Horsepower Economics

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Feed cost of work done on farmCosts of owning horses for farming - Including FeedThese scans were from the book Draft Horse Handbook by Lynn Miller ISBN 0-9607268-0-2. On these pages the author examines the costs of using horses to farm. Many examples are cited from a farm survey conducted by USDA in 1921. And many are modern cost considerations that the author has assembled to explore the modern day costs of using horses on the farm. Keep in mind that this book was published in 1981 and a lot has changed during this time period including a huge inflation courtesy of the US government. Prices of everything today are far higher.

First question someone might have would be how many horses are needed on the farm. The author of the book seems to agree with the 1921 census and offers the estimate that a mixed power farm would need something like one horse per 18-24 acres. In the old days that meant that a 160 acre farm with maybe 120 acres tillable might need 6 horses as an example. All feed would be raised on the farm. The only costs might be shoeing and vet bills and harness and repairs for some equipment.


Total cash outlay for 1 year - Not Including Feed.How much feed? The top of the page in this scan (click on the thumbnail at left) offers some feed guidelines for draft horses (how much grain, hay). It also examines some of the costs of maintaining a number of mares for breeding purposes.

These are things that don't come from oil producing countries. Instead of sending money off farm and out of country, it stays on the farm. Many of the items needed by horse farmers can also be purchased from a neighbor, local craftsman, merchant, or another farmer. Unlike machines that consume tremendous amounts of fossil fuels, horses are self sustaining and are fed things that can be grown on the farm as part of a normal crop rotation.


Crop rotation? I haven't even heard this term discussed by any tractor owner for the last 20 years. Part of the normal crop rotation practiced by the ancient farmers of the 20th century included a year of oats, 2 years of hay, one or two of beans, a year of corn, and back again. The farmer didn't even need to take ground out of production to feed his horses because it was part of a normal rotation in the old days. This is a sore point with me. I am tired of hearing a bunch of whiny animal hating vegetarians moaning about keeping livestock on farms because 'they consume food that should be fed to humans'.

Horses used in farming require very little fossil fuels in use (shoeing requires coal or propane to make shoes, and the shoes are made from steel that requires coal and fossil fuels to produce the ore and to reduce it into steel). But using horses consumes far less fossil fuel inputs compared with tractors. The page linked above will talk about this.

Estimate of how much farm work horses can doHow much work can be done with horses? The page scan at left offers an estimate of how much work per day that can be done with different numbers of horses. 2 horses, 3 horses, 4 horses and so on. And categorized by types of work such as plowing, raking, harrowing, disking, mowing etc.




Horses produce an excess of food with little or no energy (on dirt farms we don't even need to shoe them).

Horse manure that is placed the compost pile with other organic matter can be converted to excellent fertilizer. Petro chemical fertilizers cannot and do not match the value of composted manure and organic matter. But of coarse this isn't profitable to chemical companies and their army of middlemen sales people. There is a particular method of producing compost using manure and other organic materials. It was published in book form and recently republished in the Small Farmer's Journal. I forget what it was called but will link it here when I find it again.

Page updated September 22, 2019

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Page created on March 7th, 2005.