How can I use draft horses for power on my farm?
Answer: Draft animals can perform a full range of farm duties. After all, draft animals were the primary motive power on most farms for centuries before tractors replaced them. But farming with animals doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the technologies and working conditions of centuries ago. Many horse farmers use cutting-edge technologies and implements. A forecart, or even a power forecart, pulled by draft animals can provide the means for using many smaller-scale modern farm implements right off the shelf.
Like tractors, draft animals can provide the motive power for preparing seed beds, planting and cultivating row crops. They may also be used for preparing fields, planting, cultivating and harvesting agronomic or field crops. Draft animals can provide power for cutting, raking and baling or loose-stacking hay. They may also be used for pasture seeding and clipping.
Draft animals are used on many livestock operations for hauling or distributing feed. They can play an on-farm transportation role for feed, harvested produce or building supplies. They can provide motive power for mobile poultry coops, hog pens and sheep or calf shelters. Landowners with woodlots may use draft animal power for moving firewood or hauling logs for construction or sale.
Some farmers and ranchers have found that adding draft animals to their operations opens a profitable agri-tourism opportunity. For example, pairing hayrides with U-pick Halloween pumpkins, flowers, apples or other produce can draw many additional customers. S
On some operations, draft animals could provide power for processing operations such as oilseed, olive or grape crushing, grain separation or other tasks. A piece of equipment called a “horsepower” uses draft animal power to generate electricity. The equipment for powering operations like these with animals can be difficult to obtain in the United States. Unless you plan to design, build and maintain the specialized equipment yourself, processing and generating probably aren’t the most practical applications for draft animals. On the other hand, animal-powered processing is a unique niche that’s almost sure to draw a crowd’s attention to your operation.
The ATTRA publication Draft Animal Power for Farming provides much more information on this topic, including considerations and benefits involved in using animal power, safety, equipment, and more.