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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Lise and Her Horses

Everyday is Labor Day: Working on the Land with Draft Horses

By Lois Barton

Posted on Aug 27, 2002

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June, Daisy and Lise, Photo by Sue Monahan

I've known her since she was a babe in arms. My friend Lise, a remarkable young woman, is pursuing a vocation that is rare in this day and age. In a world where speed and quantity are generally sought after, Lise has chosen a way of life that brings her deeper kinship with the earth and those that dwell upon it. Lise and I had a delightful conversation the other day.

She has chosen a unique path in this confusing world and is pursuing it with skill and enthusiasm. She is a farmer who works the land with horses. And just not any horses. Lise owns a team of Belgian draft horses. Her family purchased a 60 acre farm, and Lise is the principal farmer according to her mother. She told me about acquiring the horses but explained that that step didn't come first. How she came to the place where she is now generates great admiration in the heart of an old farm girl like me and I believe makes an inspiring story for readers who live isolated from a connection to the land and farm animals.

In the beginning Lise apprenticed herself to a horse logger to learn draft horse skills. She didn't have a place to keep horses then. She learned from the logger about a team that might be right for her, and was taken to see them. Deciding they would be a good first team, she asked the man who raised them if she could keep them at his place and do farm work under his eye as a way of getting started. He agreed, and she had the team there for about 14 months. It took her a little over a year to pay for this team of strawberry roan Belgians, after which she bought a truck and horse trailer Then she placed the horses with a friend nearer home and was able to do some chores for her friend, like mowing grass and hauling manure in exchange. Someone offered her two acres to work at that time. Besides exercising the horses on the road hitched to a two wheeled cart, she took them in the horse trailer to the acreage, which she plowed, disked and harrowed.

On half an acre of that field she raised a pickling cucumber crop. During that period of time, Lise entered her team of mares in a pulling contest at the state fair two years in a row. She saw this as an opportunity to educate both the horses and herself. The team weighed just under the 3200 pound division between light and middle weight teams, so she pulled in the lightweight group (a contest of strength). She told me she didn't win, but that many of the competitive pulling teams were quite excited, and she'd made a point of handling her horses to emphasize calmness. She was very pleased with how they behaved in the loud and crowded situation. Several members of the audience afterwards commented with appreciation on how her team worked.

She works the farm the family purchased a little over two years. My admiration for Lise prompted me to ask what motivated her to get into this lot of hard work. She explained that her decision was based on several different levels. First and foremost, she must have a daily life for herself that makes her happy, that brings her joy. To be happy she needs to work at something that makes sense to her. She recognizes that she is a laborer. She loves to work. It is a delight to wake up in the morning realizing that there is work to do that she loves doing. She said that observing affairs in the wider world can lead her to despair. Some people work for change through political systems, but that is not her way. Instead, she is applying herself to cultivate something that is beneficial for the world.

"Lise's Horses from the Wagon", watercolor painting © Lois Barton

Her present system can function on its own. She can cooperate with her neighbors and meet her basic needs right there, and she enjoys it. She recently bought a second team. She has enough field work on the farm to utilize four to six horses. The first team can pull a single bottom plow, but it is work for them and they must rest a good deal. With four horses on that same plow they could work all day without the need for rest. One of her mares had a filly in June. She took the mares to a stallion last summer, but only one became pregnant.

She plans to take them again this summer. The mother of the filly is twelve years old, considered late for a first foal. She will keep this filly and train her and put her to work. But it takes five years for full growth to a working age. "These horses raise their own feed. They use it as fuel to do the work and they turn it into fertilizer, and they can raise their own replacements", Lise said with a smile. She looks to the day when she can do all the work on the farm without depending on a tractor, which can be put out of usefulness by a fuel shortage, or a mechanical breakdown.

One of the things I learned from Lise's mother a few months ago was that Lise had been offering rides to customers at a local orchard over weekends in October. Lise explained to me that she has a rubber-tire hay wagon and the capability for that service. She puts hay bales on board for seats For the past three years she has been hired by this orchardist during their apple harvest to bring the team and wagon and give rides. According to her, everyone from young to old enjoys the rides. Oldsters have worked with horses in the past, and it stimulates memories, so she hears lots of stories.

One of the farm projects she told me about was planting twenty-five acres to pasture so she wouldn't have to work it every year.One of her fellow students in a farm business management class she attended told her about another class in forage and pasture management. So Lise checked that out, and learned, among other things, that new pastures thrive better if pastured early to encourage the grass to thicken up. That made sense to Lise. So she began looking for some way to pasture that field. A neighbor agreed to bring in 400 sheep this spring for the purpose. He recognized the possibility of animal marauders, and constructed a four strand electric fence, which was turned on for two weeks before the sheep came.

This maneuver would alert animals that were in the habit of traversing that field to find another route. He didn't lose any sheep to coyotes in her field. While the neighbor was working with sheep in her field, Lise went out to help and to learn more about managing sheep. When the shearers came she tramped wool into the bags. The sheep man told her there is a real shortage of shearers in this area, and encouraged her to learn how to shear sheep. He even paid her tuition to attend a shearing class. (The sheep they sheared in that class had grazed in poison oak and with her allergy to poison oak her arms were a mess for a time.)

An example of how Lise responds to opportunities that come her way is illustrated by her explanation of the neighbors second "sheep" program. Besides their own flock of about 500 ewes from which they raise market lambs, he and his wife do a "lambs on the gain" operation. They take 3000 to 4000 weanling lambs to pasture until they are of marketable weight. He gets 40 cents a pound for what the lambs gained during that time. He invited Lise to join him in this project the coming year and will pay her for her time with ewe lambs from his own flock to help her get started with some sheep on their farm. I told Lise this is a very different life from that of most people I know. It is a lot of hard work.

"What are your dreams for the future?" I asked. She plans a market garden, which is being started this year. The family has thought of a small dairy operation so there will be milk to sell or make into cheese which can be stored. Raising pasture-range chickens and having eggs to sell is another possibility. Raspberries and/or blueberries for market is still another. Additional roof areas have been added to the barn this year. Some of them will eventually cover more closed-in places for new projects. A walk-in cooler for additional storage will be needed. An aspect of the move for self sufficiency includes making a choice about what they grow, she explained. She sees them focusing on the kinds of vegetables that can be stored and available for eating all winter. Things like potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash. To nourish the hope for more congenial neighborhood cooperation, Lise planned a unique party for her birthday last fall. She arranged for a Farm Fun day including food, games, wagon rides and getting acquainted. Invitations were printed up and delivered by her and the horses to every farm in the area.

With the family's help, she cooked up a whole meal of chicken, potato salad, 16 pies, coffee and ice cream. Over fifty people came. They played soft ball in the oats stubble. She gave wagon rides. A lot of the neighbors who came had never even met each other. People stayed the whole afternoon visiting and seemed to have a great time. In the spring, she told me, one of the neighbors stopped while she was plowing in the market garden field. He had gotten his small tractor stuck in wet ground, and asked if she would bring the horses to his place and pull the tractor out of the muck.She did this successfully and made another nice connection in the neighborhood. This man had grown up farming with horses and had many good memories to share as well as an appreciation for a good work team.

I hope these details help you picture one young woman's way of dealing with her leadings in a positive, creative manner. It is inspiring to me to observe what can be accomplished by a dedicated individual who knows what is important for a fulfilling life and goes to work to get it.

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 83 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household andgarden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil. Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

See more of Lois Barton's Articles in West By Northwest
Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

Books by Lois Barton

History and stories of the peoples of the Northwest.

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