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Horsepowered logging hits the comeback trail

Demonstration near Colfax gives farmers a look at four-legged alternative to tractor
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Horsepower is making a comeback in Placer County forestland. On Sunday, heavily muscled draught horses showed a group of interested forest harvesters near Colfaxl just how much heft they can provide to small-scale logging operations. A two-horse rig pulled log after log to demonstrate that working with a team or an individual horse can provide a low-tech but rewarding alternative to mechanized methods. Brent McDermott of Nevada City, who works with an equine team harvesting forest land off Bowman Lake Road, said the horses work well on the stand of fir he’s logging now. “I’m doing it with horses because it’s gentler on the landscape,” he said. The demonstration was part of a Forestry Field day on land just outside Colfax owned by Allen Edwards, who said he sees a place for horses in an industry now dominated by gas and diesel powered equipment. For one thing, instead of contract logging, property owners can do the work themselves – down to even obtaining a small, portable mill to produce lumber. “A diesel tractor isn’t sustainable,” Edwards said. “I like the idea of providing for local markets and sustainability. That’s really important.” Part of Sierra Nevada Small Farm Progress Days, which is funded in part by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Sunday’s field day on Edwards’ timbered 520-acre farm also included portable sawmill and firewood processing demonstrations. Edwards pointed to a stand of trees that logs had been selectively pulled from, with little trace of the path the horses had taken to bring them out. “A good team of horses can do things on a small scale a tractor is not able to do,” he said, noting that timber stands in the area must have originally been taken down a century or more ago with oxen and horses playing important roles. Dan Macon, chair of the event, does his own harvesting with mulepower. He said that using horses can prove less capital-intensive for farmer with a timber stand who wants to add value to the timber resources on a property. “The horses can become a tool of the trade rather than a hobby,” he said. “One of the challenges is coming up with the infrastructure. Harness making trades and training horses can be rebuilt. It has its challenges but is more sustainable.” The field days series of workshops continues Nov. 8 with a visit to a Newcastle orchard for equipment demonstrations, information on orchard layouts, pest management discussions, and a pruning workshop. For more information, contact Sierra Nevada Small Farm Progress Days at (530) 305-3270. The Website is smallfarmprogressdays.org. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.