By Kent Hanawalt
Horses were still the prime motive force in agriculture 100 years ago. They were used to plow the ground, plant it, harvest it, and haul it to the elevator. Even a smaller ranch had numerous teams to cut the hay, haul it in, stack it, and feed it out in the winter.
Thus, nearly every old farm or ranch had a horse barn. Most of these old barns had a gambrel–or “Dutch”–roof that enclosed a large haymow over top of the stable area. Hay was pitched down through openings in the floor to the mangers beneath. In fact, a substantial amount of the year’s hay and oat crops were used up feeding the horses that produced them, rather than to the cows for which they were intended.
Most farmers and ranchers were indeed happy to trade in their teams–which required daily feeding—for tractors that simply sat quietly in the shed until such time as they were needed; one tractor that could pull far more than a hitch of two to twenty horses; one tractor that would never run away. And now that tractor has hydraulic loaders and lifts. It has an air-ride seat in an air-ride cab. It has heat, air conditioning, and XM radio.
Horses were always semi-automatic. They quickly learned the routine and could make a circle on the feed-ground. They could follow the plow-furrow and turn when they came to fence. They knew to turn away from a mudhole, and seldom got stuck. The clip-clop of hooves and the jingle of trace-chains were pleasant to hear on a dead-quiet winter’s morning; a good team was a joy to some of us, and even a source of companionship. I miss my work teams.
But every team runs away at some point, and in fact, my own back was broken in such a wreck. And there are winter days when the windshield of the pickup is quite comforting.
And thus, the old barns are slowly becoming derelicts from the nearly-forgotten past.