It’s not everyday you see someone driving a big Clydesdale with farm implements or a wagon full of daffodils in the spring. No, it’s pretty unusual, but if you follow Angela on her Instagram account, Axe and Root Homestead, you’ll see her on any given day working her horses, riding them, or maybe even taking a rest, laying next to them in the warm sun. I think she’s an inspiration in the horse world and that is why I’m so excited to share the interview I had with her.
You definitely can’t put Angela in a box and she is extremely knowledgeable about permaculture and putting those ideas into work on her farm. Not only that, but I think you’ll find her to be genuine, loving, and inspiring in the way she views the horse- it’s value on a homestead, and as a member of the family. It is evident in her everyday dealings with her beautiful Clydesdales. I hope you enjoy!
1. Can you tell us a little about the horses you have?
A: I have two Clydesdales. One is a mare named Dozer, weighing in at 2,000 pounds. She is from a local area Clydesdale trail-riding stable. The second is Finnegan, a gelding, who is an Amish horse who I rescued from a last-chance auction here in New Jersey. He weighs 2,200 pounds.
2. You’ve shared on social media that one of your horses was a rescue. It must have been pretty costly to get him healthy again. Drafts alone are more costly. Do you think more draft breeds ending up in kill pens because of it?
A: That is a good question. But, in all honesty, the drafts (or any horse for that matter) who end up in kill pens are there due to owner disinterest or negligence. Keeping drafts absolutely is costly, but a human interested in their wellbeing would find a suitable home regardless, even if they could not afford the horse; they would not drop them in a kill shelter. I think it says more about the owner or human who put them there than the horse’s size itself.
3. A lot of modern homesteaders don’t own horses. Why do you think that is, and how do you put your horses to work on the homestead?
A: Horses are large hoof stock animals that provide no edible benefit unless you’re processing them for beef, which is currently illegal in the US. They do offer loads of functions to the permaculture homestead—we’ll touch on that in the next question—but their size, strength, speed, and independent spirits make them an unattractive addition for those inexperienced with horses. On average, a horse will only eat slightly more than a cow; approximately 30 pounds of forage per day for the average-sized horse vs. 24 pounds of forage per day for the average sized cow. However, cows generally require stronger fencing than many horses (with the exception of drafts). Cows also do just fine on lower-quality hay while equines require higher quality. Overall, I just think it comes down to preference and exposure.
4. Besides helping you on the homestead, how else do your horses contribute to your family? And can you ever picture not having horses?
A: Our horses serve many functions on the homestead, but they are also family animals. Our kids ride my gelding, as have friends and their young children. They are amazing therapy animals in that the daily stresses of homestead life seem to melt away when sitting or lying next to a giant horse. Even if I could no longer physically ride these majestic animals, I would always keep them for their unrivaled companionship.
5. How do you recommend others using horses on a homestead in practical ways?
A: The horse can offer many functions. Here are just a few for common homesteaders:
1. Rotational Grazing Circuit: Here at the farm, it all comes back to soil structure and animal health. A rotation of multi-species can help reduce parasite loads, provide forage to animals, and return a myriad of nutrients to the soil, improving its structure and nutrition. Horses eat different portions of grass blades than that of goats, sheep and cattle. Because common parasites are species specific, their bodies kill any ingested parasites that are individualized to sheep and goats. In return, the digestive tract of sheep and goats does the same for horses. Horses offer different nutrients shed in their manure than that of other livestock. They contribute a different nutrient panel to the soil when grazing.
2. Manure and Compost: All manure from stalls is piled into a multi-sectioned compost system. It is hot composted and then used as organic material for raised beds, in-ground growing spaces, orchards, and even delivered back to the pastures as needed.
6. You’ve shared several photos where you are simply enjoying being with your horses. I love this because I think it is vital in establishing a strong bond with your horse. What are some of your favorite ways to
spend time with your horses?
A: I strongly believe that too many horse owners only spend time with their horses when asking them to perform a job or task. To me, this degrades the relationship. My horses look to me as their herd leader because I am with them both during work and during relaxation and play. Our ample time together has exposed us to situations where I exert my leadership, give them a feeling of safety and/or kinship. Sitting with them and simply “being” while they graze, snuggling up for a nap, sitting bareback as they forage or just hand walking for fun are some of the examples of how we create quality downtime.
7. What advice do you have for someone interested in a draft breed?
A: For the most part, drafts are gentle giants. But these are powerful animals that have no issue pushing through wooden fencing, tearing down stall gates or even ripping an entire garage door off the tracks when it was accidentally left too low, and a newbie caught the saddle horn on the bottom edge after saddling up (ask me how I know!). Appropriate infrastructure is incredibly important and must be considered when installing fencing and gates. Here at the farm we use electric polybraid ropes to keep horses where we want them. Heavy duty lumber and posts are used in stalls and fences.
8. Does owning and working your horses on your homestead make you feel more rooted to an older way of life than other animals on your farm?
A: Absolutely. But more than anything, it makes me feel as though I’m doing my part to reduce the need for fuel and live more in alignment with nature.
9. What is the most important lesson horses have taught you?
A: There are many. But what comes to mind most quickly is acceptance; we must accept the horse for who they are as individuals, understand their personalities, their preferences and respect their moods. They are not machines to do our bidding; they are partners. Our expectations may not align with their mindset on a particular day, and we must adapt or work through it together accordingly.
10. If you could give only one piece of advice regarding horses or horsemanship, what would it be?
A: I have an incredibly moody, spirited, 2,000 pound mare. She is difficult and unpredictable at times. Consistency is key with her—and with any horse. Persistence to earn trust and establish leadership came with time, whereas a firm hand and physical consequences for poor behavior does not—it only establishes fear and, ultimately, worse behavior. My horses are my partners, but it came with much work and diligence. I had to show them trust and vulnerability in them for them to do the same with me.
Along with her two Clydesdales, Dozer and Finnegan, she also has ducks, geese, beehives, and sheep. She runs a busy working farm and sells eggs, soap, and other farm goods. She is the author of The Harvest Table Cookbook, The Little Homesteader Series, and the newly released, Sustainable Homestead.
A huge thank you to Angela for agreeing to this interview. If you’d like to learn more about her, please use the links listed below. I encourage you to visit her website, where she has several free resources to be downloaded, including all natural fly spray recipes for horses.
Axe and Root Homestead Website: www.axeandroothomestead.com/
Follow on Instagram: www.instagram.com/axeandroothomestead/
Watch on YouTube: www.youtube.com/c/AxeAndRootHomestead/
Listen to Podcast: HOMESTEADucation Podcast – Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and wherever your podcasts are played.
All photos credited to Angela Ferraro-Fanning and Axe and Root Homestead
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