Our little farm has been crazy busy serving customers this spring. We have truly been humbled by the number of total strangers that have paid deposits for meat, live animals, and classes offered by our farm, all in the faith that we will supply their order. Considering the fact we just moved here a year ago, and have no “name” or reputation here, we believe that’s a big deal and a huge blessing. We also feel it is indicative of the tremendous need for healthy, pure foods and good stewardship in farming in our area.
Along those lines of stewardship and farming, as you know, in late March, we brought home our new team of Belgian horses. We spent a couple of months getting to know them and testing them out in all sort of circumstances. We pulled logs out of woods, up hills, around pond edges, and even logs stuck in vines overhead. We had them pull the wagon across train tracks, around fires, on busy roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, and more. We loaded the wagon with lumber, firewood, hay, and people. We hooked them to and asked them to drag 1500 lb round bales, fence posts, and our incredibly noisy road grader. We drove them into our small town several times, tested them on steep hills and around crowds. I had the kids ride bicycles all around them while I drove several times, and even had 3-year-old R squeeze a squeaky toy until the team was OK with the idea. You get the picture.
Well, all that work is paying off, and we are increasingly thankful for the time, effort, and extra money we saved to invest in a really well-trained team. These boys have impressed us at every turn. We were warned on multiple occasions that once folks got wind of our team, the requests would start pouring in. Boy, oh, boy were they right!! Our first request was to help pull a log out of someone’s back woods, and we did in exchange for some of the lumber for milling. The next request was to help demo horse-drawn plowing at a local state park. We decided it would be a great experience, so we hitched up, drove the team to the park (just a couple miles away), unhitched, and the more experienced teamsters helped us hitch up to a plow and set to work. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but clearly our team had plowed before. Nick, the off horse, dropped right down into the furrow, both boys leaned into their collars, and they pulled just like old pros. Considering it was a special demo day for the public, we appreciated that the boys made us newbies look really good! So good in fact, that we were then requested to come give rides at the state park on a weekly basis.
We weren’t quite ready for that step, but it made us start planning and brainstorming a plan of action. Another month or so went by and we decided to start offering wagon rides every weekend through summer in our little town–which, by the way, has NOTHING else to do on weekend evenings. Because our little town has never had such a request, we discovered that there were no licensing or permitting requirements. They only asked that we put “diapers” on the horses to catch manure. The city officials were excited, so we got the legalities in order, got the horses’ “Bun Bags” for their manure, and had our first weekend rides. We decided offering such rides was a great way to stimulate the horses’ mentally, get us all off the farm once a week, and generally give us all a change of pace. I wouldn’t call it booming business, but considering we only gave folks a couple days’ notice, we were pleased with the turnout. It will help buy hay for the winter. That evening, however, we were spotted by multiple other folks. One was a theater director who has requested us and our team play the “Wells-Fargo” wagon in an upcoming outdoor production. Another hosts a fall festival and really wants us to offer rides to help increase business there. A third is interested in having their almost-senior high school student hire our wagon for prom next year. WOW! And we aren’t even advertising yet!
We haven’t committed to anything else just yet, as we are still plenty busy here on the farm. We are talking and planning though, looking at our calendar, and I’ve started doing a lot of sensory work with the horses to get them used to more and more activity, just so we are as prepared as possible. For now, we are focusing on keeping the team working several days a week doing miscellaneous work around the farm, and holding our Saturday evening wagon rides in town. We are creating flyers to notify weekend tourists in the area and at the local hotels of the event, and we are considering other activities that help get word out about our farm, which will hopefully drum up business in other areas of our farm business. It has been fun so far, though, and we look forward to seeing how our little farm business morphs as time goes on. In the mean time, if you are interested in hiring draft-horse services in the central IL region, you can check out our farm website at http://www.redgatefarmllc.com and send us an inquiry!