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How sweet it is!

By Staff | Oct 9, 2008

Tom Hansen and his three-horse team take a break between rounds in the Rox Orange Orange Sugar Cane acre west of Dolliver. At right, Tom and his wife Lisa work together during harvest. EDN photos by Mary Ann Menendez

While all work and no fun makes for a dull situation, the draft horses belonging to Tom and Lisa Hansen of Armstrong know that once the work is complete, the treat will last all winter long.

Betty, Nellie and Goldie were hard at work in the acre last weekend where Hansen and his draft horses had planted Rox Orange Sugar Cane in the spring. The acre is part of the original Emmet County farm owned by the late Mike Jessen.

“They work the field to get this treat and they like to eat the whole thing,” Hansen said.

His wife Lisa explained the draft horses prefer to eat the stalk because it is sweeter. “But they will eat the head too.”

Connected to the binder is a three-horse hitch. In addition to the three horses named above, the rest of the crew includes: June, Molly, Marybelle, Maggie and Mike.

“Mike is our new baby born in May,” she said. He is the offspring of Molly and King.

“Mike will either be sold or he will be gelded,” she added.

At 33 or 34 years of age, Betty is the grandma of the group. Goldie is a true American Cream, the only draft horse breed created in the United States.

“Mike and Arnold Hockett were instrumental in fine-tuning this breed, a draft Welch cross,” she said.

It was in 1993 when the Hansens first planted Rox Orange Sugar Cane.

“It is harvested in the fall after the first frost,” he explained. “You don’t really have to wait until after the frost but it is best to because it becomes sweeter.”

The binder is a 1923 model or older, and it gathers enough stalks to make a bundle.

It is amazing to think 1923 ingenuity devised a machine that would automatically tie the cut bundle with twine before dropping it to the ground. At that point, the process of collecting stalks starts all over again. Hansen always allows the team of horses to rest between rounds.

It takes the Hansens a few hours to collect the sugar cane from the acre. In all likelihood, they are probably the only family to raise and harvest Rox Orange Sugar Cane in Emmet County.

“These horses did the planting and tilling.” Hansen hitches them up to do some of the sugar cane harvesting and completes the job with the combine.

The couple said the horses do about 50 acres of cane, corn and beans with the horses every year as a way to preserve family farm equipment history and to save on fuel costs.

Laughing the couple noted that when using horses they have to shift the cost of fuel to the cost of hay, a different fuel needed for working livestock.

“We really come out ahead using the horses as we get 130 bushels of corn per acre with the horses. Mike worked hard to preserve farm history so we do it in his honor.”

Hansen admitted he does it for the fun as well. Plus the horses need to have a good work out or they will lose muscle.