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Making hay, the old-fashioned way

Head 'em up, bale 'em out
by: ,

What: Draft horse hay-raking and baling demonstration

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Champoeg State Park.

For directions, visit www.oregonstateparks.org/park_113.php or

call 503-678-1251.

Rather than kicking back with a beer in front of the television, Duane Van Dyke takes a practical approach to blowing off steam after work, heading out to his 30-acre hay field near Yamhill.

But instead of firing up the John Deere, Van Dyke, the service manager at Doherty Ford in Forest Grove, grabs a couple harnesses and steps back in time, preferring to work the land with an old-fashioned horse and plow.

'With the stress that comes from the shop, horses are my source of stress relief when I get home,' he said. 'They're always happy to see you.'

This Saturday, local residents will get a chance to see Van Dyke and other plowmen in action, at Champoeg State Park. The park, located on the banks of the Willamette River southeast of Newberg, will host a hay raking and baling demonstration organized by the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association.

The event is the culmination of this year's Champoeg Hay Project, an agricultural living history program launched in 2005.

'What I'm trying to do is recreate some of the past,' said Joe Brown, president of the organization. 'It gives you a better idea of what our ancestors have gone through to get us here today. Eighty or 90 years ago, it would take them days to do things that take us hours now.'

The draft horse association also runs the annual Draft Horse Plowing Exhibition in Washington County, which Brown sees as an excellent tool to expose visitors to agricultural history. The Champoeg Hay Project, on the other hand, allows the association to re-enact the entire process of seeding, growing and harvesting a crop.

As the event gains steam over the coming years, Brown hopes to incorporate other living history elements into the program, including a potluck lunch and period costumes appropriate for the era of horse-drawn farm equipment. For now, spectators can enjoy the sight of seven or eight teams of draft horses hauling, raking and baling hay with a variety of implements.

The event takes place on a 10-acre parcel planted with oat hay in early May and cut this past Monday. Last year the project resulted in a harvest of 12 tons of hay, said Brown, who expects the same from the 2006 crop. Bales will be sold to the public and used by association members.

For Buster Witham, a retired carpenter living in Banks, the Saturday baling will mark the completion of a cycle that started nearly three months ago, when he harnessed his Belgian draft horses to help plant the crop. Witham said he enjoys being out in the field and answering questions posed by people at the event - but his favorite part, of course, is the animals.

'I have fun working with these old ponies,' he said. 'I've been into it for quite a while now. I've always had horses.'

Working with draft horses is more than just entertainment for some plowmen, though. Van Dyke relies on the harvest from his 30 acres in hay production to feed his 15 Shire horses, as well as to mow the acreage he keeps in pasture.

'The only thing we have to buy from the outside is grain,' he said, adding that plowing with horses not only allows for more self-sufficiency, but also saves on tractor costs. 'With the rising cost of fuel, a guy's got to do what he can to keep the price down.'

As an added benefit, Van Dyke takes an equine path for satisfying his doctor's prescription for aerobic exercise. Even though the horses do most of the heavy lifting, it takes plenty of effort to keep up with them.

'You get behind the plow with a couple of young horses, and you'll definitely get your cardiovascular system going,' Van Dyke observed.

The greatest advantages of the horse and plow, however, are more intangible. In an environment that typically has him scurrying around, making sure cars are coming in and out of the dealership - and are fixed properly - taking the time to harvest hay in the traditional way is a welcome relief.

'This takes you back to a slower way of life,' Van Dyke said.