Monday, April 22, 2013

Plow Clinic in Connecticut

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to attend a plow clinic in Abington, CT with Sam Rich, a 2007 walking plow champion at the USA Plow Match. The host farm, We-Lik-It Farm and the Draft Animal Power Network(DAP Net) were great hosts!

The clinic itself was a three day event, where teamsters could bring their animals and plows to get one on one  experience and expertise. If you couldn't attend all three days or bring your team (like me) you were welcome to audit and watch the animals work. I arrived at 10am, a little late due to the 3 hour drive, and met the handful of participants as they were working on refurbishing a few plows. Part of the clinic was working with Sam to set the plow to your team and troubleshoot any issues that you might have been having. They also covered replacing parts and how to get an older plow back in working order. One participant had a team of haflingers just a little smaller than ours who brought a Pioneer Homesteader. This is an implement that is an "all in one" riding implement that includes a plow, disc, harrow, etc. Basically anything you might need for a garden.

After the morning session, we ate lunch and got to taste the We-Like-It brand ice cream. The farm has an ice cream stand where they make small custom batches of ice cream using their dairy. I sampled Guernsey Cookie, which was amazing! Coffee ice cream with cookie swirl!

In the afternoon, we set to plowing. It was crazy to see the ease with which some of the participants were able to use the walking plow. Our first experience with ours didn't really go at all, much less well. We kind of skimmed the top of the earth and didn't understand the principles of how to make it work. Getting to see them set up, learning how to make adjustments where necessary and seeing them sail through the earth was invaluable. One of the teamsters even let me take a run with his Suffolks while he worked the lines. It was a totally different experience, with a team that was quiet and an experienced set of hands on the lines it was smooth and beautiful. Exactly what I would think plowing a field with draft power could be. If I wasn't sold on using animal power for our work before, this really sealed the deal.

It was also really helpful to see someone else's pony team get a little finnicky and fresh. The haflingers were really sensitive to the mood of their driver, which makes sense. They had similar personalities to our girls and it was a relief to see it wasn't just our team that had a little trouble getting going. Once Sam Rich took the lines, they were able to calm right down and walk into the plow, as opposed to trying to trot down the row. Some people just have an innate "horse sense" and it really shows.

All in all a really great day. I came home with more confidence in our abilities to work with the walking plow, now having some of the tools to make adjustments and the basic knowledge of what the plow is doing and how it's doing it when it's in the earth.

We're still working with our girls to get our field plowed. We switched the team around yesterday, getting Sunny on the left and Nataya on the right. Nataya has been fighting us a little over actually having to work so we switched sides to get Sunny's leadership and "get up and go" to motivate Nataya. We'll see how it goes!

Thanks to DAP Net, We-Like-It Farm and Sam Rich for an amazing and informative day!!

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