1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Breeding of Cart Horses

(Part 78)


Breeding of Cart Horses

In breeding cart-horses regard must be had to the purpose for which they are designed. If the farmer contemplates the raising of colts for sale, he must aim at a lager frame than if he simply wishes to keep up his own stock of working cattle. These considerations will so far guide him as to the size of the mares and stallions which he selects to breed from; but vigorous constitutions, perfect freedom from organic disease, symmetrical form, and good temper are qualities always indispensable. Nothing is more common than to see mares used for breeding merely because, from lameness or age, they have deceased to be valuable for labour. Lameness from external injury is, of course, no disqualification: but it is mere folly to expect valuable progeny from unsound, mis-shapen, ill-tempered, or delicate dams, or even from really good ones, when their vigour has declined from age. A farmer may grudge to lose the labour of a first-rate mare for two or three months at his busiest season; but if he cannot make arrangements for doing this, he had better let breeding alone altogether; for it is only by producing horses of the best quality that it can be worth his while to breed them at all. It is always desirable that both sire and dam should have arrived at maturity before being put to breed.

The head of the cart-horse should not be large, at least not heavy in the bones of the face and jaws, nor loaded with flesh. Full development of brain is, indeed, of great importance, and hence a horse somewhat wide between the ears is to be preferred. Prick ears and narrow forehead have by some been reckoned excellences, but we have so invariably noticed such horses to be easily startled, given to shying, and wanting in courage and intelligence, that we regard such a form of head as a defect to be avoided. The eye should be bright, full, and somewhat prominent, the neck inclining to thickness, of medium, length, and slightly arched, and the shoulders oblique. Upright shoulders have been commended as an advantage in a horse for draught, it being alleged that such a form enables him to throw his weight better into his collar. It should be remembered, however, that the horses which display the greatest power in drawing heavy loads are characterized by muscular vigour and nervous energy rather than mere weight of carcase; and these qualities are more usually found in connection with the oblique shoulder than the upright one-not to mention that this form is indispensable to that free and full step so necessary in a really useful farm-horse.

"The back should be straight and broad, the ribs well arched, and the false ribs of due length, so as to give the abdomen capacity and roundness. The tail should be well set out, not too drooping, and the quarters should be full and mascular. The horse should girth well, and have his height in his body rather than in his legs, so as to look less than measurement proves him to be. The forelegs should be strong, and flat below the knee, and by no means round and gummy either before or behind, neither should they have white hair about them, nor much hair of any colour. The hocks should be broad in front, and neither too straight nor too crooked, nor yet cat-hammed. All diseases of this joint, whether curbs, spavins, or thoroughpins, are sufficient grounds for rejecting a horse. The feet are a matter of very much importance. The tendency of many heavy horses is to have thin horn and flat feet. A stallion possessing such feet is exceedingly objectionable. Plenty of horn is a recommendation, and the feet had better be too large than too small. The brood mare should possess as many of the points now enumerated as possible. If the mare is small but symmetrical, we may very properly select a large stallion, provided he has good action. If, on the other hand, the mare is large and has a tendency to coarseness, we should select a middle-sized horse of symmetrical appearance." [Footnote 385-1]

Sixteen hands is a good height for a farm-horse. Except for very heavy land, we have always had more satisfaction from horses slightly below this standard than above it.

We have repeatedly put a well-bred saddle mare to a cart-horse, and have invariably found the produce to prove excellent farm-horses. The opposite cross, betwixt a cart-mare and blood stallion, is nearly as certain to prove ungainly, vicious, and worthless. These horses are generally much stronger than their appearance indicates, have great powers of endurance, and can be kept in prime working condition at much less cost than bulkier animals. It is on muscular power and nervous energy that the strength of animals depends, and this, therefore, should be sought after in the farm-horse rather than mere bulk.

Cart-mares should not foal earlier than May. Provided they are not unduly pushed or put to draw heavy loads, they may be kept at work almost up to their time of foaling, and are thus available for the pressing labours of spring. It is of importance, too, that the pasture should be fresh and the weather mild ere their nursing duties begin. Mares seldom require assistance in bringing forth their young, and although it is well to keep an eye upon them when this event is expected, they should be kept as quiet as possible, as they are impatient of intrusion, and easily disturbed in such circumstances. A sheltered paddock with good grass, and where there are no other horses, is the most suitable quarters for a mare that has newly foaled. There must be no ditch or pond in it, as young foals have a peculiar fatality for getting drowned in such places. A mare, in ordinary condition, receives the stallion on the ninth or tenth day after foaling, and with a greater certainty of conceiving than when it is delayed until she is again in heat. If the mare’s labour can at all be dispensed with, it is desirable to have her with her foal for two months at least. She may then be put to easy work with perfect safety, so that she is not kept away from the foal longer than two to three hours at a time. When the foal has got strong enough, it may even be allowed to follow its dam at her work, and to get suck as often it desires it. Towards the end of September foals are usually weaned, and are then put under cover at night, and receive a little corn, along with succulent food. Good hay, bran, carrots, or Swedes, and a few oats, must be given regularly during the first winter, with a warm shed to lie in, and an open court for exercise. At weaning it is highly expedient to put a cavasin on colts, and lead them about for a few times. A few lessons at this early age, when they are easily controlled, saves a world of trouble afterwards. Before being turned to grass in spring, they should, on the same principle, be tied up in stalls for a week or so. It is customary to castrate colts at a year old. Some, indeed advise its being done a few weeks after birth, when, of course, the pain to the animal and risk of death are less. It must, however, be borne in mind that this early emasculation will probably insure a skranky neck, whereas a natural tendency to this defect can in good measure be remedied by deferring the operation. We have seen a puny colt much improved in figure by being left entire until he was two years old. By giving good pasture in summer, and a liberal allowance of hay, roots, and oats in winter, colts may with safety, and even benefit, be put to moderate work in their third spring. Some time before this is done they should be put through a short course of training, to use them to the bit, and make them quiet and handy. Many good cart-horses are ruined for want of a little timely attention in this way. When they have got familiar with the harness, they should be yoked to a log of wood, and made to draw that up and down the furrows of a fallow field, until they become accustomed to the restraint and exertion, after which they may with safety be put to plough alongside a steady and good-tempered horse, and, what is of equal consequence, under the charge of a steady, good-tempered ploughman. As they should not have more than five hours’ work a day for the first summer, it is always an advantage to have a pair of them to yoke at the same time, in which case they take half-day about, and do a full horse’s work betwixt them. With such moderate work and generous feeding their growth will be promoted. By midsummer, the press of field labour being over, it is advisable to turn the striplings adrift, and let them enjoy themselves in a good pasture until after harvest, when they can again be put to plough. Horses should not be required to draw heavy loaded carts until they are five years old. When put into the shafts earlier than this they frequently get strained and stiffened in their joints. On every farm requiring four or five pairs of horses it is highly expedient to have a pair of young ones coming in annually. This enables the farmer to be provided against contingencies, and to have his stable occupied at all times with horses in their full vigour, which go through their work with spirit, and never falter for a little extra pushing in emergencies.


385-1 Morton's Cyclopaedia of Agriculture -- article "Horse."

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