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Making hay with horses: Part 1 - Cutting

Farmers have been making hay with draft horses or mules for a longtime. It can still be done today! It is a hard work but so rewarding to pace yourself with the rhythm of your horses step-by step.

Once you find a good horse team and make the bound with them, you can drive them, and|or pull most of the farming equipment, such as manure spreader, plows, harrow... The next step is to start them with a sickle mower.

Draft horse breeds to make hay in the South

Farmers in the last centuries mainly used mules in North Florida. They used to work with smaller mules than in the northern states. We use Haflingers horses to mow. They are smaller horses than draft horses and they seem to be more heat tolerant.

Other breeds, I believe would work well also, are the Brabants (see picture below), Comtois, Limousin (these two breeds are not common in the USA).

I believe a team of Fjord or small Percherons would do the work well too. However, I would try to stay away from big Belgium or other tall breed, they may not stand the heat too much.

A brabant horse team mowing clover pasture
Brabant horses mowing clover and grass

Horse drawn sickle mower

We have been using McCormick Deering International mowers N7 and N9 regular gear. I personally think that the N9 is a better choice. Before choosing and getting a sickle mower I recommend you to read Horsedrawn Mower Book by by Lynn R. Miller

"The horse drawn sickle-bar mower has only been in popular use since shortly after the U.S. Civil War (1860’s). Earliest crude production models started to appear around 1845. Many refinements were made and the basic style of the “push-pull” frame came into being at the end of the nineteenth century. The late model, enclosed gear units began to appear in the 1920’s. “International” still made the HD mowers until just after the end of WWII. (They would have continued long after that were it not for government programs to force the draft animals off the farms and replace them with new tractors, a move seen to absorb the economic displacement which follows the dramatic end of war-time economy. This was a period and a rationale which gave us high-powered chemical herbicides and pesticides as well. War, it would seem, continues to destroy long after it concludes.)"

Then the next step would be to locate a mower from a reputable source. Some can still be found at farm auctions or around the Amish communities. I bough mine from Blackleg Acres from south Carolina

I found another one in Florida and we refurbished it. The knifes and plates needed to be changed.... and it is working good!

Making hay in the South

North Florida can be hot during the hay season from June to November. In order to help our horse pulling the ground drive mower, we add a dolly wheel on the tongue to take some weight off from our horses neck. They like it better. We usually start mowing 4 acres field sections at a time, which takes between 4 to 5 hours. We start mowing in the morning before noon for an hour or 3 with several stops and mandatory water breaks. We may be done by the end of the day or by the evening hours, and sometimes it will take two days to finish mowing the whole 4 acres section (2 hours each day).

It is rewarding to make hay without the use of a noisy tractor. We save money on diesel and other tractor maintenance. Horses eat what they cut and fertilize the soil while cutting.

Florida jig hay made by horses...

Books on Hay making:

by Lynn R. Miller. To our knowledge this is the first comprehensive text on the subject. A new practical reference text with 1,000 illustrations covering all aspects of Haymaking with Horses and Mules in harness. Offering in-depth information on Mowers, Rakes, Hayloaders, Buckrakes, Stackers, Tracks and Trollies for barns, Hay Fork systems, Balers, Wagons, Feed Sleds, and Forecart adaptations etc. And covering the building of loose hay stacks and wagon loads. Unloading systems, and feeding systems are also covered.

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