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The horse as a work companion

Stéphane Galais and Églantine Touchais use horse energy on their farm for dairy and market gardening. “A pleasure but also a more sustainable mode of production”, they evoke.

Currently, seven horses and a donkey are present on the Ferme du Guyoult, in La Boussac (35), run by Stéphane Galais and Églantine Touchais. On a SAU of 25 ha, they also raise Breton black piebalds (12 cows) and produce vegetables on 2 ha with 600 m2 of tunnel. “We offer around forty different vegetables: onions, leeks, potatoes, gherkins… The milk is transformed into dairy products such as cheeses, yoghurts, gwell. We market everything in direct sale in Amap, in stores, on the markets”, detail the farmers.

On the farm, three horses, usually females, work alongside the couple, lending them a hand in transporting water or manure, ploughing, preparing vegetable beds or hoeing. “Next door, we have a few young people for renewal and retirees…” The horses are Breton draft except for one who is a Fjord. Less imposing, it can more easily operate in greenhouses.

From left to right: Fabien Rouvrais, Stéphane Galais, Églantine Touchais and Gabriel Hingant.

The horses are led by Stéphane Galais who is also an equine behaviorist. “We must first educate them and then maintain the link with them, value their work”, he underlines. A horse acquires a working maturity at seven years and provides optimal capacities until 15 years on average. The breeder will train mules that display more longevity, “in the prime of life at 20-25 years old. »

As part of the 2nd edition of the Salon à la ferme organized by the Confédération paysanne, Stéphane Galais and Églantine Touchais opened their doors on February 28 to host a conference-debate called “Animal energy, an energy of the future? “. “Its use can contribute to issues on the climate, on fossil fuel resources, on soil compaction…”, specified several participants. Of course, horses require additional surfaces for their food, “but this grass-based energy is renewable and local. And they provide fertilizer, positively impact rotations. »

Worldwide, one-third of animal-drawn farmers

It should be noted that in the world, out of 1.3 billion farmers, one third work with animal traction and less than 3% with tractors, the others working manually. “Our society sees modernity in infinite technological progress. In our view, it should rather provide solutions to contextual issues,” says Stéphane Galais, who is campaigning within the Confédération paysanne for animal traction to be recognized as a renewable energy and to be subsidized “as new technologies can be. »

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Two mares resting on the Ferme du Guyoult.

More horses in the vineyards

He does not want to be dogmatic, however. “On the farm, we have a tractor in addition to the horses. The two can cohabit, use the same trailed implements, but as soon as the lifting is necessary, it’s the end of the horses. It should be easier to have the right tools…”

Stéphane Galais also points out that the financial weight of horses is less important for small structures, the price range is between 3,500 and 7,000 € for a trained horse. “We are rather short of it now and breeders are getting older…” In the vineyards, “needs are increasing with the development of biodynamics. We should create a sector to organize ourselves better”, wishes the farmer.

“A mode of production that makes sense”

Based in Dolo (22) with his wife on 8 ha, Fabien Rouvrais also uses horses on his farm, in market gardening and breeding Breton black piebalds. “Switching to 100% animal traction has become a challenge. I bought an auxiliary engine to reinforce my autonomy. I use horses for market gardening and I am currently looking for technical solutions for hay; I manage to wilt and rake but not yet to mow and bale,” he says. “The place of livestock farming was important in our project”, recalls Gabriel Hingant who settled in 2018 with his partner in the town of Plévenon (22). With a UAA of 4 ha, they cultivate 1 ha of vegetables and 0.5 ha of berries and, for example, carry out hoeing with horses. “We don’t have a tractor on the farm but borrow one from neighbors for hay and manure. “Working with horses takes more time. “To keep this mode of production, which makes sense to us, we are thinking about marketing methods to enhance it. »

Promotion through the “Faire à cheval” label

The three farms of Stéphane Galais, Fabien Rouvrais and Gabriel Hingant have the “Faire à cheval” label created three years ago and aimed at promoting actions carried out using working equines. It attests to the use of animals in good conditions. Awarded by a jury made up of members and professionals of the Faire à cheval network, this label can also be used by communities, on certain sites maintained thanks to equines… Sometimes, the horse is a vector of social ties, as in the town of La Bouexiere (35). “We set up the watering of the flowers with volunteers helped by a horse. He also does school transport once a week and walks,” explains Gérard Becel, who manages these activities.

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