Belfast plowing workshop features horses, mules

Posted May 30, 2010, at 8:44 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Participants said they had fun, but Saturday’s plowing demonstration at a farm on Edgecomb Road was not about horsing around.

The idea, said organizers, was to give residents a chance to learn about a practical skill that is largely forgotten — plowing with farm animals.

Sanna McKim said about two dozen people showed up Saturday for a horse-plowing workshop at property where the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is planned for development. Several participants took a turn, trying to learn how to control the plow while coaxing the horses in a set pattern around the field.

There were three teams of animals — two teams of two horses each and one with three mules — each pulling a different type of plow as they turned over a small field by Edgecomb Road. Some people had to steer a plow by hand as they walked behind their team, while others rode on wheeled plows that cut through the topsoil.

McKim said using animals in agriculture is a good way to promote sustainable living and to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which often are used to power tractors on farms. As she spoke, she sat on a plow hooked up to three mules that Bob Crichton of Berwick had brought to the exercise.

“I feel a little richer knowing that it is possible [to plow a field] without using oil,” McKim said. “There’s something special about using these animals. They really want to work for you.”

Crichton said he has used mules for years to plow his fields. Mules generally are stronger than horses, and they can live twice as long — for roughly 50 years, he said.

He joked that he likes using mules because they don’t produce diesel fumes and they often fertilize the field as they work.

“This is kind of a throwback to years ago,” Crichton said.

Crichton said using animals for heavy labor is more rewarding in many ways. They do less damage to the woods than machines when used for forestry work, he said, and they are more affordable, too. He said a good pair of mules could be bought for between $2,500 and $3,000.

“You can’t even buy a wheelbarrow for that much these days,” he said. “This is a fairly inexpensive energy source.”