Meet the Norfolk farmer who still prefers using horses to tractors

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones is still using working horses to carry out jobs at his farm. Picture: I

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones is still using working horses to carry out jobs at his farm. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

In an industry driven by ever-advancing mechanical technologies, a Norfolk farmer is going against the grain – by working with horses rather than tractors.

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones is still using working horses to carry out jobs at his farm. Picture: I

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones is still using working horses to carry out jobs at his farm. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Stephen Jones said it was more cost-effective to use the animals for much of the work at Maltings Farm in Brisley, between Dereham and Fakenham.

The farm rears and finishes about 400 dairy bull calves a year for the meat industry, and produces hay and straw for the horse market as well as selling firewood.

Working horses are used to deliver almost all the feeding and bedding for the cattle, and also to cart away the muck from the calf pens and the timber from the woods. Only about 15 acres of cereals is grown but much of the ploughing, drilling and muck-spreading is also carried out using traditional horse-power.

'We use the horses wherever it is economical,' said Mr Jones. 'We don't use them for jobs unless they are cost-effective, because we need to make a profit and we have got a lot of overheads to meet.

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones at the 2016 Mullahead Ploughing Match in Northern Ireland with his hors

Norfolk farmer Stephen Jones at the 2016 Mullahead Ploughing Match in Northern Ireland with his horses Joe and Joyce. - Credit: Submitted

'To litter all the calves outside we do two loads with the cart. If we did round bales we would need twelve loads with the tractor rather than two with the cart.

'With the straw, you would probably have to have another tractor and a straw-blower, and that would be at least £20,000 tied up just for one job. But with these small bales we can do all the feeding and baling with the horses.

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'We do still use the tractors, but this is the first year we have done nearly everything with the horses. We've used 400 litres of diesel from harvest-time up to now, but last year that would have been nearly 2,000 litres.

'We can muck out and spread muck on a wet day like today, which we could never do with tractors. We have really heavy land, so we just wouldn't have been able to get anything on during the winter time.

'The last field of wheat was only three acres, but it was late being ploughed and there was no way of getting it in with the tractor.'

Mr Jones' stockman Harry Frost, who is chairman of Reepham Young Farmers' Club, said: 'I have had horses all my life. My family, all the way through, have been horsemen, stallion walkers and farm workers. So I liked the idea of getting back into the heavy horses.

'Before I came here I was in an organic place with a 200hp tractors and a new teleporter, but I gave it up to do the horse work.'

The farm has three gypsy-cross cobs which are working at the moment, with two more Comtois animals, a French draft breed, being trained for the future.

Mr Jones and his horses are in Northern Ireland this weekend, competing at the Mullahead Ploughing Match – one of the largest competitions in Europe. He has competed there for the last six years, with his best performance being a third-place finish in 2014.

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