Animal Farm without the Orwell

It seems that the use of draft animals to replace motorized farm machinery is on the rise on farms around America.  This rise is well documented in a recent New York Times article written by Tess Taylor.

I first read about the return of draft animals to the farm in Europe where the popularity of biodynamic farming practices has exploded in the last 20 year.  For example, Nicolas Joly,  in his pioneering book on biodymanic winemaking, Wine from Sky to Earth, presents the use of draft animals as central to a biodymanic farm.  His vineyards in the Loire valley are considered a model of bio-dynamic production.  For him, draft animals like oxen, horses and mules not only replace heavy gas powered farm equipment that can compact and damage soil, but they also make many other contributions to the sustainable farm bio-system (that’s the nice way of saying that their droppings make great fertilizer as well as attracting bugs and worms that aerate the soil and feed the chickens, among other benefits).

Now, American farmers who seek to reconnect with traditional, sustainable farming methods, are trying out draft animals as well.  As Tess Taylor describes in her article, interest in learning how to keep and use draft animals on the farm has recently gone through the roof.  Interest is so high, in fact,  that experts on draft animals are being overwhelmed by requests that they offer apprenticeships.  Further, space in animal plowing and care classes is becoming very hard to come by.

A secondary driver in this movement seems to be the high cost of fuel for farm machinery.  It certainly makes sense that a tractor that feeds itself would look like a great alternative to $4+ a gallon fuel.   On the downside, the physical demands on the person who drives the draft team are much higher than those of sitting on a diesel tractor.  It also takes a lot longer to plow a field with draft animals than with a tractor, but this is not an overwhelming obstacle for small farms.

If for no other reason, check out the article for the great photos of the cows.

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