A New York Times piece, describes the renewed interest in animal power among some small farmers. Mind you, these are not quaint Pa Ingalls actors demonstrating out-dated farming techniques to giggling groups of school children. There is a logic to this shift, one that we are all encountering when we fill up the gas tanks of our cars.
As diesel prices skyrocket, some farmers who have rejected many of the past century’s advances in agriculture have found a renewed logic in draft power. Partisans argue that animals can be cheaper to board and feed than any tractor. They also run on the ultimate renewable resource: grass.
Of course, a yoke of oxen are not suited to farming huge tracts of land, so questions of scale immediately present themselves. Nevertheless, for some farmers, the benefits are numerous:
“Ox don’t need spare parts, and they don’t run on fossil fuels,” Mr. Ciotola said.
Animals are literally lighter on the land than machines.
“A tractor would have left ruts a foot deep in this road,” Mr. Ciotola noted.
In contrast, oxen or horses aerate the soil with their hooves as they go, preserving its fertile microbial layers. And as an added benefit, animals leave behind free fertilizer.
For some, there is a deep satisfaction in working with draft animals, a satisfaction that a tractor simply wouldn’t provide, yet there are drawbacks:
“Even when it’s tough with them, it’s better than spending a day with a tractor,” he said.
Then again, there was that time when he nearly took a horn to the groin.
“A tractor doesn’t do that either,” he said.
Surely, this is a small niche in the agricultural community. It will be interesting to see if it grows.
H/t Greg Butler