To continue our series on conservation, George’s Furniture takes a look at Draft Horse Logging, which has made a resurgence in the logging industry.
With the cost of new, modern forestry equipment landing in the triple digits, it’s no wonder that forestry workers have taken a second look at the draft horse as a means to operate a low-overhead, lucrative logging operation. While most horse-pulled logging still requires at least one piece of heavy equipment, scaling back on machines and logging with horses has been successful for many loggers worldwide.
Draft work horse
The draft workhorse, be it a Belgian, Percheron, or other draft breed, can cost around $3,000-$5,000. This is compared to the staggering $25,000- $500,000 cost needed for logging machinery. This workhorse will typically have a 6-year career, and has a perk that a machine never will—it can be bred. In fact, according to the Small Horse Journal, draft horse power costs just $3-$17 per horse hour. While the horse comes with its own expenses (food, veterinary care, stable/pasture, harness, etc.), the lower cost of the draft horse means that the logger does not have to produce near the output that heavy logging equipment must just to cover overhead expenses. And, obviously, horses don’t break down.
But it’s not just the cost that loggers benefit from, it’s the technical benefits of horse logging that many have fallen in love with. Logging with heavy machinery requires clearance, level ground, and hundreds of acres to be profitable. Many times, historic or preserved forests, research areas, and the topography around steams are closed to heavy machinery, but they are not closed to horses. Horses can easily climb steep hills and log on uneven ground. Unlike heavy machines, they don’t damage fragile waterways. Horses also do not disturb the forest’s topsoil. In short, the draft horse can reach areas that machines cannot.
The other obvious benefit of draft horse logging is that it is environmentally friendly. The draft horse does not burn fossil fuels, emitting fumes and toxins into the air. With rising gas prices, draft horse owners are spared the expense of fuel and the inconvenience of running out of fuel on the job. Rather, the manure of the horse benefits the forest by replenishing nutrients in the soil which feeds the forest’s flora. The weight of the draft horse does not damage the fragile root systems of the forest as a heavy machine would.
Logging with horses also has another benefit that stands apart—the strongest trees of the forest are left standing, which results in a healthier forest for both the landowner and logger. While draft horse logging still leaves a skid trail, instead of the trail being the width of a machine (often 10 feet wide or more), the skid trail is the width of the horse and the log it is pulling, as little as 3 feet wide. In short, the draft horse logger leaves very little trace that he was even there.
The economic benefits for both landowner and logger are indisputable. Often, the landowner saves thousands of dollars by using draft horse logging simply because of the difference in overhead expenses. However, draft horse logging is typically relegated to logging forests that are less than 200 acres.
Another unique benefit of using draft horses for logging is that recreational trails can be created by using them. For landowners allowing visitors to use their land for hiking or cross-country skiing, using the draft horse to create paths allows for variety that machinery can’t provide—crossing streams, going up and down steep terrain, navigating through thick vegetation and around rocks.
There are downsides to equine power versus machine power. For one, efficiency drops. A single horse must pull the logs out of the forest one at a time, while a machine can pull as many as 20. Horses also require a truck to transport it’s logs to the mill which means the forest must have road access somewhere. The horse logger must be selective about the trees he logs to be sure that he remains profitable, where machinery does not have to be as selective.
However, all of these potential downsides have a counterbalance—horse logging is sustainable, allowing high quality trees to grow which results in a healthy forest and a healthier long-term profit. The trees that would be cut down by machinery just so the machinery can “get through” is able to remain standing and to grow with draft horse logging. These extra years of growing produce extra profit since the trees are stronger, larger, and thus more valuable when sold. This extra value and extra profit can be seen especially when a landowner has a special tree, such as a birds-eye maple or hardy walnut (which are often used for furniture). The cost of logging and moving the unusual tree to sale is significantly cheaper with the draft then it would be with the machine. These high-quality trees go from a tree to a finished product sustainability and profitability, benefiting all parties involved in the transaction.
Conserving natural resources
Just as the draft horse logger helps to conserve our natural resources, George’s Furniture is committed to doing our part in caring for our environment. Using hardwoods native to our region such as Cherry, Red Oak, Maple, and Black Walnut goes a long way in ensuring both quality for our customers and low environmental impact. We take extra measures to ensure that our wood is harvested at the right time and to rigid specifications. When you design your furniture with George’s, you can be assured that our craftsmen are conscious of minimizing waste. The wood for your furniture is carefully selected, processed with care, hand-turned where possible, and meticulously assembled for proper fit and finish.
https://smallfarmersjournal.com/the-cost-of-working-horses/ Accessed 1/12/19
https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-gas-prices-so-high-3305653 Accessed 1/12/19