The original horsepower

­­­­­Horses were power in pioneer Iowa. They kept the family farm going and the family in business. Many farmers had spares in case of need and horse-trading stories were common. The 1850 Iowa census listed over 38,000 horses, most being in the eastern and southern counties. By 1860 they numbered 175,000. In the early 1900s the number exceeded 1.5 million. Horses with enough strength to break the prairie sod, haul away logs for cabin-building, and move huge boulders resulted in importing and breeding draft horses for farm use.

Below is an ad for a Riverside Farm sale in Cass County, printed in the February 22, 1911 Breeder’s Gazette. Peter Hopley made numerous trips to Europe to buy draft horses, and the winners in international competitions were brought to America to be sold, most in foal (pregnant). Imagine the amount of feed and hay it would take for a long ocean voyage, followed by a long journey by train to Iowa. See Iowa Barns yesterday and today, page 33, for the Hopley barns and story.

William Fields and his brother in Cedar Falls, Black Hawk County, also were renowned horsemen, but their late 1880s ad was for coach horses, not just “ordinary” workhorses. See page 35 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today. A coach was classified as a four-wheeled passenger-carrying vehicle drawn by two or more horses.

Many pioneers would not have been able to buy these expensive horses, but there were many local sales where farmers could buy horses at reasonable prices. Draft horses are still bought and sold today. Check out the fall Waverly Midwest Horse Sale, October 5-7, 2022, in Waverly, Iowa. The list can be seen online.

Chickens by the barnful

Summer and chickens are featured in this Metropolitan Life Insurance Company advertising card given to potential customers over a century ago. Hopefully, customers would have been interested in both life insurance and chickens.

What about chickens and this barn? Originally intended for livestock, it became a home for chickens some years ago at Greg and Janet Holcomb’s farm at the edge of Martelle. See more of this barn story on page 208 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today. (May 2022 

Ninety hens and 125 pullets were occupying the barn in August when we stopped by. Janet had dozens of eggs to sell and we helped the cause by buying a dozen.

One of the areas for the hens is pictured here. Inside, nesting boxes are provided with egg compartments, tilted so eggs roll down, keeping the eggs clean. Janet notes that there are hens that want to sit in the nesting boxes, so they try to retrieve the just laid egg by rolling it upwards to the nesting box. Some of them manage this feat. Then they begin incubating the egg like a good hen should. Determined hens they are, but not smart enough to know the eggs are not fertilized. (August 2022 photo)

The pullets live next door to the hens, separated by a fence. The pullets are  colorful, curious, and lively. They are teenage hens and will start laying eggs at  four to six months. Then there will be MORE eggs to deal with. (August 2022 photo)