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It’s been a very special year in Ponoka

The horse-powered era of farming has come back to life for Foodgrains Bank fundraiser

They brought in the right ‘team’ and dusted off the ‘know-how’ to complete the first stage of harvest for the Growing with Horses project near Ponoka.

Sharing the experience of what farming was like a century ago was a big reason why Ken and Verna Pohl came up with the unique take on the popular Growing Projects for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

This spring, a five-acre plot near their farm was seeded to Morgan oats (a variety developed at Agriculture Canada’s research centre in Lacombe) using draft horses and equipment from the early 1900s. As the crop turned golden, it was time to call back the horses, bring in the binder, and line up a ‘stooking’ crew who arrived on Aug. 23.

“Lots of people here didn’t even know how a binder works, didn’t realize that it ties a bundle,” said Ken Pohl. “That’s pretty special, when people come out and get to experience that.”

Farming the old-fashioned way is ‘pretty special,’ says Ken Pohl.

Farming the old-fashioned way is ‘pretty special,’ says Ken Pohl.
photo: Dianne Finstad

Brett Fulford of Haynes provided his team of well-matched Percherons, and hooked them four abreast to his 1938 John Deere binder. With the assistance of his neighbour Cam Anderson, they cut the crop and it was up to the eager volunteers to ‘stook’ the ‘bundles’ coming off the binder.

“You have to jam the first bundle down hard, and then angle the rest of them around,” instructed Don Campbell, one of the more ‘experienced’ observers, as he helped the first-time stook builders.

“You put on six of them, nice and tight, with two on each end. That’s the way we did it,” he added. “The last year we did it, my brother and me stooked 400 acres.”

“Setting the first bundle is the most important thing,” agreed Pohl. “You want the stook to be in a tripod formation, so it stays standing. If they fall over, the grain’s not going to dry and cure properly.”

That means, of course, that all the heads of grain in the bundles need to be up as well.

The big stooking technique debate in the field that day was using a pitchfork versus hand placement for the bundles.

“If you go by hand, you can set two bundles at once. With the fork, you can only do one at a time, but you don’t have to bend so far,” said Campbell.

“I’m too old to bend over,” Pohl said with a chuckle while leaning on his pitchfork.

Candace Ebeling tries her hand at stooking.

Candace Ebeling tries her hand at stooking.
photo: Dianne Finstad

A few dozen people participated or dropped by during the event. While even the youngest ‘stookers’ were clearly enjoying the experience, it was people in their 20s and 30s who seemed most captivated.

“I heard the words in school,” said one participant. “But I didn’t ever know what they meant.”

“I’ve got blisters already!” added another.

Pohl was delighted to see the turnout, both at the stooking, and earlier at the seeding day as well.

It was his involvement with the Bar U Ranch’s horse farming project that gave him the idea for this initiative.

“Last year, they harvested their first-ever crop, all done with horses. When Verna and I were coming home from the threshing, I said to her, ‘We are going to do this at our place,’ and here we are.”

Deciding to donate the proceeds from the sale of the crop to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank just seemed a natural fit.

“The government kicks in $4 for every $1 we raise, so it will go a long ways to help a lot of needy people in the world,” he said.

Brett Fulford (in black T-shirt) operates the 1938 John Deere binder with the assistance of Cam Anderson.

Brett Fulford (in black T-shirt) operates the 1938 John Deere binder with the assistance of Cam Anderson.
photo: Dianne Finstad

Pohl is a longtime heavy horse enthusiast, and even competes in the Canadian Cowboy Challenge events on his Percheron-cross horse. It was the tie, back to his own past, that stirred the desire to use the majestic work animals for farming once again.

“I was a very young teenager the last time I pitched bundles. It brought a tear to my eye when we were loading a bundle rack, and throwing them into a threshing machine. We had our team there, and that made it even more special. That was what attracted me to do this here.”

The Pohls want to deliver those same kind of memory-making moments for folks when they complete the harvest — weather permitting — on Sept. 19.

“Brett has a threshing machine and some bundle racks, and we’ve got more lined up. We can certainly use as many racks and teams as want to join us.”

The LA Vintage Machinery Club has also been contacted to bring out some old threshing equipment to help with harvest day.

“They have a restored tractor that used to belong to Verna’s dad, so we’re hoping they’ll bring it. It would be pretty cool for her to have his old Rumley threshing machine running here.”

About the author

Contributor

Dianne Finstad is a Red Deer based reporter and broadcaster who specializes in agriculture and rodeo coverage. She has over thirty years of experience bringing stories to light through television, radio, and print; and has a real passion for all things farm and western.

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