Old fashioned plow day brings a family of farmers back together

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  • Dave Heisler holds on to his leather reigns as he leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Horses wait for their turn to plow at the demonstration at the fields near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field as Ray Ramsey and his daughter, Emma, lead their oxen near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield waits with Rough and Tough oxen at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on April 16. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Rough, the Ramsey family oxen, waits for the next work at the demonstration at Hourshoe Pond on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield leads Rough and Tough oxen as her brother, Wyatt, works the blade as Evelyn Pike with Lou the Mule passes in the other direction at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield leads Rough and Tough oxen as her brother, Wyatt, works the blade at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield leads Rough and Tough oxen as her brother, Wyatt, works the blade at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Wyatt Ramsey guides the tiller behind the Rough and Tough, the family oxen at the demonstration at the fields near Horseshoe Pond on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • TOP: Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord.

  • Evelyn Pike sits on her stone pad as her Lou the Mule waits during the Saturday morning demonstration at the fields near Horseshoe Pond.

  • Evelyn Pike sits on her stone pad as her Lou the Mule waits during the Saturday morning demonstration at the fields near Horseshoe Pond on April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Heisler leads his two horses, Doc and Bud, as he plows the field near Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield takes a break on the back of her oxen, Tough at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield leads Rough and Tough oxen as her father works the blade at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Ramsey of Pittsfield leads Rough and Tough oxen as her father works the blade at the demonstration off of Horseshoe Pond in Concord on Saturday, April 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/21/2022 2:30:29 PM

The dull roar of the interstate faded to almost nothing at the little plot of land near Horseshoe Pond as the clamorous sounds of modernity gave way to birds in song, the neighs of horses and the chatter of old friends.

On Saturday morning, the Granite State Draft Horse and Pony Association gathered to plow a small stretch of field that yields corn to feed the cows at Morrill dairy farm in Penacook. They brought no tractors. Just several teams of horses, two oxen and a mule named Lou.

Lou’s owner Evelyn Pike was hard to miss. Among the brown, green and gray of New Hampshire in April, Pike sported hot pink. Lou wore a harness to match. Pike worked as the Chichester Town clerk before retirement. She got involved with draft animals 25 years ago and the only thing that slowed her down was a battle with breast cancer. After beating the disease, Pike was back working with Lou in less than a year and introduced her now-signature pink attire.

“It’s not going to stop me,” said Pike. “I’m just going to keep out here. I’m not going to sit in a rocking chair.”

Other members described Pike as the matriarch of the association – a wily veteran of plowing and drafting. She’s matched by Lou, who is 37 years old and has been in the plowing game her whole life.

“We hope to get a few more years out of her, and a few more years out of me!” Pike said with a laugh. “She’ll probably outlive me.”

Lou was the only mule present for the plowing. Most teams opted for horses or oxen, but Pike said nothing beats a mule.

“Mules are so much smarter than horses,” said Pike. “I think there are good mules and bad mules. But this one goes slow for me and she does what I want.”

As the sun rose higher in the sky, Pike and Lou trotted around the field. Two old friends in pink plowed the land in the same way it was done when Concord was first settled.

Not everyone had the experience level of Pike.

Jackson Berendes, a 14-year-old eighth-grader who helps Dave Heisler on his farm, was happy to spend his Saturday morning with Heisler and his three horses.

Berendes started doing a few chores for Heisler and kept coming back because he liked it so much.

“There’s a lot of different stuff that you can do that honestly helps you physically and mentally,” said Berendes.

Past the row of trailers were the Ramsey family and their two oxen. For Ray Ramsey, the day was just as much about seeing old friends as it was about plowing the earth.

“These are all the same people that we always have here,” Ramsey said of the other members of the Granite State Draft Horse & Pony Association. “We all know who’s coming. And it’s almost a reunion the first one.”

Ray and his wife Amy, along with their two grown children Emma and Wyatt, drove their oxen up and down the field without most of the bells and whistles of the horse teams.

“One thing about cattle is they’re easy to get, they’re not expensive. And equipment-wise, I got a yoke and a chain. I don’t have harnesses. I don’t have collars. I don’t have any of that,” Ramsey said.

Ray and Amy Ramsey were often joking about the upside of working with cattle.

“Horses are a little more finicky with what they eat. Cattle you just throw them in a field,” said Amy.

But the differences were not all in the oxen’s favor, particularly when it comes to speed.

“Oxen are much more slow-paced,” Ray Ramsey said. “Still steady but you’re not going to cover as much ground. The horses will take off and go.”

Amy glanced over at one of her oxen, whose eyes were half-closed as his head drooped toward the ground.

“He likes to nap on the job,” she said.

Ray, who works at Sanborn Mill Farm, said that using animals to plow was about more than just keeping the old ways alive.

“It’s also good for the environment,” he said. “We don’t have a carbon footprint down here other than getting here. And the quality that you can do in the fields is great. You don’t have compaction. You don’t have any overhead cost of equipment and such like that. So on a smaller scale, it’s economical for me to do it this way. If you got five acres of vegetables, you can easily do that with a pair of cattle or a pair of horses.”

Standing in his muddy overalls, Ray explained why he appreciates the old way of doing things. Listening to him talk in through.

“On our farm when we’re plowing, we’re down in the bottom field, and you don’t hear anything but them [the cattle] walking. I mean, that’s it. I don’t have a tractor going. I don’t have to entertain anybody. We’re just going and that’s it. And you get to the end, you turn around and you keep going. And then the satisfaction of watching the ground go from green to brown is amazing. And when everything’s set up, and it’s going right there’s no better feeling.”

The benefits for smaller farmers to use animal power are numerous according to Ray. He said that the main reason more people don’t use draft animals is that they don’t even know it’s an option. He hopes that can change and is already seeing encouraging signs that it is.

“We get a lot of interest from younger people that are starting to get into farming, wanting to learn this way. For one, the cost is a lot lower to start out that way. I think I think it’s an educational problem. So we’re trying to get the word out and trying to let people know that it is feasible and it is able to do it this way.”




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