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Harvesting by Draft Horse

Published: 10/13/2011
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

These spuds tasted better.
That’s what I was thinking as my guests and I polished off plates of delicious Shepody potatoes the other night. The baked skins were thin and crispy. The insides were light, fluffy, and slipped right down with butter, salt, and pepper.
Just a few hours earlier, they’d been harvested in Mechanic Falls, Maine, by a pair of Percheron mares and a hard working group from the Farmers Draft Horse Mule and Pony Club.
The harvest was a culmination of efforts for the 23-year old club this season.
Accordingly to Steve Akeley, a club director, the group planted about two thousand pounds of seed this spring. (Horses were used then, too.) They expected to yield about 10 thousand pounds of Kennebec, Shepody, and Russet potatoes, planted  over an acre on a backfield of Harvest Hill Farm (also known as Pumpkinland).
Not a lot of folks harvest potatoes with horses lately. In fact, the equipment pulled behind Kenny Robbins’ beautiful pair of Percherons was over 100 years old.
You just don’t find Potato Diggers for Draft Horse Pulling on craigs list. Trust me, the guys in the Farmers Draft Horse Mule and Pony Club have looked.
On this warm and sunny day, the horses got a good workout as they turned up row after row of big, yellow spuds. Robbins, who lives in Canton, conditioned them by driving a flat load behind them to build up their legs and lungs. The girls would pull for 150 feet, then pause calmly as workers adjusted equipment. Then they’d move out again. Within 30 minutes, hundred of pounds of potatoes sat dirty but golden on a trailer bed.
After some time, former club president Bill Winslow stepped in with his pair of Belgians. Several other pairs waited their turn and stood quietly tied to trailers, grazing on hay.

Maine has a rich history of potato production, especially in the County. Kids still get out of school to help with the harvest. Akeley, who is also an equine dentist, remembers it well from his childhood in Mapleton, outside of Presque Isle. He even used his potato-pickin’ basket from the old days.

Photo at right: Director Gordon Curtis holds up heart-shaped Shepody potato.

The Farmers Draft Horse Mule and Pony Club has about 200 members from all across the country. For more information, CLICK HERE

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10/14/2011 Kathy Carpenter
Hi Maddy... This was a wonderful and interesting story to read. As always you are giving us great reports,information and resources in the newsletter. Thank you for all your hard work and efforts! Kathy Carpenter
11/4/2011 Holly
Thank you for the great article Maddy! It was great to meet you. Thank you, Holly, Secretary Farmers Draft Horse, Mule, and Pony Club

"While there are many things you can fake in life, pretending that you know horses when you don't isn't one of them" - Cooky McClung