Renewed interest in animal power

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(Host) The image of the farmer or logger working with horses or oxen is part of American frontier lore.

The tradition today not only survives, there’s a renewed interest in it.

This weekend at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds enthusiasts will gather to swap stories, exchange information and reflect on why they rely on four-legged power to get the job done.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Bob Capobianco has been logging and sugaring with his animals for a quarter of a century. His two big workhorses are named Dan and Phred.

(Capobianco) "Dan, I’ve had for 17 years. He’s 25, which is old for a workhorse. He still likes to work. When he pulls, you can see it in his eyes. He still loves it.

(Zind) Capobianco is pulling hardwood for lumber and firewood out of a piece of land he owns in Williamstown. Most of the time, he’s logging land owned by people who hire him.

It’s a warm fall day and the air in the woods is tinged with the fruity smell of the leaves underfoot.

(Zind) Capobianco says using horses, he’s able to harvest only a fraction of what he could do with a log skidder, but he gets enough firewood, lumber and maple syrup from Vermont woods to make the kind of living that suits him.

(Capobianco) "It’s a small investment and a small return, but steady peckin’ killed the devil. It works for me."

(Zind) People who use animal power will cite the low impact, environmentally friendly nature of the work, and the relationship they develop with the animals.

But other reasons are emerging. Lynn Miller is editor of an Oregon based quarterly called the Small Farmers Journal which covers animal powered agriculture.

Miller says for many years the majority of people who used animal power did so for religious reasons – most of them were members of the Amish community.

Today, he says, at least half of the estimated 400 thousand people who work with draught animals have other reasons. In the last 30 years, a cottage industry has grown up around animal power: Building equipment and providing expertise to show that there can be economic advantages to the practice.

(Miller) "It’s possible now for market garden production, small dairy operations and small mixed crop and livestock operations to use animal power as part or all of the motive power for the farm and improve the bottom line."

(Zind) Miller says rising fuel costs and the high expense of mechanized equipment make animal power an increasingly attractive option as part of a farming operation.

He says one concern is that the older, more experienced generation is dying out. He says those who love using draught animals have to do a better job teaching the craft to newcomers – which is what this weekend’s Animal Powered Field Days in Tunbridge is all about.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.


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