Whatever else the year of 1935 brought into play, it was a sure thing that the Great Depression had put renewed life into the draft horse and mule trade throughout the cornbelt states. The reliable old hay burners had become objects of ridicule with a lot of tractor-minded folks, salesmen, draymen, etc., and many farmers themselves during the roaring '20s that extended well into the Dirty '30s.
But every coin has two sides ... at least. For the fellows who had stuck by their horses and mules as their power plant, they really didn't notice.
It suddenly became evident that the fuel for old Dobbin wasn't gasoline delivered by BIG OIL, but it was there all the time in their own corn cribs, grain bins and hay lofts. No charge for the delivery either, as all you really needed was grown on your own farm. If you wound up with a real bumper crop, you could even sell the surplus. It might have even given Henry Ford a tummy ache just thinking about it.
The demand for good working teams perked up a little ... not a lot because there still wasn't much money in circulation. The number of stallions being traveled increased and so did the number of kids with draft colts as their 4-H projects. It wasn't a complete recovery by any means ... but at least it wasn't just more of the same ... as were the early '30s.
Following is a Report of the Iowa Horse and Mule Breeders' Association for 1935 from the 1935 Iowa Yearbook of Agriculture. It paints a quite optimistic picture of the time:
The interest in horses and mules, which gave evidence of renewed life during 1933 and 1934, continued to grow during 1935. The buying and selling of mares and stallions continued in a "bullish fashion" and the prices asked and paid for draft animals were the highest since 1921.
The United States Department of Agriculture gives a figure of 62,000 colts produced in Iowa during 1935 or an increase of 29% over the number produced in 1934, and the number in 1934, as we will remember, was a 32% increase over the number produced in 1933. With this great increase in numbers the uninformed person might become alarmed for fear Iowa might over-produce horses and hence create a surplus of this sort of farm power. This fear is certainly groundless when we remember that Iowa has always been considered as the source of supply for draft animals for a great portion of the east and south. Thus, even though Iowa only need produce 60,000 colts to replenish her own supply of draft animals, she must produce nearly twice that number in order to meet the demand for draft animals put on her by purchases from these other sections of the United States. Thus we see Iowa in 1935 producing more colts than she needs for her own replacement and still losing more than 9,000 head of good breeding or seed stock to buyers from the east and south. This drain of the supply of mares and fillies is indeed dangerous and it is to be hoped that good mares can be kept in the state until the supply can be built up enough to take care of the demand, both within the state and from the outside.
True, sales and use of other forms of power have shown a marked increase in Iowa during 1935. This has been brought about largely due to the shortage of horses and mules in the state and by the high prices asked and paid for these draft animals.
The number of stallions and jacks enrolled by the stallion enrollment division was greater in 1935 than for any of the six previous years. The report of this division also shows that more Belgian and more saddle stallions were standing in Iowa during 1935 than during any previous year in the history of that division.
A number of importations of horses from Europe came into Iowa during 1935 due to the activities of the Holbert Horse Importing Co., of Greeley, the Iowa Horse
1935 has only added further proof of that already piled up during 1932, 1933 and 1934, that horses are a sound investment for farmers and livestock producers, and that they offer a sound avenue of escape from the fears of depression and a stable basis of farming during periods of hope and progress.
By the time the 1935 International Livestock Show came around in Chicago, draft horse breeders were even a little bit cocky. To illustrate that, I'll run a picture of the "Best Five Belgian Stallions," all imported from Belgium by the Holbert Horse Importing Co. of Greeley, Iowa, along with the "Best Five Percheron Studs," from the George Dix stables, Delaware, Ohio.
With the the onset of WW II just a few short years later, the little surge for the draft horse ended abruptly. All the rules of engagement were cast aside as agriculture joined in the total war effort. "Food will win the war and write the peace" and other such slogans.