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I am currently writing an article for one of my classes about cost effectiveness of draft horses, or mules, versus tractors. I was wondering if I could get some input from you guys. Thanks in advance for your time and answers.
1 What breed would be best suited for the work?
2 What is average cost of draft horses and/or mules?
-auctions versus private breeders
-mares, geldings, stallions (if price varies)
3 How many horses / mules would you need to effectively work 25 acres of farm land?
-20 acres of corn, 5 acres of hay (for example)
4 What all equipment would be needed to do this work?
-eg. harnesses, plow, etc
5 how many hours would it take to perform each part of the operation?
-how long to plow
-how long to plant
-etc
6 What would be the best age to purchase them at?
7 How late into their life can you expect them to work?
8 Are there any links, books, journals, articles, etc, to get this data, and more, from?
(I have to be able to cite all of the sources I use in this paper.)

Once again thank you all for your time and answers.
 

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You could contact The Small Farmer's Journal and the Draft Horse Journal. Both excellent resources and great people. A true wealth of knowledge. Both have websites. Sorry I wish I had time to work through your questions but am short on time. I may get to come back to this tomorrow.
ETA I assume someone answering would be answering with the intention of informing someone with little to no horse/farming experience.....
 

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Don't have any of the numbers you are looking for but I can tell you this: Up until age fourteen I lived on a 40 acre farm where all the animals food was grown plus our own using two smaller draft horses. There was a 12 inch turning plow, a mowing machine, a dump rake, a hay wagon, a wagon for hauling wood and gathering corn, a spring toothed harrow and a spike tooth harrow, a double shovel plow for the garden, a drag for smoothing freshly plowed ground, and a manure spreader.

At age 14 YO a venerable 8N Ford tractor was purchased and the team was sold resulting in a very significant reduction in physical output for running the farm, particularly in the plowing. And the considerable land and effort for the horse's feed and care was put to other uses. The tractor was seen as a significant cost savings by the farm I was on and also by neighboring farms that also made the change from horses to tractors.

But prior to the tractor, the farm simply could not have been managed without horses.
 

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Rural Heritage magazine had at least 2 articles in the past year or so where people did cost comparisons of farming with horses vs. tractors. Within the last couple of months, either them or Draft Horse Journal had an article on how many miles were walked/amount of time it took to farm a field of a certain size figuring the width of your average plow and other implements.

The breed/type of horse is dependent on what type of ground you are using, and your personal preference. A lot of smaller hobby/subsistence farms are now using Fjords/Haflingers/draft crosses because they weigh less, eat less, and over time cost less than draft breeds. You lose some pulling power, but that is manageable for many unless your ground is very deep and clay-like, in which case a heavy draft may be your only option. Most farms using horses for work have at least 3-4 animals, sometimes as many as a dozen or more depending on the ground, crops, and how many people will be in the field at once.

Minimum equipment needed for most farms is a plow (most use a riding plow now), harrow (probably two types), planter, cultivator, and a variety of wagons. Some older equipment would plow, plant, and harrow at the same time. It all depends on what your equipment is and what you need in your soil. For hay, you need a seeder, swather/mower, hayrake, and baler unless you're doing the old method of haystacks, which is fast becoming a lost art. Quite a few small farms that use horses use them for some things-- for instance, planting crops and cutting and tedding hay, then use a tractor for jobs like plowing and baling.

Draft-type horses often do light work at 2, but most hold off heavy pulling until 4 or later. If you're buying a team, older is usually better unless you know what you're doing. A well-cared-for draft horse can work well into his 20's, but again, that's variable depending on the horse, his conformation, and workload. A team that can't plow all day on an Amish farm may still do just fine on a hobby farm where they plow for 2 hours when the farmer gets home from an office job.

Good, broke draft teams for field work (not the fancy hitch horses) at a recent sale near here sold for between $4500 and $15,000 depending on breed, whether they were registered or not, how well broke they were, and color. Were I farming with horses, I would want at least 3 animals, probably 4 (so I could have two complete teams-- most teams will need to be changed out midway through a day in hot weather).

Our family farm depended on horses up until the mid 1940's. Tractors were purchased, but quickly sold early in the Depression, and the horses were brought back to work, which ended up saving the farm. With no payments on the farm or on equipment, it still produced enough to keep my grandparents and their animals thriving. They grew corn, wheat, flax, and hay, and had pigs, a few milk cattle, feeder cattle, and chickens. During it's heydey about 1915, there are photos of 2-3 dozen draft horses up by the barn, mostly broodmares who also did their fair share of field work. My mom remembers having teams of horses and at least one team of mules around while she was growing up in the late 1940's and 1950's. There was always one mule team in among the heavy Percherons because they held up to heat better, and one team could work all day in a hayfield in the heat and humidity of late summer when the draft horses struggled.
 

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Yesterday's post was eaten by the post monster so back for a second try...

1 What breed would be best suited for the work? Because of the breeding emphasis on hitch style horses my suggestion would be to look at Suffolk Punches (harder to find but bred to work). Belgians from the Amish country that are farm "style" would be second then Perceron. Bels are probably easiest to find, then Perches. Both are taller and bigger than the Suffolk so that may be a consideration if you want smaller. Mules may be what is needed if you are working in a climate that has extreme heat. Our horses get the summer off. If I had a team of mules we could work longer into the season in spring/summer and start earlier in fall.

2 What is average cost of draft horses and/or mules? You'd be better off with someone that breeds and trains so they know the animals and what they are capable of /have been exposed to equipment wise. You would also know their history health wise and could trust questions about lameness would be more honestly answered though I always would advise a PPE. There are some farms that also purchase weanlings/yearlings to raise and sell as fully broke teams. Their reputation depends on the satisfaction of buyers so they are also (I have found) upfront and honest about their horses. Auctions are a crapshoot when looking for farm type horses but it depends on the auction. The draft auctions I have found that have really good farm horses for sale command pretty high prices. I really wouldn't recommend all breed auctions or kill pen buys. Mares and Stallions will generally be more than geldings unless you are looking at hitch geldings which can go really high.

Age and Cost - My recommendation would be 6-8 years old or older up to 12. Price wise I found the low end is $2,000 a horse or some will offer a team for $4500 if you take a pair. Some sell the harness with the horse or at the very least the collar. That can be reflected in the price. Highs here for farm horses are up to $5,00 - $6,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a team. Different areas of the country you will see different price ranges.
-auctions versus private breeders
-mares, geldings, stallions (if price varies)

3 How many horses / mules would you need to effectively work 25 acres of farm land? 2 horses for every two acres intensely cultivated up to 12 acres depending on soils. Once you get bigger than that then it doesn't pay off. Even that size you need a buyer for your crop and it needs to be a specialty crop. Heirloom, organically grown... You are better off going smaller in acreage and doing something like a CSA or restaurant market garden. Higher prices for your produce and you can farm it with smaller drafts (not sport types) like fjords or hafflingers easily. Hay and grain crops that are low maintenance could be done with 2 and a spare easily but again you have to look at what you are getting off that land and what you are able to sell it for and what you have to put into your horses.
-20 acres of corn, 5 acres of hay (for example)

4 What all equipment would be needed to do this work? Equipment was covered above for corn and hay.
Harness - I had to have harness made that was lighter and meant to come apart in three pieces because of an injury and now it is a lifesaver as I am older All harness comes a part but most is made for the collar to be put on and then hames and harness swung together over the horse. My first leather harness was 75 pounds being swung over 6' up onto their backs. That did not include the collar or hames. My biothane harness plus hames and collar weighs that. I put on the collar, then hames, followed by belly band, then backstrap and britching and lastly traces. So really 4 plus the collar.
-eg. harnesses, plow, etc

5 how many hours would it take to perform each part of the operation? This depends on your soils and equipment size. More horses bigger equipment = less time. Fewer horses smaller equipment = more time.
-how long to plow
-how long to plant
-etc

6 What would be the best age to purchase them at? Covered above but 6-8 as the youngest and up to 12 for a well cared for light to moderately worked team.

7 How late into their life can you expect them to work? Lightly worked into their early 20's. The more intensely they are worked the earlier you see issues and 16 - 18 is when many send theirs off to auction.

8 Are there any links, books, journals, articles, etc, to get this data, and more, from? Covered above.

Just buying a broke team is only half of the equation. The farmer needs to be trained as well. That means basic horse care, care of and fitting of harness, hooking to implements, using those implements safely.... There are good schools out there and they usually have teams for sale or can direct you to them.
 

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I personally cannot answer your questions, but I can recommend that you reach out to Pam at Blue Star Equiculture (Blue Star Equiculture) and she can probably answer every one of those questions. She has been an excellent resource as I have been looking into starting to work with my former Amish draft and my retired carriage horse.
 
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