Farming with Horses at the Horse Progress Days

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Sam Moore relates the breeds, demonstrations and horse drawn farm equipment seen at the Draft Horse and Mule Progress Days in June 2001.

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Percheron horses

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An estimated 10,000 spectators attended the eighth annual Draft Horse and Mule Progress Days, held in June 2001 in southeastern Indiana. Presented by the horse farming community of Daviess County, the show was headquartered at Dinky's Auction Center, northeast of Montgomery, and field demonstrations took place under a blazing hot sun at a farm next to the auction barn.

Farm equipment manufacturers stopped building horse drawn equipment during the early 1950s because they thought the horse was finished as a power source on modern farms. For the next three decades, horse farmers got along by buying up old horse-drawn implements and repairing, rebuilding and modifying the machines.

In time, the supply of old machinery dried up, and at the same time, modern farming methods demanded new and better equipment. And just as the original U.S. farm machinery revolution of the 19th century started with farmers building new equipment or improving existing machines, so too have present-day horse farmers designed and built, or have had built, equipment to suit their needs. In addition, they've figured out ways to successfully adapt modern, high-tech tractor implements for use with animal power.

Local manufacturers cater to local needs in each area of the country that has a large number of farmers using horses, and a few companies have evolved to the point of selling implements all across the United States and Canada, as well as overseas.

The Horse and Mule Progress Days exposition is intended to showcase the many new implements that are being built for use with horses, along with ways of adapting tractor machinery for horse use. The manufacturers of this machinery, or their representatives, were on hand in the demonstration field to assist in putting the implements through their paces and to answer questions.

In addition, the venue gives many manufacturers of horse-related items an opportunity to display their products. Feed, harness and tack, wagons, carts and buggies, logging equipment, shoeing stocks, stalls and feeders, liquid manure handling equipment and how-to books were among the items represented this year.

Most of the draft horse breed associations also were on hand to tout their favorite animals, which were represented in the flesh and put to work pulling various implements. These included draft ponies, Haflingers, spotted draft horses, Norwegian Fiords, American Creams, suffolks, Brabants, Belgians, Percherons and mules. In addition, a span of milking shorthorn oxen named Lewis and Clark did their share of work.

One tool on display that has become essential to the horse farmer is the forecart, which can be as simple as a platform with a seat, mounted on two wheels, or as complex as a huge, 4-wheeled, power-takeoff cart with a 135-hp, diesel engine and a heavy-duty, hydraulic, 3-point hitch. A fore-cart makes it possible to use tractor-drawn implements behind horses while providing a safe place for the teamster to ride.

Forecarts are available with mounted engines from 20 hp on up, to run power takeoffs and to give remote hydraulic capabilities. Others are equipped with hand-operated or ground-driven hydraulic pumps to raise 3-point-hitch implements or to operate remote hydraulic cylinders. Some carts use a mechanical lift for raising a 3-point hitch.

Plows of every size, from a 1-bottom walking model hitched to a team of oxen, up to and including a 4-bottom tractor plow pulled by 12 Percherons, were at work in a field of wheat stubble. One manufacturer had developed a ground-driven hydraulic pump and accumulator system that allows the bottoms to be raised and lowered even when the machine isn't moving. In addition, each bottom is protected from breakage by a hydraulic cylinder that permits the bottom to trip back and up if an obstacle is struck, and then automatically reset after the obstruction is passed.

Other implements designed for use with horses that were demonstrated included a liquid nitrogen applicator; chisel plows; spike tooth, spring tooth and disc harrows; a plastic mulch layer; transplanter; cultivators; and logging carts.

Alfalfa was cut by mower conditioners from Deere, Case-IH and MacDon; all were operated behind either a 25- or a 41-hp engine cart pulled by a four-horse team. Ground-drive and PTO hay rakes and tedders also were demonstrated; one PTO rake had an 8-hp Honda engine mounted on a tongue for power, along with a hand hydraulic pump for raising the tines.

A New Holland side rake was in action behind the ox team for a while. Even though the oxen were somewhat distracted by a herd of cattle in an adjoining pasture, they ambled along with the ground-drive rake turning just fast enough to make a windrow. But one would have to be a patient man to farm with oxen.

A John Deere 336 pickup baler that had been changed over to ground drive by placing it on a manure spreader axle and adding a chain and a couple of sprockets, was operated behind four Belgian horses. Two round balers, a Claas 66 and a John Deere 556, rolled up the hay while being powered by Pioneer 41-hp, PTO carts, each pulled by four Belgians.

As always, the round balers generated a lot of interest, with a large group of spectators following each machine around the field, waiting for the moment when the driver stops, ties the bale and then hydraulically opens the back to eject the bale. Then the finished product must be examined - pushed, prodded and thumped - to satisfy everyone that the baler is indeed making good bales.

A demonstration of an Allis-Chalmers All-Crop 72 combine pulled by horses also took place. The PTO-driven All-Crop 72 was built from 1959 to 1969, when the entire All-Crop line of harvesters was discontinued. Powered by a 25-hp, PTO cart and pulled by four Belgians, the machine did a good job of threshing and cleaning a field of wheat.