Heavy horses re­turn to Bon­nie Doon

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

There are quicker ways to har­vest oats, but there is no mis­tak­ing the pride felt by all in­volved at the re­cent har­vest out of Bon­nie Doon, which saw two teams of horses cut a hectare of oats in prepa­ra­tion for chaff. Pic­tured is Ash Swan gen­tly driv­ing his team.

THEY were wait­ing at the stable door, their soft ears pricked for­ward.

Out­side, the sun was just be­gin­ning to rise – sun­shine creep­ing be­neath the shed door as the anx­ious horses be­gan to shift and whinny.

Felisity, Doc, Baby Rain and Young Nick – all of them keen to get out­side and do what they do best: work.

Hitched to an an­cient Sun­shine Reaper and Binder, the team me­thod­i­cally stripped a hectare of oats.

Coats gleam­ing, heads bent low as they braced into the col­lar – pulling slowly through the pad­dock.

Truth be told, it wasn’t quite as ro­man­tic as de­scribed.

There are no softly creak­ing stable doors, or

But what there most cer­tainly was, was work – and lots of it.

Last month, two teams of heavy horses helped strip a pad­dock of oats planted near Bon­nie Doon.

The prop­erty is owned by Vicki and Bill Hig­gins, and the oat har­vest is an an­nual event.

Ash Swan trav­els up from Mel­bourne with his horses to lend a hand, and neigh­bours and friends all join in – help­ing when they can, watch­ing when they can’t.

“We grow it purely so we can cut it with the horses,” Bill ex­plained.

“We stook it, then when it’s dry gather it up and make chaff for them to eat.”

The job would take one man half a day in a trac­tor – but on the Hig­gins farm it takes four peo­ple, two teams of horses and the bet­ter part of two days. Which begs the ques­tion, why bother? “We’re all mad,” Bill laughed. “Why would you do it like us, when you can just go and buy the chaff down at the feed store?”

The rea­son is far more com­plex than lik­ing horses.

As Bill tries to ex­plain, it’s about tak­ing pride in what you do, sweat­ing un­der the sun along­side the teams and turn­ing be­hind to see what you have achieved.

a bet­ter end prod­uct.

But if there’s no team work re­quired – no horses, no friends, no hot cups of tea after – then Bill isn’t in­ter­ested.

“Nowa­days peo­ple just see the hard work – but this is an art, and it’s an art that will be lost.

“We can’t for­get this is where we came from, and this is how we shaped our na­tion.”

Oats are the crop of choice for this type of work, as long stemmed va­ri­eties are still avail­able – mod­ern crops have been en­gi­neered to cut with a horse drawn im­ple­ment.

A set of ro­tat­ing pad­dles holds the crop against the cut­ters as the horses slowly make their way along the line, as the cut stems fall onto a sec­tion of can­vas which con­veys oats to the bind­ing mech­a­nism.

This mech­a­nism bun­dles the stems of grain to­gether and ties a piece of twine around the bun­dle, where it is then spat out the side.

Dur­ing the har­vest at least two peo­ple walk be­hind the horses, grab­bing the sheaves and “shock­ing” them into stooks – small up­right bun­dles.

These stooks are left for sev­eral weeks to dry, be­fore they are col­lected and pro­cessed into chaff.

“I’ve been say­ing for a few years now that we wouldn’t do it again, it would be our last year,” Bill said.

“But each year we plant it, and each year we bring in the horses.”

At 70 years old, no one would blame Bill for giv­ing in to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

But it is not about the power found un­der­neath the hood that in­ter­ests Bill, it’s all about the power found un­der the hoof.

With an­other sea­son done and dusted, the horses are now put away; wait­ing to be called upon for a Sun­day drive along the road. And will they be called in to har­vest in 2020? Bill says no, he is too old now. But then, just be­fore say­ing good bye, he adds, “oh, we might have one more go I sup­pose”.

“There’s no harm in that,” he said.

ON THE FARM: Each year, Vicki and Bill Hig­gins har­vest their oats us­ing horses and an old Sun­shine Reaper and Binder. They are pic­tured with a helper, who came along last year to help out.

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