One of the things we're known for, and a point of pride for us, is that we do all our field work and hay making with a team of draft horses. For us, this is truly what "sustainable" is all about; the horses help us to make the hay in the summer that will sustain them all winter, and we use the manure to naturally enrich the soil of our farm the way nature intended. They are born here and trained here- our mare Dolly is a 3rd generation Pleasant Valley Farm Belgian! It's definitely a commitment not taken lightly: the horses actually require more care in the winter, when a tractor can be parked. Using horsedrawn equipment can be a challenge to find or to maintain, as some pieces we use are nearly 100 years old and parts aren't readily available. For us though, it is a labor of love and I wouldn't trade Dixie & Dolly for a John Deere, no matter what its retail value might be.
However, we choose to work horses, and unlike the Amish, aren't bound by any restrictions against changing that choice if we feel like it on any given day. So this weekend was a bit of a noisy one, as Dan and his brother Matt rented a tractor from the neighboring Builder's Supply store. I asked Dan and he said the real name of the machine would be a compact escavator, or a compact backhoe would also be acceptable. I'm not really up on the names of construction equipment, so Dan knew if he didn't tell me otherwise I'd probably end up calling it the "orange diggy thing" or something like it!
I'm amazed at the number of people who comment that the work must really be winding down, because on a farm work never really slows, it just changes form. Right now we're putting our energy to building repair, maintenance, and winterization. A few different projects got lumped together for tractor time this weekend. The scooper on the front of the tractor saved my back and arms from wheeling loads of gravel from the pile by the road to the house. We're putting a gravel floor in the basement, and I'll be excited to have that space available to use someday soon. Then the next project was digging a ditch and installing a French drain behind the barn, then filling the ditch with gravel. One problem that occurs whenever we get heavy rain or a significant snowmelt is that water will come into the barn, leaking between the barnstones that form the foundation and into the horses' stalls. That project went very well, the most difficult part was keeping the cows from sneaking past into the haymow for an all-you-can-eat lunch! The rest of the gravel was spread over the parking lot, so neither we nor our customers will be stepping out of our vehicles into mud puddles anymore! It was great; 3 projects down and 21 tons of gravel moved with minimal hand work.
The milk house between the barn and the road recently received a new steel roof, (the goats had put holes in the shingles) and next up is to repair the part of the block wall that has fallen in, so the orange diggy...I mean compact backhoe... was taken around the barn to dig out behind the wall. The angles of the building itself, the corncrib and barn, and the slope of the hill made it a bit tough, but it will be less hand digging now for that project. I suggested using it to move some of the mud & muck that has accumulated near the gate by the barn and that went well. The gate is near what we call the "lower part" of the barn, which is primarily used as a run-in shed where pastured animals can get out of the elements. The problem is where animals congregate, manure happens. Since that area is dirt, you tend not to notice how much has ended up there, decomposing and becoming part of the soil, until it reaches a point where water no longer flows past but rater is retained in all that organic material, creating a terrible mess to trudge through while doing chores. Not something that was crucial on the to-do list of the farm, but while we had the tool to make it a quick project, it just made sense to make life a little easier. Also, a little drainage ditch was put in to ease the giant mud puddle that forms on the lane through the barnyard down by the road. To me, it seems like when you get access to some new piece of machinery, especially when you pay for it, you can think of 101 projects you'd like to get done before that time is up!
It was a very productive weekend for us, and I'm really thankful Matt came and helped us out so much while I was waiting on the stand. It's wonderful to have all these projects well underway or completely finished. (Believe me, on a farm with numerous 100+ year old buildings, there are always more things you'd like to do than you ever have time or money for!) However, we will be completely content to return the tractor and go back to the real horse-powered life.