LivestockWorking Animals

Backed by Real Horsepower (video)

Photos © Craig Mackintosh

The image of the tractor has symbolized farming since the 1900s. In fact, you’d have to travel a bit further back in time to find an equally enduring symbol: the horse… until now!

Alternative farming practices — known variously as permaculture, organic, biological — continue making leaps closer to meeting our needs of sustainability. These ‘natural’ systems are being designed more and more to include the integration and use of animals. We’ve all heard of chook tractors (also here), vermi-composting (also here), and using goats as lawn mowers. Well, what about having some real horsepower to get the job done?

Animal traction is an appropriate, affordable and a sustainable technology which could and should be embraced more, period. It is a great method for ploughing, harrowing, planting, ridging, weeding, mowing and harvesting. The Amish are a true testament to farming with horses, as this is what has kept their farms and communities thriving for years.

There has been an amazing and fast growing movement in the world of permaculture. Farmers are taking the back-to-the-land ethos as far as it will go and choosing horses and mules over John Deere. Olivier Cousin is a great example. This eco-friendly biodynamic French winemaker is using real horsepower on his farm and in his community. Check out the video.


  1. But the horse need food all the time, in the winter, in the spring, working or not.
    The tractor needs food only when working.

  2. The tractor, which comes with a far higher up-front cost, also continues to depreciate, regardless of whether it’s working or not.

    Horses are also self-healing (have you ever seen a tractor ‘get better’ by itself, after suffering a breakdown or some damage?) and, significantly, they’re also self-replicating (you can sell or trade any extra animals you don’t need…). Horses produce excellent material for putting organic matter and microbial life into your compost/soils.

    Horses do not run on a finite resource, over which wars are being fought, and which are changing our climate and risking the complete collapse of agriculture.

  3. Thanks for the video and comments. We have recently bought 2 acres of grass, soon to be trees! It’s been a pleasure to see 4 horses keep the grass mown for 2 months. They didn’t need any other food tho we are in winter in Central Victoria.

    It’s no surprise that David Holmgren uses the horse as the ‘icon’ for principle 5 – Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.

  4. Well said Craig!

    Also, consider the waste from each system, the food the horse eats becomes manure, which feeds back into the system via the soil ecology and becomes food for the plants, a wonder of nature’s recycling systems. What does the waste from the tractor contribute to? Air, soil and water pollution…

  5. Dear reader,

    This film includes two of my favorites 1) horsepower use, second permaculture (natural) wine growing.

    Together its the best!!

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