horse machinery on the sale," he recalls. "I bought a disc for $4. I think I bought a plow for less than that."
One of the items being sold, a John Deere 999 two-row corn planter, was more expensive. "I paid $20 for the planter," Alan says. "I was pretty sure I could use my team to plant corn with it."
Alan didn't know a lot about the corn planter he bought, just that he needed one in order to get started planting and harvesting crops with horse-drawn equipment. Although the no. 999 planter went into production in 1913, it was not Deere's earliest foray into that line.
John Deere's first planter design (a horse-drawn 2-row planter) dates to 1877 when Charles Deere (John Deere's son) joined forces with Alvah Mansur to establish Deere & Mansur Co., a manufacturer of corn planters. (The organization would become part of Deere & Co. in 1909.)
Horse-drawn planters of that era used a sled-style marker to create a grid on the field. The grid ensured uniform rows, which made cross-cultivation easier, keeping the field weed-free. Two people (often a farmer and his son) operated the planter. Parallel lines were etched into the soil on the first pass; lines were then etched at right angles on the second pass. On the third trip, the boy (sitting on the planter) jerked a lever at each intersection, dropping seeds into the furrow. Wide wheel rims tamped the soil as the planter passed.
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