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Believing you can

February 24, 2019

Barb Spafford lives near Hastings, Ontario. She graduated from Kemptville College of Agricultural Technology and Sir Sandford Fleming’s Women in Trades and Technology program. Barb has been logging with horses since 1989, and has contributed to the sustainable forest management of many private woodlots in Hasting’s Prince Edward and Northumberland Counties with her company, Spafford Horse Logging.

I have been very fortunate to have been able to work as a logging contractor, it's the 

very best job in the world. Every season has its beauty, knowing that you are making the woodlot healthier and providing habitat for wildlife, it can't get any better! It's a hard life, physically and at times financially, but like any self-employed person finds, perseverance pays off. You get a reputation and everything starts to get easier. Now if I may I'd like to tell you how I was fortunate enough to become a logger. 
     Having graduated from Kemptville College, my husband and I began farming, I also had a woodworking shop, all the furniture made was solid wood. Pine, maple and oak mostly.
     My first introduction to logging was in 1989, accompanying my husband to the woods occasionally, driving his mismatched team of a standardbred and a percheron. This was all new to both of us, but a neighbour had asked for help and off we went. Gradually the logging took over and farming took a back seat. 
      After a bit of time the wood working also took a back seat leading to purchasing my own team of Belgians and skidding full time. It was great. I had always loved being outside, in the woods, and working with horses. It couldn't get any better. 
     After divorcing though, I found myself out of work for both my horses and myself. Never having cut a tree down, and not owning a horse trailer, I wondered if the challenge was too great. I looked into many forestry related jobs but logging was what I wanted to do. I finally decided I was doing it.
    The first step was taking the chain saw course at Sir Sanford Fleming College, learning how to cut trees down safely and properly. I learned how to drop trees in any direction, no matter which way it was leaning, I could turn it and drop it where it should go.
     I purchased a horse trailer, I already owned a truck, so now I was mobile!
     

 

But who would entertain the thought of a woman logging their bush? Well, the way to deal with that was to take the Ontario Tree Marking Course held in Dorset and worry about any other obstacles when I came to them. The course was incredible!  I learned about health of the trees, about the need for a good habitat for wildlife and so much more. I was early every morning to class and didn't want the last one to end.  The course taught me that we need to manage woodlots today so that we have healthy woodlots for the future. It was a very in depth, packed course.   
     My biggest worry was if landowners would believe I could do this. Well, I was so surprised, there was never a question as to whether I could do it or not. They knew I would be using the knowledge I had learned at the course and were comfortable with me managing their woodlot.  I had all the resources for selling logs that I needed and so I had more work than I could ever have believed. It was almost easier for me to get work in woodlots than for other loggers.
     An aspect of the job I really enjoyed was cutting the logs up. That knowledge is so important and with the guidance of my log buyers (Deryk Ryan was a huge help), I learned to maximize their value. The wrong cut can take a valuable 8 or 10' veneer log, worth upwards of $800-900 to a sawlog valued at less than $100.
     It was hard work, no doubt about it. Up crazy early, head to the barn to feed horses, wait while they eat, water them, load their feed, water, load them. Drive to the woods, harness the horses, hang the chain saws on the hames (part of the harness), head in and get to work. And at the end of the day the same but backwards, getting the horses home and comfortable. 
    After a period of time I hired a cutter to cut my trees. I had so much work and lost a lot of time each day switching from cutting a tree down to hooking the horses to it. Now I could just skid, skid, skid. No stopping and walking out to where the horses were tied. 
     I purchased a tractor next. Some woodlots are not accessible to horses, either too stony or too wet. My tractor had a winch and cable and could sit on the trail and pull the logs to it. It also piled the logs in the landing which the truckers appreciated!
     I attended many woodlot meetings and was asked to put a demonstration on for the Stewardship Committee, demonstrating Good Forestry Practises. I was also hired by a large sawmill to buy standing timber. That was a great job but I really missed the hands-on work that I had been used to. It was a mixture of stopping at farms to talk to them about their woodlots, to marking the woodlots for cutting, organizing a crew to cut, skid and cut up the trees and then organizing truckers. Making sure there was access for the trucks and also working with bylaw officers.
   I’ve spent almost 30 years working in the woods, and the adventures have been wonderful. I wonder if women sometimes just think they can't do something because it's always been done by men, and it is supposedly hard to do. Maybe the biggest challenge was telling myself I COULD do it. Women can do anything, we just have to convince ourselves sometimes. There is absolutely no reason why women can't log! It's a great life, there isn't anything like it.
 

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