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Farm Fall newsletter

Posted 12/26/2017 3:28pm by Kerry Gawalt.

CMF FALL 2017 NEWSLETTER

Broke Yoke

By Stephen

Sometimes it takes things going all wrong to bring our attention to what is going right in our world. Back in August I had a team of work horses out on a mowing machine to clip down a ¼ acre of cover crop in the market garden. A cover crop is planted to feed and protect the soil in between cash crops. The mowing machine I was using has the standard set-up for hitching a team which includes a piece called the yoke. The yoke is a bar that attaches by strap and clip to the bottom of each horse’s collar. It has a ring suspended from its center through which the cap of the pole inserts. The pole runs between the two horses and is attached to whatever implement they are pulling. The horses are also attached to the implement by their trace chains hitched to the evener.

            The particular yoke I had on the mowing machine was made of wood. It was about eight years old. Earlier in the season I had noticed the yoke was looking weathered. I made a mental note to order a new one for next season. Turned out it was in worse shape than I realized. We were just about finished with the job when all of a sudden the horse on the right surged forward. I said “Whoa” and the team stopped immediately. A quick check and I realized that the yoke had snapped in half. One horse was still linked to the pole but the mare who had surged forward was no longer attached. The broken half of the yoke dangling from the clip on her collar.

            What I had on my hands at this point is potentially a very dangerous situation. The mare on the right was no longer properly constrained. If she got worried and decided to move I would not have been able to control her. The whole thing could have ended in a catastrophic wreck.

            Instead what happened was both horses stopped and stood. Stood patiently. While I disengaged the sickle bar on the mower. Climbed off. Wrapped the end of the team driving lines snug round the master lift on the mower. Got off and unhooked their trace chains from the evener. Walked round calm as I might to stand in front of the team. Spoke a few reassuring words and unclipped the one horse from the yoke and pole and the other from the broken shard of the yoke. Back round to unwrap the lines and have them in hand. Breathe easy because now both horses were safely unhitched from the disabled mower.

            I drove them back to the barn. In the afternoon I replaced the broken yoke with a metal one. Hitched up the team and finished the job.

            When the yoke broke the horses stood and disaster was averted. This is what a teamster expects a well-trained well-used team to do. But even so there is no guarantee that when the chips are down that is what will happen. I could be proud and boastful and claim that all my training and perseverance had paid off. But that would be plain foolish.

            I was humbled. I was grateful. It is my job to make sure all the equipment is in good working order. In the instant that yoke broke (my fault) those horses made a choice. I asked them to stop and they did. These animals weigh about half a ton each and are as strong as ten strong men. They didn’t have to stop. Why did they? They are smart. They are experienced (nineteen and fifteen). And they trusted me. Something went wrong and they stopped and stood so that I could make it right. The credit goes to them.

I am thankful for good horses.

Season Round-up

From Stephen & Kerry

Late November. Early December. Day length rocketing down to the shortest point of the ellipse. The dark seems more intense this time of year. As if the inky black of interstellar space has seeped into earth’s atmosphere. So complete our best attempts to drive it back with artificial light seems enfeebled. Reminding us that our illuminated victory over night is temporary. The darkness is ancient. Vast. Human harnessing of electricity a tiny blip on the screen of geologic time.

            Yet we hold steady in the hope the light of the sun will soon return. The winter solstice will come. And after the holidays the seed catalogs will start showing up in the mail.

            October proved to be a mild month. We were able to keep harvesting a number of crops that often are killed by freezing temperatures. Lettuce held out in the field. We even had greenhouse tomatoes going to the restaurants. The cows were able to stay out grazing a couple of weeks longer than expected.

            Overall we had a very productive growing season. May was an especially wet month---with nearly 9 inches of rain. This made getting the garden planted a bit of a challenge. After that we had regular rainfall throughout the summer. The crops grew well as did the grass in the hayfields and pastures. The main challenge was making hay in-between the rain drops (broken baler at the height of the season didn’t help---thanks to our neighbor John Usher for bringing his equipment in to finish the job!).

            In September the rain dried up. Perfect ripening and harvesting weather ensued.

            After ten years we finally finished with all the projects of our NRCS Equip grants. These have been a series of infrastructure improvements to help ensure protection of soil and water resources on the farm. The final phases included installing an improved irrigation system in the market garden and additional water lines for the grazing paddocks. The irrigation system will pull water from the pond we dug last year. This will give us added resilience in times of drought.

            The Hartland 4-H Cattle Club had a great showing at the Tunbridge World’s Fair---with the kids bringing home many blue ribbons and shared memories of good times together. It takes tremendous effort and coordination to get 20 cows and 15 young people to the fair grounds for five days and safely back again. Thanks to all the parents and friends who make this great learning experience possible.

            At the end of September Cedar Mountain Farm hosted a day long workshop on cultivating the garden with draft horses. This was part of a weekend event held at the Cornish Fairgrounds by the Northeast Draft Animal Power Network (DAPnet). We had over thirty participants attending the workshop. Our teamster friend Phil Warren brought over his enormous team of Belgians to help out. The next day we brought a pair of our Fjords over to Cornish. All in all it was a great weekend of sharing our love of working horses with the public (while having opportunities to catch up with other horse farmers and make new friends).

            With an early blanket of snow on the ground we are settled into winter chore routines. Still spreading compost on the fields, but otherwise focused on the daily tasks of keeping the dairy herd well fed and comfortable for the long winter in the barns.

            Even in winter we still have plenty of great farm products available. You can sign up for a Winter CSA share to receive a weekly basket of storage vegetables, or stop by our farm stand anytime. There you can find: Cobb Hill cheese, Frozen Yogurt, Beef, Lamb, Maple Syrup, Vegetables, locally produced yogurt and ricotta (made with CMF milk at the Norwich Creamery), local honey and more…..

            Thanks to everybody who helps to support our efforts to run a small diversified farm here in Hartland. Without our customers, farm employees, and wonderful supportive community of Cobb Hill Co-Housing we wouldn’t be able to carry on this vital mission of creating a new kind of agriculture for a sustainable culture and healthy planet.

Blessings in this season of light,

Stephen and Kerry