Horsepower on Small Farms

Paul Schmit has gone from building his own farming equipment to creating an international guide for small-scale farmers and gardeners. Now he is bringing new life to the underrated art of farming with horses.

| July 2016

Pair of draft horses pulling man on plow

“Our world has changed a lot, and without respect for animal welfare, sooner or later our cause, the modern use of draft horses, will lose its right to exist.”

Photo by Fotolia/skmjdigital

Even while bigger and better technology seems to be overtaking every aspect of our world, there are those fighting for new, simple methods to maintain old traditions. Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century (Chelsea Green Publishing 2015), by Stephen Leslie, is the collaborative effort of some of those fighters — farmers, manufacturers, enthusiasts, and advocates for efficient alternatives to modern tools. The new developments these farmers have envisioned and created are helping agriculture become truly regenerative, in large part by working with horses, donkeys, and mules. An up-and-coming staple in agricultural guides, this book shows how to run various aspects of a small farm with draft animal power, and includes contemporary farm profiles from those who have found success, descriptions of new tools, and stories of the growing season from tilling to seeding to harvest. For experienced teamsters and beginning horse-powered farmers alike, this book is a valuable resource in the benefits of harnessing horsepower.

You can purchase this book from the Capper's Farmer store: Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century.

"On the Land of my Grandparents" by Paul Schmit; Schaff mat Päerd, Luxembourg

My grandfather, born in 1894, gained his life by farming and serving his neighbors as a local blacksmith in our village Téinten, located in the middle west of Luxembourg. He ceased his farming activities in his late 60s and didn’t make the transition to tractors after World War II. My parents haven’t been in farming, but my desire since I was a small boy has always been to become a farmer.

During the 1970s and early ’80s, I spent all my free time during school vacations at my great-uncle’s farm in northern Luxembourg. At that time this farm was a tractor farm because they stopped working with horses in the late 1950s, but horse farming was still in their memories, and a lot of stories were told during the evenings. I was always fascinated by these animals.

As both farms were very small and couldn’t be seen as a viable basis in the 1970s, my great-uncle advised me to learn something else and do farming on the side. That’s what I finally did: After having learned the skills of a machinist and later finished my university education in mechanical engineering in Germany, I found employment as a teacher at a technical vocational school in Luxembourg, and in 1998 bought my first draft horses for farming.

My wife, Cathy, and I actually farm on the land of my grandparents, which we enlarged a little bit. At present the farm consists of 28 acres of grassland, 6.4 acres of arable land, 4.2 acres of woods, 1 mile of hedges surrounding the fields and meadows, a garden having 0.25 acre, and a small orchard counting 15 fruit trees. The soil is light to medium heavy, and our land is more or less flat, which is very suitable for working with horses.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

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