Draft horses and mules plant historic island

Terrell Williams/For the Capital Press This draft mule takes a break from a day of harrowing and drilling during spring planting work earlier this year near Wendell, Idaho.

Former farm feeds variety of wildlife

By TERRELL WILLIAMS

For the Capital Press

WENDELL, Idaho -- Last spring members of the Southern Idaho Draft Horse and Mule Association planted a 5-acre field at Thousand Springs State Park.

The field of oats has attracted game and waterfowl, Park Ranger Eric Whittekiend said. All summer the field has been full of game birds, deer and small animals.

"We really look forward to having this be an annual event," he said. "Next year we'd like to plant a new 5-acre plot to rotate back and forth (with the first one)."

The park is on an 80-acre island in the Snake River that was once a farm and dairy, but the ground has not been tilled for several decades.

Bill Holloway, a past president of the association, helped harrow and plant the field with his two mules and two Belgian draft horses. At a recent festival, he gave wagon rides around the island and was proud of the mature field.

"It's a really nice crop of oats," he said. "You could see where the deer were going in there and lying down. The stand was excellent."

Whittekiend said that having the horses, mules and antique tractors at the spring planting brought public awareness of the historic farm. Grandparents were recalling how this was the farming of their day, and kids were having fun, seeing the draft animals in action and getting to ride along with some of the drivers.

Rick Giles, president of the draft horse and mule association, said planting the hard earth again was made possible by friends from the Magic Valley Antique Tractor Pullers Association, who came to the island a day earlier and plowed the ground with vintage tractors.

"They didn't get top billing," he said, "but we really appreciate what those guys did."

Before the plowing, volunteer firefighters burned the tall, dry weeds off the field.

An annual event at the island park is an art and music festival held on the last weekend of September. Members of the association camp on the island and give wagon rides to hundreds of people.

Giles said he was pleased to drive his team past the field he helped plant and see a stand of oats that was solid and full of seed heads.

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