Farming with Horses (1)

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.

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2 Responses to Farming with Horses (1)

  1. Daniel Borreson says:

    I also remember my dad’s (Ednar) horses names. He had a team of Roans, Pete, a gelding and Fanny, a mare, with a third horse named King that was a chestnut. Fanny died and was replaced twice with the last named Judy. King was sold some time after we got our first tractor. The third horse was only needed for cutting oats and we did that with the tractor. I got to drive Pete and Judy a lot, mainly cultivating corn. The horses seemed to know their names, especially when you had them in harness and wanted to give instructions.

    • In the fifties, I got in on driving Dad’s (Garven’s) team of horses on the hay rope that lifted hay off the wagons and up into the mow. One reason it wasn’t much fun was that I needed to hear Dad shout to stop; if I missed it, the hay went to the wrong spot and he wasn’t happy because that meant more work for him. For me the challenge was hearing him inside the barn while I was outside next to the clanking and clunking of horses and their equipment. I hate to think of how often I missed his shout. Trouble was, the problem was even worse when we switched to a Ford Ferguson tractor and had to hear over the hum of an engine. Uffda.

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