Using draft horses to manage forests and woodlots horses minimizes the damage left behind. “We can pull a log down and out through the woods without anyone ever knowing we were there,” said Benjamin Harris, owner of Sinking Creek Horse Logging, LLC, in Salem, Virginia.

Many loggers such as Harris were drawn into the industry through their interest in owning and using working draft horses. “I grew up using working horses on my family’s farm. Then I met a logger offering an apprenticeship, and now I use my herd of mostly Suffolk Punch draft horses for management reasons and prefer it for long-term sustainability,” he said.

Whether you already own draft horses or you’re considering starting a logging business from scratch, rest assured that it is not only environmentally friendly, but also requires little investment in large tools or equipment, depending on your business model.

In this column, Harris shares his expertise on the equipment that makes work safe and most efficient.

Logging arch

In Harris’ opinion, the logging arch – a two-wheeled cart – is a must. “I personally wouldn’t log without it,” he said. “It increases production by 50 percent and allows you to pull larger logs you otherwise would not be able to.”

The arch features an extremely simple design. The logging arch includes a platform that provides space for small hand tools and a seat for the driver. Other than wheels that roll as the horses move, there are no moving parts. A platform can carry tools throughout the site and includes a seat for the operator.

Using the logging arch improves traction and reduces the unpredictability of logs shifting as they are skidded from one location to the next. Designed to lift the front of the log off the ground, the weight of the log pushes the wheels into the ground, creating more traction. “It is less likely for the log to shoot one way or another when using a logging arch,” he said.

With the assistance of a logging arch, a team of draft horses can skid approximately 250 board feet, or about 3,000 pounds. The terrain and incline can alter the team’s load capacity.

“It’s not a mainstream piece of equipment, but is available in the United States from places like Pioneer Equipment, an Ohio-based business,” he said.

Large equipment

Logging with horses requires little investment in large tools. The large equipment needed all depends on your business model. If you’re strictly using horses to work in the woods and are not moving cut logs from one location to the next, it’s not necessary to have more than a pick-up truck, trailer and a chainsaw. “It depends on if you’re simply working in the woods with your horses or sending the logs all the way to market,” Harris said.

Loggers who plan on hauling and delivering logs to market need a piece of equipment to load the timber for transport. Once Harris’ team of horses drags logs out of the woods to the pick-up point, he uses a skid-steer loader to load the logs for delivery.

“I put steel tracks over the tires on my skid-steer,” he said. “It makes the machine wider than when it comes from the factory, making it less likely to tip over.”

Given the machine’s size and multitude of moving parts, it’s important to know how to safely operate the machinery. It’s equally important to use the factory-installed safety features available on the machine. “Always use the seat belts, cab guard doors and safety features available on your machine,” Harris said.

It can be tempting to move more timber at one time rather than creating smaller loads, but it’s unsafe to overload the machine. Read the operator’s manual and follow the capacity ratings. “You can quickly get into big trouble if you overload a machine,” he added.

An example of a logging arch.

Image provided by OrionForestry.co.uk

Specialty tools

The appeal of logging with horses is the fact that it does not require an assortment of specialty tools. In many cases, loggers don’t need much more than a team of horses and a chainsaw. While there is not a need for a wide variety of tools, Harris offers advice on additional tools he finds helpful.

Hydraulic jack

As a tree is being cut, it may have a natural tendency to lean in one direction or another. Sometimes, that means if allowed to fall naturally, it would damage other, healthy trees in its path. A low-profile, hydraulic jack gives loggers the opportunity to influence which direction the tree will fall. “It allows us to take a tree that is significantly leaning in the wrong direction and put it in the complete opposite direction to avoid damaging other trees,” he said.

Not just any hydraulic jack from the home improvement store will work. Harris suggests a high-capacity hydraulic jack rated for a minimum of 20 tons, which can be found at your local farm supply store. “You’ll also need a steel plate to place under it when you’re using it,” he added.

Hook

In many situations, a chain is used to maneuver a log from where it is cut to a loading zone. In some circumstances a chain is difficult to use or insufficient. In these cases, a hook is more useful. “There are a lot of situations where you can’t get a chain around a log because the log is laying on the ground,” he said.

Built like a pair of tongs, the hook is placed around the end of a log and the teeth dig into the wood. As more pressure is applied to the hook, the more aggressively the tongs clamp around the log. “It’s also faster than putting a chain around,” he added.

PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the head, ears, eyes, face, hands and legs are designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries to loggers. Safety glasses, ear plugs and gloves are the most basic and inexpensive PPE available that can go a long way in keeping loggers and their assistants safe. Find out more about required and recommended PPE by visiting http://OSHA.gov.

Build your toolkit

Choosing the right tools for the job makes logging safer and more efficient while continuing to leave the smallest environmental impact when the job is done. Compared to other industries and other methods of logging, the start-up costs for logging with horses is relatively small.

Take the time to decide which tools you need and which may increase your efficiency so that the investment you do make is valuable.

With the right equipment you can enjoy working in the woods with your draft horses while also knowing the process is environmentally friendly and sustainable. “The trees we are leaving behind are more important than the trees we are taking,” Harris said.