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April 2023

April 2023 Newsletter

Greetings to all who read these lines. I write today to educate and share about life on the family farm with a focus on how we use horses in agriculture. We are member-owners and producers for the co-operative. Our family consists of my wife and me, and five boys ranging in age from 8 to 18 years. We have 46 cows – some are black and white, and some are red and white. They all have a name, and some of our favorites are Sassy, Saucy, Janis, and Circle. We have 25 heifers and 10 baby calves. A heifer is a calf who is no longer drinking milk. A heifer is not called a cow until she has a baby calf herself, which is at about two years of age.

We also have 8 horses and 5 dogs. They also all have a name. The horses names are Jerry, Bud, Bill, Blossom, Pearl, Jill, Rockey and Skip. We do all of our farming with horses instead of tractors. The horses help us plant, harvest, and haul the crops – corn and hay – from the fields and into storage for the cows in the winter when the snow is flying. A small amount of the feed the horses help us produce is also used to feed the horses.

In the spring time, around April 1 when the ground is dry enough, we begin to plant hay and alfalfa seed for the dairy cows. We hitch 6 horses into a forecart and hook the forecart up to a no-till drill with seed hoppers. I then stand on the forecart and drive the team of horses back and forth in the field to put the seeds in the ground. With some rain, sunshine, and warm weather the seeds will germinate and sprout. By June 1, the grass and alfalfa will usually be about 18 inches tall.

When the weather looks to be nice for a few days, we hitch 3 horses into a forecart and hook it up to a hay mower and cut the hay. We let the hay dry for a day or so and then rake it into windrows. Next, we hitch 6 horses into a hay baler with a wagon hitched behind the baler. A hay baler is a machine that cuts and compresses the hay into small bales 18 inches wide and 3 feed long. Each bale weighs about 70lbs, and the wagon can hold about 100 bales. When fully loaded, a wagon can weigh 3 to 4 tons.

The horses can pull an amazingly big load. Each horse weighs around 1500lbs, and on a working day they will eat about 17lbs of a corn, oat, and mineral mix plus about 30 lbs of hay. In the Spring, Summer and Fall, the cows, heifers, and horses graze on grass, Timothy clover, and some alfalfa mixtures. The horses enjoy it when we give them a small grain and mineral snack in the barn when we are milking the cows. On a hot summer day, I love nothing more than a tall glass of cold, nutritious milk to keep me fueled and working in the fields.

At about 17 lbs of grain per day, the horse is eating 6,205 lbs of grain across the year. For the following calculation, lets say that grain is all corn. A typical corn yield in our area is 150 bushels per acre. At 56 lbs per bushel, a horse eats about 111 bushels of corn per year, which is about ¾ acre. A principal we follow is that we need 1 horse per 5 acres of corn we grow, given then volume of work and the speed at which it must take place. Thus, one horse allows us to grow and harvest 5 acres of corn and it eats 0.75 acres of that corn.

Horses also eat hay in the winter, but don’t require as high quality hay as the dairy cows. I estimate one horse eats about 30 lbs of forage or hay per day. In one growing season, if I am making hay for horses, I can get 3 cuttings of hay yielding a total of 250 small bales weighing 35 lbs each. This is a yield of 8,750 lbs of hay per acre. 30 lbs of hay per day across a year is about 10,950 lbs of hay per year. Thus, we also need 1.25 acres of hay to feed our horse helping us grow the 5 acres of corn.

One Draft Horse + 1.25 Acres Hay + 0.75 Acres Corn = 5 Acres Corn
In the scope of a year, one draft horse fed 1.25 acres of hay (10,950 lbs hay) plus 0.75 acres of corn (6205 lbs corn) facilitates production of 5 acres of corn (42,000 lbs)
After bailing hay, I will steer the horses to pull the loaded wagon to one of our silos. A silo is an upright concrete structure about 14 feet in diameter and 65 feet tall. At the bottom of the silo is a machine with knives that cuts the hay, followed by a blower which blows the hay into the silo. We cut hay for our cows about every 30-45 days from May 15 to October 15. By fall we aim to have 4000 or more bales stored in the silo. Once full, we cover it until winter.

Working with horses in agriculture is fantastic. The sunlight and rain grow the corn and hay, which powers the horses. We feed the harvested crops to the cows and they transform it into milk, which we then process into cheese for your family. Elegant, yet simple.

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