FREDERICKTOWN — It’s harvest time and all around the county one can travel down the country roads and see great machines rolling through the fields cutting huge swaths in the rows of corn or whatever else the farmer is harvesting. In Knox County, it is mostly corn. These machines will harvest hundreds of acres in just one day.
This is a far cry from what a traveler going down those same roads past those same fields 100 years ago would have seen. They would have seen horse-drawn wagons flanked by workers picking, husking and tossing the ears of corn into the wagons all in one swift continuous motion. It’s a sight one doesn’t see any more. Not unless they know where to look.
Anyone driving by the farm of Joe Reed on Old Mansfield and Knox Lake roads might think they had driven through a time warp. They would see Reed walking beside a wagon pulled by two Percheron horses and picking, husking and tossing the ears of corn in one continuous motion.
“I’ve been doing it this way about 25 years now,” Reed explained. “I’ve always done it with Percherons.”
Reed said the Percherons were a good choice for this kind of work. Although they are not as big as Clydesdale horses, they were big and strong enough to do the job easily.
“We’ve always had horses,” Reed added. “I’ve always rode horses. I rode horses before I could walk. I’ve always been around horses. We’ve got about 19 head right now including a couple of Bay Mules.”
Reed was working by himself Wednesday afternoon when the News caught up with him. But he was expecting a little help with the harvest soon.
“I’ve got four Amish guys to come and help me,” he said. “Then we can really make some time.”
It all looks very simple but there is a little more than meets the eye. Reed walks along the upright corn stalks husking and picking the ears in one swift motion and tosses them in the wagon without missing a beat. The horses are well trained, moving ahead and stopping on voice commands from Reed. They seem to be the perfect employees. They are almost perfect. Mike, the horse on the left, keeps trying to sneak a nibble on any ear of corn within reach. A sharp, “Mike! No!” from Reed and Mike quickly pulls his head back from the corn and gets back to business.
Reed said if he did the work by himself it would probably take him about two weeks to harvest the seven acres of corn in the field. With just a little help it would only take about two days.
Reed’s operation is very efficient and has a relatively small carbon footprint.
“We raise all the grain for our animals,” he explained. “And we sell any that’s left over. We use the manure for fertilizer. It’s all pretty self-contained.”
And this is the primary reason he does it this way. But there are a few practical considerations.
“It means I don’t have to buy a corn picker,” Reed said. “But it’s also good for the corn, good for the land and good for the animals.”
And with all that walking and picking, it’s probably good for him, too.