Most 21st-century farmers wouldn't trade their sleek gasoline-powered tractors, air conditioned cabs and cellular telephones for an open-air, four-legged horse. But in the "good" old days of 19th-century Vermont agriculture, horses were the trucks and tractors of local farmsteads.
Those nostalgic "good old days"-perhaps more romantic in hazy memory than in the light of the harsh reality of the time-came alive in the fields of historic Shelburne Farms when draft horse teams and their drivers gathered for the annual Green Mountain Draft Horse Field Day last Saturday.
A combination of antique farm machinery and new equipment produced by Pioneer in Pennsylvania to meet the needs of the Amish farmers, but popular with Vermont farmers who use draft animals, were used throughout the day.
The mighty Clydesdales, Belgians and Percherons, bred for power and strength, pulled plows, reaper mowers, rakes, tedders, and balers in the hay and grain fields. There even was a horse-drawn manure spreader on hand.
There were also horse-drawn hayrides and demonstrations of using draft horses to pull logs and move huge round bales. An antique threshing machine powered by a tractor separated the grain from the straw of oats that were cut and dried in anticipation of the event.
An exciting element of this year's Shelburne Farm Field Day was the chance to talk to the people who use draft animals on their home farms and even for innovative activities such as Pat Palmer's weekly rounds to collect the recycling in Bristol.