Horse Power, The Real McCoy, by S.N.

While I have only been a reader for a year or so, I have not noticed a lot of references to the advantages to livestock. Depending upon your retreat location, the extra logistics of livestock ownership will outweigh the costs. As fossil fuel availability becomes more limited, the conversion of non-protein nitrogen into energy will begin looking more attractive. Today I want to focus on the horse. Let’s look at the four major benefits of the equine:
Transportation –A horse can move you from your residence to your retreat. You can (i) ride, (ii) drive a wagon or buggy, (iii) walk and use the horse as a pack animal (iv) or any combination of the three. While I would recommend that your bug out prior to WTSHTF, should you need to ride your steed as you bug-out transportation, you will be passing those vehicles stuck in gridlock on the highways. A horse with a rider walks at 3 mph, trots at 8 mph, cantors at 12 mph and can gallop @ 30+ mph (Quarter Horses have been clocked at over 50 mph for short distances). A draft horse pulling a load might make 3-5 mph over bad roads. Compare that to a human walking @ 3 mph. In a bug-out scenario riders could possibly cover the 300 miles to their retreat in as little as 6 days. Variables include terrain, horse condition, and “watch-outs” in route. (Watch out, we want to ride around that particular situation as opposed to through). Also, in certain emergency situations, that galloping @ 30 mph, could come in handy. In a different bug-out scenario, a family of four, with one pack horse can significantly increase it’s bug-out supplies. As a general rule, you can load a pack horse up to 20% of its weight including the pack saddle. Dead weight for a pack horse is harder to carry than a rider as the rider helps balance the load. The average quarter horse weights 1,100-1,200 pounds. Draft horses reach the 1,800 pound range or more. That can be a lot of extra supplies.
Let me stress again, I do not recommend that anyone use a horse as their primary mode of transportation from their residence to their retreat. The preferred method is in the trailer behind the truck. (For those of us who do not yet live at their retreat.)
Beyond bug-out transportation, the horse makes excellence retreat transportation. Checking on neighbors, checking on fencing for your other livestock (more on this topic for another post), providing enhanced communication and distribution through networks (“Pony Express”). These are just a few ideas. I am sure that your readers can add to the list.
Work – We talk a lot about raising our own crops. It is a great idea, but how large of an area could you garden if you had to turn the soil by hand. Your garden size will depend upon your location, soil type, rainfall, growing season and number of mouths to feed. Lets assume that you need an acre of garden to feed your family (probable a bit on the large side, but work with me here). How big is an acre? There are 43,560 square feet in an acre. Still no perspective? A football field, including end-zones is 360 feet by 160 feet, or about 1.3 acres. Are you ready to turn that much soil by hand? A well conditioned draft team, using a single bottom plow can plow between 1.5 to 2 acres per day (That would be 10 hours, not your 9 to 5). Add a disc and a planter and you are well on your way to feeding your family.
And please, remember to think outside of the box. Work may include other jobs for animal engines. For example, horses have been used in horse mills, horse wheels and on treadmills for numerous types of jobs, including pumping water and grinding grain. Horses are still used today for some low-impact logging operations. Now I do not expect everybody to go out and build a mill on the back forty, but don’t limit the thought of using your horsepower to just the field.
Barter – This one is easy. There are three basic barter opportunities: Transportation, Work and Breeding. Just as there are material objects to be bartered, what services could you provide that provide value to others. What would it be worth to you to have someone prepare your garden soil for planting? What if a member of someone outside your retreat needs to be transported to a Doctor for medical attention? What would the offspring of a good draft horse bring under extreme conditions? The possibilities are endless.
Food – This one is the hard one. Under the direst circumstances, horsemeat is protein and in a do-or-die situation they can be eaten. Mind you that if you elect this option you are greatly reducing the opportunity to maximize the other benefits that I have listed, but I would rather eat than be eaten. I heard that it tastes like chicken.
Other benefits that are worth mentioning;
Horses are great alarm systems. Not an alarm like a dog, but more silent. Horses go through life knowing that they are prey. As a result they have a keen sense of their surroundings, much more so than humans. If you suspect danger (or even if you do not), watch your horse, odds are he will see it, smell it or hear it before you. Horses also have excellent night vision and they raise their own replacements.
Okay, so we have decided that horse ownership may be a good thing for your retreat, what next?
Space requirements – As you are adding to your “Things To Do” list, remember that if you have horses, you will need to have feed. If they are working horses, they will even need more feed. Just as with the garden, the amount of pasture acreage required per horse varies, but as a rule of thumb, 2 acres of pastureland is generally needed for a mature horse. The pasture should be divided into 2-4 separate pastures (paddocks). This will allow the flexibility to rotate horses among pastures to allow for pasture recovery. It would be wise to pick up a good book on Management Intensive Grazing.
Temperate climates may be able to refuel their horses on pastures year around. Those in the more inclement regions of the country may need to put up some hay. Feed requirements are generally 1-2 pounds of hay per hundred weight. Do the math, 1,500 pound horse, 30 pounds per day, 5 months out of pasture due to weather (in my area), that equates to a little over two tons of hay per horse (and that is without a reserve [for seasonal variations]). In addition to the garden and the pasture you’d better set aside an additional 1-2 acres per horse for growing hay. While you are checking out that antique horse drawn equipment at the next auction don’t forget the sickle mower and the hay loader.
Also remember that just as you are storing food for yourself, starting a little stockpile today for your horse(s) would be prudent. A couple of extra big round bales is cheap insurance. Remember to rotate.
Additional space requirements include a stable and/or turnout shelter. Some people use box stalls for their horses, some use a turnout shelter. I prefer the shelter.
Skills Needed – Some basic animal husbandry skills. Between a good book and a little hands-on experience, you can get the basics covered. If you live in the city and expect to travel to your retreat, leasing a horse from a local stable can provide great value and learning experience without a long-term commitment. Surf the web for some horse related activities. Attend a local Field Day or Horse Pull. Consider signing up for a driving or riding clinic in your area.
Equipment Needed – Depending upon your expected horse’s function, you’ll need to look at halters, saddles, harnesses, farm equipment, farrier tools and the skills to use and repair these items.
And lets not forget the equine. What type? Paint, Quarter, Draft. Don’t limit yourself to just looking at horses. Mules and donkeys can offer some distinct advantages over horses.
Everybody has their own preferences. The important point is to just pick one and get started. There are fewer and fewer people that have experience in some of these skill sets. It is important that someone at your retreat starts to develop some of these skills. Let ‘er buck. Respectfully submitted, – S.N.