Low-impact logging uses real horsepower

Posted March 08, 2014, at 6:46 a.m.

Raymond Hill’s trailer thundered under the heavy hooves of Belgian draft horses Bill and Sam as Hill got ready to work on a cold morning in Lincolnville.

Hill owns Second Draught Farm in Washington and offers farm work and logging done by real horsepower.

“If someone told me 15 years ago that I would have horses, I would have laughed. Now, I could not imagine my life without them.” Hill said.

With well-practiced movements, he put harnesses on the animals while constantly talking to them, as if he were a parent trying to explain the rules of a game to a child.

Hill has been working a woodlot with fellow horse logger Jim Ostergard of Peregrinator Services in Appleton. The use of horses offers one of the lowest-impact logging practices these days, said Ostergard, a certified master logger.

While the production numbers of a large skidder are far greater than horses, the cost of running a machine and making the payments can offset the extra income.

“The major difference is that the work is finished slower using the horses, but the landowner pretty much ends up getting the same amount of money.” Hill said. “We work with landowners and foresters to come up with a harvest plan that makes sense financially and leaves the forest with the least amount of damage. Land owners often use the trails we made for recreation, after the work is finished.”

“Few people offer work horse services, including logging with the animals, but their number has been on the rise in recent years.” Ostergard said.

Ostergard fells the pine trees and cuts them into manageable saw logs. The horses — weighing 1,800 to 2,000 pounds each — pull the logs from the woods on rough trails one at a time. Hill walks behind at a brisk pace holding onto the reins, talking to the horses nonstop along the trail, commanding them to turn one way or another or just telling them how great they look doing their job.

Using a skid-steer machine, the logs were loaded on a scoot, a large wooden sled, that Bill and Sam easily pulled on the hard-packed snow to the roadside landing, where a logging truck can pick the logs up.

The work is hard and no one will get rich doing it, but it is fun to work with the horses, Ostergard and Hill agreed.