Living The Dream
By John & Norma Banford
Growing up, my husband John visited his grandfather’s farm in the summers and enjoyed the times he spent there. His family spent every Sunday at the farm in the tradition of Sunday night dinners at the homestead. I grew up on a dairy farm, loved the life and wanted to continue but the farm was sold due my Dad’s ill health, however, in the back of my mind I also knew that someday I would go back to farm life. When John & I hitched up (so to speak) we decided that we wanted to live in the country and have some land where we could entertain family and friends in a rural setting. We also wanted a place to raise our Golden Retrievers that was safe with lots of freedom for them.
In 1995 we started looking for our land. In 1997 we found our dream place located 20 minutes north of Brockville, Ontario. The home was an original limestone farmhouse that was built in 1860 on 350 acres of pasture, mixed hardwood, wetlands and cleared land. We have been refinishing the interior of the house back to the original wood. There are miles of cleared trails on the farm that can be used for walking, riding and wagon/sleigh rides. The property is very private and surrounded by crown land (our nearest neighbor is 1 mile away).
A key point for us when we were considering purchasing was the existence of a Ducks Unlimited Contract (for pasture management) and a Forest Management Contract with the Ministry of Natural Resources. As the land had not been farmed for several years there was no pesticides / herbicides on the land and we were able to start growing our produce following organic standards. We are very interested in the natural evolution of the land and are strong environmentalists so the farm was perfect for our dream.
We have been breeding and selling Golden Retriever dogs for several years. Currently we have Pepper (Gramma), Polly (Mom), Princess (baby) and Uncle Paton. About 7 years ago Pepper had a litter of sixteen pups. The local papers came out to take pictures of Mom and her babies and one article had the caption â€œA Golden Momentâ€. When we bought our farm we decided that with our love for our dogs, and the perfect setting that we had found to raise them, the most fitting name for the farm would be â€œGolden Moment Farmâ€.
Since then we have been developing (through trial and error) a maple syrup business, firewood, poultry and several organic herb and vegetable gardens. Our only farm equipment was a 1950 Massey Harris tractor that had belonged to John’s grandfather. We found that the tractor worked great on cleared trails but that in the heavy bush where we wanted to collect sap it tended to get stuck! As we didn’t have the funds for a new tractor we started to think of the possibility of collecting the sap with horses.
Horses would work well with our dream of building a sustainable livelihood off the farm without hurting the environment. We decided that we needed to learn all we could about farming with draft horses. In July of 1999 I was given a lead to look up the Freeman’s in Addison. I drove in the yard one day and met Aden, Reta and Ruth. I asked about the Eastern Ontario Workhorse Workshop and told them that I was interested in learning more about draft horses. Ruth gave me lots of information on the workshop and the Draft Horse Connection! Aden wasn’t long hooking the team to a wagon to give me a ride. He invited me to come back the next day with John so that we both could experience the â€˜driving’ of a team.
Shortly after that day we decided to sign up for the”hands on” Eastern Ontario Workhorse Workshop to learn for sure if horses were the way to go and also to learn all we could about farming with horses. We came away from the course with the knowledge and confidence that we needed to at least start thinking about buying a team. We are lucky enough to live in the area of the course and found the resource network of experts to be fabulous and everyone was willing to share their knowledge.
We joined the local draft horse club and at one of the meetings we heard about Carson’s fall equipment and draft horse auction being held in Listowel, Ontario in October. Since we were on our way to Sarnia that weekend for another event we decided we would go early and look around. Gerry & Claudette Piche (members of the Draft Horse Club) were also at the sale and we talked with them and looked at several teams of horses during the two days.
Then â€” you guessed it â€” we bought a team. Our team was now a pair of Clydesdale mares, Dolly and Goldie who were due to foal in the spring of 2000. We talked to the owner and he assured us that the mares were broke and that he had in fact used Goldie quite a bit on farm equipment as he had an organic market garden operation. Since the Piche’s had also bought some horses at the sale we were lucky enough to arrange transportation home with them for our new additions to the farm. So begins our adventure with horses!
We purchased a nylon team harness at the sale, deciding to go with nylon instead of leather because of the lower cost and lower maintenance. We started going to auctions making purchases of whatever used equipment that we thought we could use â€“ a small buckboard wagon (double sprung), a sloop sleigh and a Massey â€˜51′ walking plow. John with his innovative skills began to seek advice on tongues, shafts etc from Aden, John Male and other horse club members. John has now redesigned and repaired the wagon to be able to carry up to eight people comfortably and safely.
Shortly after we brought the horses home John did some research about exercise sleighs and then designed and built one for us. After that we began driving the mares as a team. Early in the spring of 2000 we happened on a single driving cart and started hooking the â€˜girls’ single. Every time we hitch (single or double) we learn something new and get better at anticipating the horses reaction to the environment around them.
Early this spring we started renovations on the barn. The original barn structure had been built for a dairy operation although it did have three standing stalls located at one end. We converted a portion of the interior to two large box stalls approximately 10′ by 16′. Although we planned on letting the mares have their babies outside in the barnyard (everything we read and everyone we talked to recommended that) we needed to have box stalls ready so that we would have a place to bring them into after the birthing. Then we installed a spotlight on the side of the barn so that we could keep a very sleepless eye on the girls through the nights.
In May we spent an anxious, sleepless month of watching and waiting for the foals to arrive. This was an awesome experience of nature to witness. Even though we didn’t make it to the barnyard at the exact moment of the birth we were there within minutes and watched the foals struggle to their feet while nature worked its wonders and the foal and mother bonded together. Golden Moment’s Maple Dream was born on June 1st, and Golden Moment’s Maple Bud was born on June 3rd. Both mares and foals were healthy with a fast and normal birthing.
The Freemans came over the day of birth for both foals and Ruth gave the foals their vitamin A & D and selenium shots. We had the vet in within a couple of weeks to check both mares and foals. We had halters on the foals the day after they birthed and started tying them up to the post for short periods within the week. While they were tied we starting picking up their feet and brushing them and gently caressing them all over. We wanted them to experience being tied up as pleasant and non-stressful.
John’s next project was to add a lean to on the end of the barn, which worked well for the horses to find shade from the summer heat. We spent the summer learning about raising foals. We read a lot, searched the Internet and once again talked to and picked the brains of the horse club members. We found a stallion that we wanted to breed the mares back to and arranged to have him at the farm for a week, 30 days following the foals birth. Once again we were lucky in that another instructor from the EOWW, Ron Townsend offered his trailer to transport the stallion. Twenty-one days later we had the vet out to check the pregnancies and discovered that one mare was not in foal. The vet thought that she needed some â€˜beefing’ up before we tried breeding her again. We waited about six weeks then had the stallion back to breed her again. This time, hopefully, we were successful.
We also talked to the vet about the weaning process and he felt that as the foals were 3 months old and strong and healthy, we could start weaning them. To do this we have been tying the foals in the standing stalls for longer periods each morning with the mares in the box stalls beside them.
When the foals were about two months old we started harnessing and driving the mares with the foals tied to their sides. We wanted to allow the foals to have a feel of driving with their mothers and to be used to voice commands and the noise of the vehicles behind them. We also drive the mares leaving the foals safely at the barn which allows them to become comfortable from being away from their mothers.
So far the horses have been used for wagon and sleigh rides and we hope to gather sap and eventually do some logging with them. We haven’t yet used the plow but it is our plan to work the horses in the gardens with that and other horse farm equipment that we can pick up. However, with John working full time for Parks Canada and me working in eight vegetable and herb gardens our time to work with the horses is extremely limited.
This summer I became a vendor at the new Farmers Market that opened just outside of Athens, Ontario. I sold our organic vegetables, maple syrup, packaged herb mixes and home preserves. This has started a clientele for us and we plan to expand more in next year exploring new market opportunities.
Part of our future plans that we are working on is developing the idea of starting a horse boarding and â€œBale and Breakfastâ€ operation. Our idea is that our place would provide people in urban areas with reasonable horse boarding rates, a great place to ride that is natural and free from the noise of large boarding stables with common trails and the convenience of a place to stay for a weekend in the country with their horse.
Golden Moment Farm trails offer an opportunity to discover nature during all seasons whether by walking, riding or wagon rides. It really is a photographer’s dream! With protected wetlands, mixed hardwood bushes and a 70 acre pond that is partially on our property and partially of crown land there is a variety of flora and fauna species to study.
Throughout the changing seasons as well as during the maple syrup time we plan to offer horse drawn tour rides. We would like to link up with the local school boards to provide children the opportunity of learning about organic farming, horses, dogs, maple sugar and nature. We know that we have a long way to go before our farm becomes a viable farm operation but we have our dream and will continue working towards it.
Â© John & Norma Banford | Farmer’s Daughter Publishing | The Draft Horse Connection