Forage 2017: Licking family keeps up horse haying tradition
In the world we now live in, the size and quality of our haying equipment depends only on the depth of our pockets and how friendly the banker is. Every dealership has its lot filled with bright and shiny new self-propelled swathers, big round balers and wider rakes. But there are still a few operators who are still doing things the way our great-grandfathers did them, and with much of the same equipment. Their horse power is only limited by the number of horses they can hook up.
I’d never been around heavy horses until I married into a fifth generation Nebraska Sandhills family three years ago. My father-in-law Rick Licking is still using most of the same methods his grandfather employed. He uses an old tractor with a sickle bar mower for mowing but the rest of the haying and feeding is done with teams of Belgian horses. My husband Tyrel also has always preferred horses to things that have a motor.
Once the hay is cut and dried, a team is hooked to an old dump rake and the hay is gathered into windrows. Then an old wooden toothed sweep pushed by two to four head of horses is used to push the hay onto the teeth of the over-shot stacker and the team backs away, leaving the pile of hay. The operator pulls a rope to engage a small gas motor which powers the hydraulic pump that runs the boom thus raising the teeth and hay together and dumping it into a wire cage, where the stacker operator uses a pickfork to shape the stack.
Once the cage is filled to capacity and topped to shed water, a team is hooked to the stacker and it is pulled away from the stack of hay and moved to a new location, where the process is repeated. Come winter the big hay sled with a tilt deck is pulled alongside the stack. A chain is run from the front of the sled to the fore-cart hitched to two and up to six horses depending on the size of the stack, distance to feed and depth of snow. Gently the stack is pulled onto the sled and the deck drops back into place. The chain is unhooked and the cart hitched to the sled and then off to feed.
We don’t have much for hay meadows just wheat grass, so often we have to supplement with big round bales purchased from elsewhere. The semis are unloaded with the team as well, one man climbs up on the bales and the other drives the team and fore-cart attached to a long heavy rope and a big hook. The hook is stuck in the end of each bale and the team pulls forward, pulling the bale off the trailer. We have a made-over hydra-bed from off an old feed pick-up, it has a small motor to run the hydraulics and has a tongue for two horses to hitch to. The bale cart can haul two bales if they aren’t too big and unrolls the bales. If they aren’t going to feed a whole bale, a hook and chain is used to pull a bale onto a drag sled and then it is forked off as needed.
Feeding done with horses is accomplished quietly and with considerably less impact to the delicate soil of the Sandhills. The ruts in the trail roads caused by pick-up tires get deeper and deeper as the exposed sand blows away. Haying with horses might take a little longer than the modern methods, but feeding really doesn’t take any longer. The teams give us the freedom to go anywhere and we never have had to walk home because they ran out of gas or got stuck in a blow-out. And they always start regardless of how cold it is. The horses work off of voice commands and through years of work have mastered the true art of team work. It’s a lot easier to open a gate and talk to the team, they will pull through and stop, which saves time when feeding alone. The mares used on the place were born and raised here, their line goes back to what Great-Grandpa Licking brought in. We have a stud and are in the process of raising more. The older geldings were purchased as yearlings from a breeder in Kansas.
Young horses after a little groundwork is done with them, are harnessed and hooked to an old steady horse. One who is bigger, stronger and calm enough to handle a colt having a fit, and if necessary able to drag a youngster along if a horse sulks up. Feeding trips are good practice for the colts, being worked daily and having a job helps to get them muscled and a calm teammate instills confidence. The draft horses here all have been worked as two and four hitches. Each horse knows what side they work on and always line up that way in their stalls. Bob and Tip are half-brothers and have been together their whole lives. When Bob is kept in to drive with a colt, Tip waits all day at the gate for his teammate to join him.
Rick’s father Norman used horses his entire life and one time he had a runaway going through a gate and ended up with a horse on each side of the fence, they took out quite a few posts before he got them stopped. Norman raised and trained teams his entire life and the last team he broke hauled his casket to the cemetery in a wagon.
Rick’s Grandfather Charles Edward Licking homesteaded near here in 1909 and was a well know draft horse breeder and trainer. Four head of horses pulled the wagon with his young family in it and three followed, a mare, stud and a new colt. The Lickings had to wait for the colt to be born before the family could move to the Sandhills from their rented farm near Sumner, Nebraska. His brothers and parents took up adjoining homesteads in 1910. Rick’s great grandfather Charles Jacob Licking’s last request was that his favorite team haul him the 12 miles to the cemetery at Seneca, Nebraska.
“The winter of 1978-79 we never started a gasoline engine the entire month of January, due to extreme cold and deep snow.” said Rick Licking.
Horses have always played a huge part in the lives of the Lickings, Rick trained teams for years when he was younger and Tyrel trains saddle horses as well as draft horses. They also use the horses to feed cake to the cows, fence, haul manure, bank windmill tanks, and move snow. I’ve even seen the horses used to pull start a tractor or pick-up.
“The equipment is easier to operate, cheaper to fix, easy to repair and horse power is cheaper than fuel. Also doesn’t require a loan to buy, most of it is here or folks will just about give it away.” said Rick Licking “Since this place was homesteaded, horses have always been used.”
The sixth generation of the family is due to arrive this spring and will hopefully carry on the draft horse tradition.
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