Introduction

     The decision whether or not to adopt horse-drawn farming in your operation has many components. Are you interested in farming with horses as a source of power? Do you already employ horses in your operation in some way? Do you want to be involved in agricultural production, logging, or agritourism in a way that uses horses as a means of power? Are you interested in or confined to agricultural production on a small scale and/or in a diversified manner? The Purdue Horse-Drawn Farming Readiness Assessment Tool (PHDFRA) (https://ag.purdue.edu /agecon /Pages/Horse-Powered-Farming.aspx ) can assist you in making decisions surrounding the use of horse-drawn power in your agricultural operation. The PHDFRA Tool is an interactive tool designed to assist you in evaluating some of the qualitative aspects of this decision.

     There are many ways to use horse-drawn power in your operation. With the appropriate equipment, horses can be used for tillage and cultivation. Likewise, horses can be used on traditional field crops for plowing, mowing hay, drilling grain and discing fields . Horses can be used in logging operations and agritourism operations for activities like hayrides, wagon rides, or sleigh rides . Horses can also be used to complete tasks around the farm such as hauling maple syrup or firewood, spreading compost/ manure, or plowing snow.

Advantages of Horse-Drawn Farming

    There are several advantages and disadvantages of horse-drawn farming.

   An important advantage exists if you (or others on your operation) enjoy working with horses. First of all, horse-drawn farming can be appealing to farm visitors and the broader community. Thus, horses and the use of horse-drawn power can be an important part of agritourism and agricultural ambassador operations. Unlike tractors, horses produce the energy they use to complete work using inputs like feed, grain, and pasture. Farmers have the opportunity to grow these inputs on the farm rather than relying on purchased inputs such as fuel for tractors.        

    Thus, horse-drawn farming is often perceived as a part of a self-sufficient lifestyle that employs renewable resources. Furthermore, horses can be maintained on pasture for much of the year, and pasture is often on marginal acres that aren’t suitable for other uses. Using horses can help minimize impacts on farmland in terms of making ruts and reducing soil compaction. Beyond farmland impacts and looking more generally at impacts on natural environments, when used in a logging operation, horses do much less damage to the woods than machinery . Unlike tractors, horses have the potential to increase in value, to a point, as they gain more experience. While tractors rapidly depreciate in value when they are new, horses increase in value up to maturity and remain stable until the horse is too old or unsuitable for work. In addition, horses generate manure that can be used as fertilizer. Likewise, broodmares can produce foals to replace themselves, grow the herd on  farm, or sell to provide a source of revenue .

    Thus, in addition to producing their own replacements, that represents a cash savings to farmers, working broodmares produce foals that can be sold as a source of revenue for the farm. Using horse-drawn power can make the farm less dependent on outside (purchased) inputs such as fuel, fertilizer, and new stock. Thus, horses can contribute to a self-sufficient farm.

Disadvantages of Horse-Drawn Farming

     On the other hand, farming with horses has many potential drawbacks to be considered. First, it may be difficult to find suitably trained horses and horse-drawn machinery and equipment. Further, farming with horses requires teamster skills—skills at driving and working horses . These skills must be learned before one can safely and efficiently farm with horses, and current farm employees may not posses such skills. Keeping horses and farming with them can become very expensive depending on the cost of production, or cost to buy inputs such as feed, veterinary care, and equipment. At a more fundamental level, horses are simply slower than tractors .

    Thus, horses are not optimal for operations where many acres must be worked in a short period of time, such as in monoculture operations. Horses are best used on mixed cropping that is divided by spring and fall. Using a combination of tractor and horse-drawn power is also an option. You can also use horses for additional tasks as you and the team are more experienced and/or acquire additional implements. It is also important to consider that horses perform best when worked on a regular basis . Finally, unlike a tractor, horses require daily care such as feed, watering, and turnout even when not in use .

    Thus, it is likely no surprise that horse-powered farming is not a fit for all farms, due to farm size in terms of sheer numbers of acres, the nature of the crops being grown (i.e., timing of planting and harvest), and specialized knowledge required.

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The Purdue Horse-Drawn Farming Readiness Assessment Tool

    The PHDFRA Tool is an interactive tool that incorporates your individual parameters to return individualized recommendations about the expected degree of difficulty you may encounter in pursuing horse-drawn farming. This tool incorporates levels of your current horse knowledge, knowledge about the revenuegenerating portion of your business, alignment with lifestyle/ values, and available resources. These elements are combined to make a personalized recommendation about whether horsedrawn farming is a good choice for your operation and help to identify areas where you may benefit from additional learning, information, or consideration. The specific financial aspects of keeping horses can be found in an equine enterprise budget.

Horse Knowledge

    In order to effectively and safety use horse-drawn power in your operation, you will need to have knowledge about owning, caring for, and driving working horses. It is important to consider your level of basic horse knowledge, such as experience riding or driving horses, and your comfort level working around horses, particularly draft horses . In fact, experience riding horses can help new teamsters transition to driving horses . Some skills and/or experience that will prove helpful are handling feet and legs, knowledge of basic horse nutrition and veterinary care, and basic skills for fixing barns, stalls, and tack. Other factors to consider include your experience breaking training horses to ride and/or drive or access to trainers who can do so if you cannot or decide not to purchase a fully trained team of horses. You should be able to monitor a horse’s exertion while working and properly condition horses to work.

    Some important considerations specific to using horses for farm work are experience harnessing draft horses and skills at being a teamster . Thus, you will need to be familiar with harnessing, hitching, and driving a team of horses. One way in which you might increase your level of horse knowledge is to have access to an experienced mentor.

    The following scales will help you determine your current level of skills and knowledge necessary for the safe and successful use of horse drawn power in your operation. At this point we encourage you to use the PHDFRA tool where you can enter your score for each of the areas on the “Horse-Drawn Farming Scorecard” tab.

 Table 1, Horse Care Knowledge, will help you assess your ability to care for horses on your own.

Table 2, Horse Driving/Riding, will help you assess your current level of experience working with horses, including riding and/or driving horses. Give yourself a score of one through five based on which description best fits you/your operation. 

Table 3, Lifestyle/Values, will help you assess how horse-drawn farming fits with your personal or business values and preferred lifestyle.

Table 4, Operational Style, will help you assess how horsedrawn farming fits with the style of farm you have or anticipate having. 

Table 5, Knowledge of Business Operations, will help you assess your current level of knowledge regarding the portion of your business that generates revenues.

Table 6, Available Resources, will help you assess the level of resources available to devote to horse-drawn farming.

You ca download from here the table of content : Is Horse-Drawn Farming for You_EC-806-W

How to Use the Purdue Horse-Drawn Farming Readiness Assessment Tool

     The PHDFRA tool is an Excel spreadsheet available at ( https:// ag.purdue.edu/agecon/Pages/Horse-Powered-Farming.aspx ) . The “Introduction” tab contains some basic information about the tool. Enter your scores in the sheet labeled “Horse Drawn Farming Scorecard.” The “Your Results” tab displays graphs representing the scores you inputted and gives written recommendations. The “Recommendations for You” tab combines all of your scores into one figure and gives additional recommendations.

    If your scores place you in a green area, horse-drawn farming may be a good fit for your operation. If you are in a yellow area, horse-drawn farming may be a good fit, but you should pay close attention to those areas that may benefit from further evaluation or learning. If your scores place you in an orange area, horse-drawn farming is probably not a good fit for your operation, and you should seek additional help in the areas identified. If your scores place you in a red area, horse-drawn farming may not be a good fit for you, and you should seek more information in the areas identified. Written recommendations and suggestions are provided to assist you in identifying areas where you may benefit from additional consideration or learning. 

Conclusion

     Horse-drawn farming has advantages and disadvantages, and because the decision to adopt horse drawn farming involves long run commitments, you should make it carefully. Using the PHDRFA Tool you can evaluate and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for you and your business. If you find your outcomes in the red or green area of the tool, then you will want to look for other opportunities (red outcome) or seriously consider horse-drawn agriculture (green outcome). If you fall in the yellow or orange areas it is important for you to continue to ask questions and proceed cautiously if you do decide to proceed.

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