Horse Logging on Brookfield Farm forest
Farmers have more land under forestry than ever before in Ireland. A problem faced by farmers now is how to carry out the first deciduous forest thinning – usually when the plantation is 15 to 20 years old. This date is fast approaching for many forest owners. A number of trees must be felled and removed at first thinning stage to allow the better quality trees to develop. First thinning is necessary for long term timber value but is expensive. Usually first thinning is carried out by specialised machines, which means removing every seventh row of trees, and machinery can damage remaining trees and compact the soil.
An approach that avoids these problems, using traditional skills, was used in Ailbhe Gerrard’s plantation in Brookfield farm, Coolbawn outside Nenagh. A logging horse extracted the felled timber trunks, in total a hundred tons, from the plantation’s first thinning.
Ailbhe Gerrard’s 15 acre broadleaf plantation is an interesting mix of oak, ash, beech, sycamore with some larch. This farm forestry beside Lough Derg provides a habitat for rare native Irish species including red squirrel, woodcock, and raptors. With a view to long term return, Ailbhe decided to ask Tom Nixon of Trojan Heavy Horses to extract the timber sustainably; and to hold a demonstration day for horse logging on the farm to show the potential of trained horses for farm forests.
Why use horses to extract timber from a forest? Horses are amazingly manoeuvrable and intelligent, they can step around trees so you don’t have to take out every seventh row, saving valuable trees for future income. Horses also can extract timber with minimum damage to the forest and floor. The use of horses in forestry work never disappeared in Europe, and is now making a comeback in Ireland.
Horse logging demonstration day in Brookfield farm Thursday 12 January 2012
A number of neighbours, including local farmers and forest owners came to view the unusual sight of a working horse on Brookfield farm on Thursday 12 January 2012. Visitors from the Irish Work Horse Association travelled from Louth, Mayo, Cork, Limerick and Kerry. The 50 strong crowd looked on enthralled during the afternoon as Tom Nixon and his daughter Holly expertly worked the draft horse Ardennes stallion Prince. Working as a team, they worked smoothly together to haul out the felled timber from the forest and stacked the long trunks by the roadside ready for processing.
The weather cleared for the occasion and the sun shone on the throng watching the spectacle of a draft horse working, which many had not seen since childhood. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful views of Lough Derg from the elevated site as they chatted over tea and sandwiches which Ailbhe laid on.
Ailbhe was delighted the horse logging demonstration day was a success and was grateful for the support of the Irish Working Horse Association, whose members supported and attended.