No man is able to really appreciate birthing a child, but there were times when I felt pregnant with this event. It seems that just like with procreation, the child was born and has grown into its own form. That form was in fact an extended family, with all the accompanying feelings of relief, promise and kinship. This event was just an idea to start with and was more of a herd experience in reality.

There is no way we can thank the folks enough that helped make this event actually happen. The vendors braved threatening weather, potential floods and unknown reception to bring equipment for demonstration and possible sales. The many folks that brought their animals from around the region came with a utilitarian attitude, plentiful smiles and good animals to flesh their will in the fields and forests.

Since we knew we couldn’t replicate Horse Progress Days – as just being a community of interest that wasn’t Amish or an event centered organized group – we could only hope to enable a gathering of proven practitioners and interested individuals in this culture of modern animal powered techniques. My friend Tommy Flowers said it was more like a cross of his South Carolina gathering and Horse Progress Days. The key to us was the selection of good teamsters that were willing to share their life experience with interested folks in a friendly, close up and personal experience. This was accomplished in a hospitable southern way, at a southern pace.

The visitors, although not numerous, were from far and wide. There were folks from Kansas to Toronto, from Florida to New York State and all points between and many beyond. There is no question that the weather limited attendance, but those that were there were real animal power enthusiast and shopping for goods to further their working with animals. All vendors reported reasonable sales and committed to returning next year.

As with nature – diversity reflects strength and this was a diverse group of folks and animals that offered a strong presence of animal powered culture. We were delighted by the success of the tillage portion of the event leaving some finely prepared seedbeds.

Loads of manure were spread using several different model spreaders including Conestoga. The White Horse Machine sulky plows with two different bottoms (O/JD-KV) turned perfect furrows on a strip contour in the slightly rolling bottom land. The Tennessee plowmen were following a headland turned by Farmer Brown with Tommy Flowers on a Leroy Walking plow. The Groffdale disk and Shipshe Supply Culti-mulcher made a pass and the soil was completely pulverized in a smooth, fossil fuel free, tillage action.

There were fields of evenly mown hay (no time for drying of course), but several mowing machines were demonstrated. The – I and J smaller ground drive PTO cart with battery powered hydraulics and scissor action double knife mower awed many spectators. That mowing machine seemed impossible to clog and pulled with just a team comfortably. This same ground driven cart was used to run a four foot wide rotary mower especially manufactured for the event by Tennessee River Implement Co., Decatur, Tn. It is amazing to just hear the whirring of the blades and see the grass flatten behind the team.

E-Z Trail had an area with just about everything anyone would need to go in the produce business, including sprayers, plastic layers, planters and even a vegetable washer. Their field sprayer was used applying seaweed based organic fertilizer. Their goods included regional dealer Bob Richen’s collection of equipment sold at his Banks Mountain Farm store – where you can even get a log arch made by Forest Manufacturing, Ltd. They also had the biggest tent right beside the plowed ground which was a kindly relief when the hot late summer sun broke through the mostly cloudy days.

The Back to the Land Store, operated by Jim Smith, Erwin, Tn., had an inside booth and several good pieces of used equipment outside. Jim has many supplies in stock for folks that are committed to self sufficiency. Many forecarts left the event in the backs of pickup trucks. Norm Macknair brought allot more stuff than he went home with and we appreciate his attention to the details of bringing lots of parts that many modern animal powered folks need. Three regional harness shops (S & S, Sneedville, Tn., Jackson Trading Company, Asheville, NC and Jack Moore, Mules and Moore, Taylors, SC) had booths that covered any needs for draft animal fitting of any size. Tommy Flowers brought collections of good used plow parts from southern brands. Farmer Brown had a lot of his good equipment, videos and several of the Sugar Valley Pulling Collars that are the choice of many serious teamsters. Rural Heritage Magazine set up indoors and while Joe Mischka photographed and filmed the activities his wife kept shop.

Athens Enterprises was there with three animal powered treadmills, horse powering all sorts of equipment that supported human life needs in a non fossil fuel way. These folks have to win the consistent innovator award for the event (if we had such a thing). Their use of animal power through the treadmills and sweeps are more than historical respect, it is pure innovation through engineering and dedication to animal power. We were delighted to have them with us and happy to hear that they sold a treadmill that weekend. We brought one home on consignment so if you are in the mid-Atlantic and want to see one or own one look us up.

Up on the hillside above the bottomland the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation crew were harvesting timber and educating the public about restorative forestry. Demonstrations of directional felling and use of the modern logging arches were ongoing throughout both days. It was a pretty steep walk up into the woods so the visitors that made it up there were determined and had good legs. We had planned to have a wagon (with brakes) transporting folks up there but the fellow that was going to do it was stranded at home worrying about his place getting washed away. Six HHFF board certified Biological Woodsmen (Jagger Rutledge, Chad Vogel, Ian Snider, Chad Miano, Adam Green and Blane Chaffin) were felling, grading, bucking and skidding logs to the sawmill at the foot of the hill behind the barn. Andy Bennett of Double Tree Farm was running his band mill and processed about 1250 board feet of lumber and beams. Hours of conversation, instruction and sharing went on in the woods and landing. Many visitors reported greatly enjoying this part of SDAD. A frequent comment was that this had never been seen any where else. The logging horses were all Suffolk’s. Clifford Cox brought his Suffolk team of a gelding and mare, along with a suckling colt. They moved throughout the event, mowing, tillage and skidding some firewood to the E-Z Trail area for splitting. Probably the greatest statement I could make about the animal powered logging portion was that I didn’t even go in the woods until the event was over. These young practitioners are seasoned veterans and did wonderful work in those woods just as they do everywhere they work. I don’t know how I could be any prouder of them besides just outright bragging that we think they are some of the best woodsmen in the world. There is no replacement for seeing this first hand, but buying/watching the upcoming media will be the best alternative to actually being there.

Scott Davis provided daily informative workshops on rebuilding, tuning and operation of the number 9 mower. His display of a completely dismantled machine and one that was intact and used in the field were a great addition to the demonstration of proven equipment and practices. Scott was assisted by mule man Terry Gilmore. Our understanding is that Dr. Davis, MD is a family practitioner, but his attention to this aspect of modern animal power seemed surgical.

Our transport from the parking area to the grounds was provided by Gerald Cox and Mr. Bill McNew. Gerald had a beautiful pair of Friesan cross mares and Mr. McNew had a great pair of gray mules. They were impeccable and worked hard both days.

Talks by two experienced draft animal veterinarians, (Dr. Phil Elsea, DVM, Johnson City, Tn. and Dr. Scott Hancock, DVM, N. Ga.) provided talks each day about their perspective of some problems and things to look for and ways of managing work animals for best results. Smart folks showing how to fix stuff – is worth seeing.

All the teams that participated in the invitational pull were winners, in that none of them hung their horses up at all. There were six teams, four Suffolk, one Belgian and one Percheron. They all crossed 8500 pounds on a runner sled and wet ground and then four dropped out. The remaining two teams were Chad Miano and his Suffolk geldings and Richard Redifer with a big pair of bare foot Percheron mares. The Percheron mares crossed 9000 and Richard dropped out with them and Miano went on to cross 9500 with his geldings. The crowd that stayed around for this pull were truly entertained by calm powerful horses that were as honest as they get. Richard’s big mares were not the best matched but what he could bring at the time. They stood quietly in front of the boat and started like one, despite the off mare out weighing her mate by about a couple hundred pounds. He had the big mare set in an inch plus, so there were more equally sharing the effort. Those mares laid down on their bellies and scratched that load across and then stood up like statues when Richard said whoa. They were the crowd favorite and great
ambassadors of their breed and a pure reflection of their handler’s skill. Chad Miano provided the sled and weights and was as impressive as always with his powerful pair of logging horses, that were related to all the other Suffolks at the event, all being kin to the horses at our place – Ridgewind Farm.  Alan Smith didn’t hook his pair. One of his horses was recovering from a cold and he had worked them hard all day in some hot temperatures. His excellent horsemanship was a remarkable example for anyone paying attention, particularly regarding this kind choice. I was impressed and honored to meet this fine horseman. Maybe we will get to see them pull next year.

It was to dark in the arena for photos and it somehow seemed appropriate that the only folks that saw this wonderful effort were the people that actually came to the event. This experience was like the prize in the bottom of the cracker jacks, you had to eat the other stuff first to get the goodies in the end.

It may be impossible to express enough thanks to all those that helped make this event possible, but that is our hope in writing this article and personally expressing our gratitude. Hours, days, weeks and months of email, phone conversations and advance planning trips went into the preparations. They were sincerely rewarded by the individual efforts of all those vendors, demonstrators and visitors that made the first Southern Draft Animal Days a cultural success. What may also be impossible to express is the deep thankfulness about the youth participating in this experience. Their presence gave the strength of new blood and fleshed out the changing of the guard in a natural way. They are the living proof of this all being fertile culture.

When speaking of culture our honored guest speaker comes to mind. As I read Wendell Berry’s latest books, “Bringing it to the Table” and his collection of poems entitled: “Leavings” – I am again unable to express the gratitude appropriate to his support and presence at SDAD – as an honored and respected elder and leader in this community of interest. Maybe using his words will work;

“The Idea of the family farm, as I have just defined it, is conformable in every way to the idea of good farming – that is, farming that does not destroy either farmland or farm people. The two ideas may, in fact, be inseparable. If family farm and good farming are as nearly synonymous as I suspect they are, that is because of a law that is well understood, still, by most farmers but that has been ignored in the colleges, offices and corporations of agriculture for thirty-five or forty years. The law reads something like this: Land that is in human use must be lovingly used; it requires intimate knowledge, attention and care.” quoted from the essay – “A Defense of the Family Farm” in the book, “Bringing It To The Table” .

This is recommended reading; give your self the gift of taking the time to read this mans words. If you have read this far in this article, you’ve earned it.

This brings us to announcement of the next SDAD event details. When we scheduled a meeting on the afternoon of the last day of this event, the weather became even more threatening, the grounds basically emptied and no-one showed up for the meeting. This leaves us to carry the event forward by default – if it is to happen. We did learn much about what we want to do differently and hope to implement those lessons in 2010 and onward.

We are planning to conduct the next events through collaboration with existing institutions of higher learning that have a common interest in sustainability, alternative food and fiber sourcing methods and modern animal powered roles. As if this event wasn’t difficult enough to put together – we are now embracing other complex entities

and the results are understandably slower to ripen, but promise to make for a better event. We are delighted to announce our new collaboration.

We will hold the next SDAD in collaboration with the Blue Ridge Institute and Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia on the 17th and 18th of September 2010.

There is a gap between heritage based techniques and the current community of interest in being sustainable. We intend to build a bridge connecting these camps and cross that bridge behind a working animal. Please come join us at this event.

So please stay tuned to Draft Horse Journal for more information the next Southern Draft Animal Days. We want to establish this date for as an annual event to perpetuate the culture of modern animal power in the southeastern U.S. and elsewhere.

 


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