Horse Drawn Woodland Management

Field to fork is a phrase we often here when we talk about local food and sustainability, we do a lot of running from the veg patch to the kitchen here to get things at their finest, and I’ve also been attempting preserving vegetables lately which has had varying levels of success from lovely pickled onions to some kind of exploding pea ectoplasm.

But earlier in September we had the chance with a little help from some friends, to take our small attempts at self sufficiency a little further. We have a little strip of woodland which goes right the way around the boundary of our farm, which provides us with firewood, and allows us to teach logging courses. We had a booking for a training course, from Kate Bradshaw of the National Trust and Matt Robinson who runs his own wood working tools company, they were keen to have a go at horse logging after having seen us at work on the farm.

We decided to do things a little differently to normal, and gave them 2 days training in exchange for some help with milling some of the timber we felled to make furniture and some new kitchen worktops for our workshop. So they got stuck in with the logging (quite literally in some places where it was a little muddy!) with 2 of our mares Dolly and Opal. They started by pulling some felled timber through our woods to learn rein control and where to be in relation to their log, how to harness and work a pair of horses, and getting to grips with controlling the horses whilst running up a hill and having to repeatedly jump over your log to avoid getting squashed.

We then felled a large Oak tree from our river bank to allow some regeneration of smaller saplings which were starting to grow underneath it, and a couple of smaller ash trees which appeared rather sickly. Kate and I then used the horses to pull away the brash and large branches for firewood, of which there was probably enough to provide our wood burner with logs for the whole winter. Whilst we did this the boys set to work using a team of 3 to harvest potatoes with our potato spinner, we made the most of having helping hands around, no one was sitting still for too long.

When all the brash was cleared away we were able to use the mares to pull the log to a suitably flat dry area to begin milling it. Kate and Matt had brought their Alaskan Chainsaw Mill with them which allows you to mill timber on site, so there was no need to move the log too far or involve any heavy machinery.

The oak log was cut into 3 inch planks which were about 9ft long, and were left as wany edge boards (a bit bendy with the bark still on). It was my first go at milling and it was really good, bar a small trip to hospital with wood chip in my eye, and it made some really beautiful planks. We then moved these on the trailer, behind a team of 3 horses up to the workshop, where they are currently seasoning.

We are hoping to make these into new Kitchen worktops and a coffee table. We even had enough spare to give to our neighbour to build benches for his fishing lakes. Nothing went to waste and the sawdust generated is currently being used as bedding for rabbits and pigs, probably to eventually end up as compost on the veg patch. I will post up photos of the final product on our facebook page when it is complete!

If anyone is interested in logging or farming courses, and training for them (or their horse) please don’t hesitate to get in contact on 07896294075, or email hitchinfarm@hotmail.com.

We also have a new website www.hitchinfarm.co.uk, or like us on facebook @ Hitch In Farm Working Horses to see regular blogs and photos.

Hitch-in-Farm is a thirty-five acre farm in the shadows of Dartmoor. It is managed using real horse power we currently have 20 working horses on our farm who perform a huge range of tasks using modern and antique machinery. They manage our 2 acres of vegetables and grain, ploughing, cultivating, drilling hoeing and ultimately bring in the harvest in our wagon. We also grow grain and fodder crops and keep various poultry, sheep, pigs and cattle all of which are managed using our working animals. We have thankfully nearly banished our wheelbarrow altogether in favour of horse drawn sledges and trailers. We are hoping to become more or less self-sufficient in food and fodder in the next 24 months, having bought the farm in October 2015. We train and break all our own horses, and provide training for other horses and people alike.