Today I went out to visit the farm where Chris volunteers once a week. I thought I'd take a few photos and that I'd do one post on the farm. 250 photos later I think I'll have to do quite a few in order to describe all the activities at the farm in full.
The first activity of the day was taking the two Percheron horses out of their stables, where they had spent the night.
Kualité is dying to get out after a long night inside.
Quarabo looking for the last scraps of hay before heading out.
These two horses were bought from France last year and are among only a small number of this type of horse that live in Ireland. They are from a region called Le Perch, hence the name, which is just south of Normandy. In the future Jim intends to breed these horses, so he will be calling on the services of one of the males that live elsewhere in the country for that.
Kualité getting dressed up for her photo shoot.
These two horses are currently being trained as work horses on Jim's small holding where he prefers to steer clear of the tractor and maintain the old tradition of walking the land with a horse. He says that the horses have a gentler impact on the soil than tractors which compact the soil too much.
As part of their training Jim often takes them out in their tack to get them used to walking under instruction. When they first came they were much more flighty than they are now and Jim started them off by getting them used to just wearing the bridal while he walked along behind with the reins calling out instructions.
Walking through the flowering brassicas - that's cabbages and kale to you and me! One of the important things that a work horse needs to do is to be able to tell the difference between a furrow (the lower ground between beds) and the bed where things are planted. She needs to get used to the fact that the furrows have harder soil under foot than in the beds and that it's the harder soil that she should be walking on.
Here is Kualité doing just that. You can get an idea here of just how big she is and apparently she has a bit more growing to do yet! These horses are suited to working with the type of soil that is on Jim's farm as they have what are known as blue hooves. These hooves are harder than other horse's hooves and so they are more suitable for working with heavy soil which may be very wet. Harder hooves are less prone to infection apparently. Also, they have less hair around their feet which is also better when working in wet conditions.
Here she is walking between the rye and the brassicas, trying to get a quick snack in as she goes.
It was fascinating to watch Jim as he manoeuvred such a large horse through very small pathways and furrows, all the time making sure she didn't walk on anything that she shouldn't. As she is still in training she was a little unsure of where to go at times but she responded really well to Jim's requests to go left or to stay in the furrow etc. In general Jim says that horses love to work and get excited when he starts to put all their harnesses on. Quarabo was fairly annoyed at getting left behind.
More snacks! Here she is eating the flowering brassicas. Apparently too much of this would not be good for her as it would ferment in her stomach and cause a few problems.
Finally it was time to go back and get Quarabo and bring them both to their field for the day.
Here they are chomping away on all the weeds and grass. Apparently this kind of scrubby field with it's large variety of weeds, trees and even brambles is ideal grazing for them at the moment. Too much grass is not good for horses as they may end up with colic but they will just keep eating whatever is there and not know when to stop - sounds like us humans! They will also help to clear the field over a period of time which is obviously helpful to Jim.
"Did I really produce all that poo?"
An obvious task that has to be undertaken with horses that you wouldn't need to do with a tractor is to muck out all their manure.
Backing into position.
Here is Kualité getting ready to do some work. The advantage of having an awful lot of manure is that it can be used to fertilise a huge bed where courgettes will be planted in about a month. You wouldn't get this kind of by product with a tractor. Here Kualité is being carefully backed into position so that she can be hooked up to the cart which will be brought up to the courgette bed.
Ready to go.
And here is the courgette bed where the manure will compost down a bit before having the baby plants put in in about a month's time. Manure with a lot of straw in it is apparently a much better soil addition that just plain manure and so Jim always puts a lot of straw bedding down in the stable area so it will mix in naturally.
In order to help other small holders who want to use horses on their land Jim runs courses on working with horses. He says that you need to have a genuine interested in horses in order to work with them as there is much more skill involved in using a horse than a tractor and more patience is obviously needed.
Earlier in the day Jim suddenly passed the reins to me and let me take Kualité back to the stable and although I'm sure she knew exactly where she was going it still felt amazing to be connected to such a hugely powerful animal, that could run off at any moment, by just the light touch of a couple of nylon reins attached to her nose. I can see why Jim prefers horses.
For information on the courses that Jim runs on his farm look at The Organic Centre. Most of the courses listed here are run in Leitrim but some are run at Jim's farm in Co. Clare.