Horses were a key part of farming operations in Wisconsin for about a century, according to Jerry Apps in Horse-Drawn Days (2010). That surely had to be true in the Borreson and Estenson farming operations.
In Homestead, Clara Cook mentions how they were needed for the building of the big brick house in 1912. “Gina hauled the red bricks from W. J. Webb’s Lumber Yard in Whitehall by wagon and the team of horses. She made many trips” (16). I can imagine – lots of brick were required. While I was wishing I had a photo of this, I remembered a snapshot of my father in the mid-thirties that might be helpful in picturing the old scene.
This team of horses and wagon was driven by my father Garven when he worked at Ofsdahls in French Creek in the mid-thirties or so. It appears there may be sacks on the wagon, perhaps oats or feed; maybe the team-and-wagon is similar to what Gina drove in 1912. Some things didn’t change much – and this wagon is steel-wheeled, no rubber tires yet.
With the coming of machinery advances such as mowers and reapers, faster horses replaced slow-moving oxen in the late 1800s. By the year 1915 when Emil did a major remodeling to the 1901 barn, farm horse ownership reached its high point Wisconsin: 748,000 or nearly a four-per-farm average, with a value of $131 each. In the 1901 barn, Emil kept his horses in larger stalls at the east end (Homestead, 30).
The calculations were that two 1,500 pound horses, working ten hours a day, could plow one and a half to two acres, mow seven acres, or cultivate seven acres with a single row cultivator each day (Apps, 60).
The above hay wagon on Emil’s farm in the thirties is horse-pulled – and by just one horse, it seems, and probably not a large one. The hay appears to be timothy, which would have been typical, and this would be good horse hay too. The legumes clover and alfalfa were making advances as dairy roughage, but horses could eat themselves sick on these rich sources of nutrition. Timothy hay plus a ration of oats kept the horses going (Apps, 26).
Even when steam engines powered threshing machines in the first third of the 20th century, horses would pull wagons with the bundles of grain in from the fields for stacking in preparation for threshing days. The above photo shown two teams at work on the Borreson farm as men moved bundles from wagons into large stacks. In later years, the bundles would be hauled directly to the threshing machines eliminating the need for stacks. Through it all, horses were around, beloved companions in many farm operations.