Forwarders and harvesters are among the common giants in the woods around any commercial logging operation, but one Upper Peninsula man – though practicing on a smaller scale – has help from a whole different type of giant: his Belgian draft horses.
Horse-powered logging is something John Boyd, of Hermansville, has been doing off and on since 1989 and is what Boyd calls a labor of love.
“It helps me deal with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder),” he said. “It’s a community service and I like it. A lot of people go to a job they don’t like to earn money to pay for things that they really shouldn’t have bought in the first place…Me, if I’m not doing anything else, I’m adding fertility or I gain firewood…and we don’t leave a mess. At the very most we leave a few hoof prints and a pile of poop.”
Boyd and his girlfriend, Cat, use their three male Belgian draft horses, Brownie, Eeyore, and Moose, to work in the woods where they haul logs, and in the fields where they mow and rake.
The two manage land on the local November Farm, owned by Dale and Claire Kennedy.
“I take care of the trees. It’s a management kind of reciprocal agreement,” said Boyd. “No money changes hands. I heat my house with wood. We cook with wood. I like woodworking. It’s a reciprocal, sustainable thing.”
While in the woods, Boyd uses a chainsaw to cut logs and loads them into a modified farm wagon via a JMS 155 log loader.
“We were trying to buy a machine out of Canada and we couldn’t do it,” he said. “By the time we got the import fees and all the stuff that we had to do, it was cost prohibitive, so we found the loader locally and we found the wagon locally and went into the shop and put it all together. And all this equipment that we have is actually owned by a trust, so we don’t own anything.”
One of their goals is to improve timber stands, where crowded trees and insect infestations are among some of the problems facing forests. But also of importance to Boyd is practicing sustainability and decreasing his carbon footprint.
“Other than my loader and a chainsaw, we don’t have a big reliance on fossil fuels,” he said. “We’ve got axes and cross-cut saws and we’ve got the horses. Our petroleum fuel bill is negligible compared to a commercial operation, but we’re not on the same scale as them. We’re weeding the garden, so to speak.
“And you’re not going and getting in a rut. Not that all commercial loggers leave ruts, but machines have a tendency to do damage whereas we have a tendency to not do damage. It’s the nature of the beast.”
In addition to his work with the horses, Boyd, who composts on a large scale, is working on a compost heating project. He is partnering with Agrilab Technologies based in Vermont, which has designed a heat exchanger that can be used in a compost pile.
“If you know much about composting, you can get it pretty hot,” said Boyd. “We’ve got a compost pile now that’s actually heating a hunting blind…It’s got a 4-inch coil of PVC pipe in it that it’s open on one end and, since heat rises, our theory in this is that the warm air is going to travel up through there.”
The concept is similar to the one of Jean Pain, a French inventor who had developed a compost-based bioenergy system to produce all of his energy needs, except Boyd is taking it a step further by adding horse manure to the compost.
“We’re getting a little better carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and it’s hot,” he said.
Additionally, Boyd is among those working toward creating a community garden in Menominee County’s Meyer Township, as there is interest among the community for locally-produced foods. With his team of horses, he has also plowed the community garden in Escanaba, in the past, and hopes to do the same once the Meyer Township garden is established.
In general, he is a huge supporter of community and family.
“One of the things that we do is offer sleigh rides and different recreational activities…,” said Boyd. “We want people to come and partake in that and rather than pay us…we would like to see people donate to the local IXL museum. It’s not just about us. It’s about the community.”
He calls all of his endeavors a cross between agroforestry, forest management, and arborist work, all topics he would like to educate the public about. He wants people to know the greater potential that lies in horses and teach them what they can do with horse manure and composting or organics.
“I think that our operation with the horses, I’m not sure, but I think we’re the last ones in the U.P. doing this,” said Boyd. “But I don’t want to be the last. I want to be the guy that brings this back. This is good history. I’m a firm believer that our history directs our future and if we forget where we came from, we have no idea where we’re going.”
As for the future of sustainability efforts like his, Boyd isn’t sure what’s in store.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s certainly going to be positive,” he said. “Where is this compost heating going to go? Where is it going to take us? Are we going to be able to heat a greenhouse with it or a hoop house? I guess our biggest goal out of any of it is the teaching of it.”