1 of 3
2 of 3
3 of 3
As stewards of 240 pristine acres in the North Carolina foothills, Michael and Suzi Morehead educate themselves on how they can build their farm using environmentally-friendly principles and practices
The two draft horses wait patiently, a pair of chainsaws dangling from their harnesses, as local timber harvester John Hartman stands over the trunk of a downed poplar tree.
“What do you plan to use the wood for?” John asks landowners Michael and Suzi Morehead. The two confer a moment. “Interior siding,” they reply. The decision made, John and his draft horses go to work. With the tree trunk firmly secured to the harness, John gives a few words of encouragement and an experienced tap of the reins. On cue, the horses begin deftly pulling the half-ton log up a skid trail that, a few months from now, few will know ever existed.
Eventually the wood will be processed into lumber on-site with a portable saw mill and used in construction of a cabin, barn, and run-in shed. From tree to structure, the wood will never leave a half-mile radius. Talk about your local building material. This unique and environmentally-friendly method of using horses to extract trees and process them on-site for lumber is just one of the many ways that Michael and Suzi Morehead are going green in their effort to build a modest but thriving horse farm.
Nestled in the foothills of the Sauratown Mountains in Danbury, North Carolina, Highfields Farm is home to 240 acres of Piedmont forest, flowing streams, and rolling green pastures. With its panoramic views and dynamic landscape, it is easy to understand why Michael and Suzi are inspired to protect the land’s ecological health and preserve its unique pastoral beauty. “From the moment we first saw the land we loved it and thought it should be preserved,” Suzi explains. “For decades the land has been under a tremendous amount of pressure from developers, and we didn’t want to see it split into hundreds of smaller parcels. So, as soon as we were able, we bought it ourselves.”
THE ORIGINAL ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
Michael and Suzi first learned about horse-powered logging from the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation (HHFF), a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable forestry through the use of animal-powered timber harvesting. HHFF put them in touch with John Hartman, who serendipitously was already an old acquaintance. With the aid of his two draft horses Stella and Dolly, John helped the Moreheads log recently-fallen or damaged trees from their property for use as lumber.
As John explains, horses provide a low-impact and environmentally-sustainable means of harvesting timber. “The horses are very maneuverable in the woods, and allow me to select damaged or dying trees for harvest, as well as those trees with maximum lumber value. Furthermore, I can minimize my impact while moving the timber out of the forest, which is where most of the environmental damage from traditional logging occurs.”
To John, “Horses represent the original alternative energy. They run on fuel I can grow on my farm, and I don’t have to be much of a mechanic to work with them.” Ever-willing to teach others, John let Suzi and Michael try their hand at the reins. “I have ridden my whole life,” recalls Suzi, “but there is something about being on the ground behind the horses and hauling logs out of the forest that is amazing. They work so hard for you and you really work together to get the job done. All you hear is the sounds of the forest and the horses working. No tractor, no smell of diesel. Just woods and horses.”
In addition to harvesting wood from trees on the land, the Moreheads are also salvaging an old log cabin on the farm. “Anything and everything that can be safely salvaged and reused will be,” notes Michael.
HARNESSING THE SUN'S POWER, TOO
One of Michael and Suzi’s more ambitious plans is to power the farm using solar energy. With the help of a specialized contractor, the Moreheads plan to use solar hot water and radiant heat. This is a technology where water indirectly warmed by the sun circulates through a network of pipes under the floor, enabling it to act as a giant radiator to heat their cabin and barn apartment. The run-in shed will also have lights and fans powered by roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) panels, and the Moreheads are applying for cost-share funds to assist with constructing a solar-powered livestock water pumping system. Pending favorable cost estimates, they plan to install additional PV panels and sell any unused electricity back to the power grid.
PROTECTING WATER QUALITY
The steep terrain of the property presents specific challenges for Michael and Suzi in their effort to protect the ecological health of their land and nearby water quality. Soil erosion and stormwater runoff are a real concern, particularly because the property is bordered by the Dan River, a scenic river known for its biological and recreational value. To address these issues, Michael and Suzi have left a 200-foot forested buffer along the river’s edge, and they are researching opportunities to permanently preserve this buffer through a conservation easement. In addition, they have installed bio-swales downhill of the pastures to collect stormwater runoff before it reaches the river. To help prevent soil erosion, the Moreheads are planting trees and other vegetation native to the Piedmont region along steeper slopes. The use of native vegetation will help ensure that the trees and plants grow tall and healthy without the need for synthetic pesticides or excessive watering.
A TRULY DIVERSE FARM
Highfields Farm will soon become home to horses and a variety of other livestock, including goats and chickens. The Moreheads will take advantage of raising different animals by employing multi-species rotational grazing on their pastures, naturally helping to control the parasite cycle of each animal and allowing for better utilization of pasture forage. Michael and Suzi also plan to raise Colonial Spanish horses, a unique lineage identified by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as in “critical” need of conservation. Suzi met her first Colonial Spanish horse several years ago while attending a natural horsemanship clinic. Impressed by the horse’s calm temperament and athletic disposition, she began learning about the need to preserve this historic lineage and decided she wanted to contribute to the effort.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Building the framework for a sustainable farm involves considerable research, trial and error, and hard work. To help perpetuate the emerging community interest in sustaining “greener” pastures for America’s small farms, Michael and Suzi plan to use the farm as an educational resource. “Our hope is that this farm will become a valuable resource for local schools and others in the community,” Suzi explains.
Michael and Suzi plan to one day pass on their farm to their two young daughters, Hattie and Pearl. It is their hope that the land will be as healthy and scenic then as it is today. Considering the Moreheads’ efforts to preserve and sustainably manage Highfields Farm, it is evident the land that Hattie and Pearl will someday inherit, along with the animals who call it home, are in good hands.
Clay Nelson is the co-founder of Sustainable Stables, an organization that encourages green practices for the equestrian community. Sustainable Stables provides free educational resources through www.sustainablestables.com , as well as public-speaking and consulting services. Contact Clay at firstname.lastname@example.org