1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Ploughs

(Part 17)



We begin our brief notice of the implements of the farm with those used for the tillage of the soil. Of these the first place is unquestionably due to the plough. A history of this implement, tracing its gradual progress from the ancient Sarcle to its most improved from at the present day, is necessarily a history of agriculture. So much is this the case, that a tolerably correct estimate of the progress of the art in any country, whether in ancient or modern times, may be formed by ascertaining the structure of the plough. Much attention has been paid to its construction in Britain for the last hundred years, and never more than at the present day. After all that has been done, it is still, however an unsettled point which is the best plough for different soils and kinds of work; and accordingly, many varying forms of it are in use in those parts of the kingdom which have the reputation of being most skillfully cultivated. Ever since the introduction of Small’s improved swing-plough, the universal belief in Scotland, and to a considerable extent in England, has been that this is the best form of the implement. Wheel-ploughs have accordingly been spoken of by Scottish agriculturists in the most depreciatory terms, and yet it turns out that this has been nothing better than an unfounded prejudice; for when subjected to careful comparative trial, as has been frequently done of late, the balance of excellence is undoubtedly in favor of the plough with wheels. Its advantages are, that it is easier of draught; that the quality of its work is better and greatly more uniform than can be produced by a swing-plough; that in land rendered hard by drought, or other causes, it will enter and turn over even furrows where its rival either cannot work at all, or at best with irregularity and severe exertion to the ploughman; and, lastly, that its efficiency is independent of skill in the ploughman. This last quality has indeed been usually urged as an objection to wheel-ploughs, as their tendency is said to be to produce an inferior class of workmen. Those who know the difficulty of getting a field ploughed uniformly, and especially of getting the depth of furrow specified by the master adhered to over a field, and by all the ploughmen, can best appreciate the value of an implement that, when once properly adjusted, will cut every furrow of an equal width and depth, and lay them all over at exactly the same angle. The diversity in the quality of the work at those ploughing competitions, to which only the picked men of a neighborhood are sent, and where each may be supposed to do his very best, shows conclusively how much greater it must be on individual farms, even under the most vigilant superintendence. In every other art the effect of improved machinery is to supersede manual dexterity; and it does seem absurd to count that an objection in agriculture which is an advantage in everything else. There is more force in the objection that wheel-ploughs are inferior to swing ones in ploughing cloddy ground, or in crossing steep ridges, and that they cannot be used for forming drills for turnip or other crops. This objection vanishes when it is known that in the most improved wheel-ploughs, the wheel can be laid aside at pleasure, and that they can then be used in all respect as swing-ploughs. A mould-board, somewhat higher and wider behind than that best adapted for ordinary work, is required for forming turnip-drills. This, however, is easily managed by having two distinct mould-boards for each plough, or, better still, by using only the double mould-board or bulking plough for drilling. An important feature in the English ploughs is, that they are fitted with cast-iron shares, which, being case-hardened on their under surface, wear unequally, and so preserve a sharp edge. The necessity for daily recourse to the smithy is thus removed, and along with it that irregularity in the quality of the work and draught of the plough, which so often arises from witting or unwitting alterations being made in the set of the share in the course of its unceasing journeys thither. These cast-iron shares are slightly more brittle than those made of malleable iron with steel points; but it is of importance in determining their comparative merits to bear in mind that the prime cost of the former --- 10d. to 1s. each --- is so small as to render them at the year’s end the least expensive of the two. When it is desired to turn a very deep furrow, a plough is used differing from the common one only in being somewhat larger and stronger in all its parts, with four horses to draw it.

Ploughs which break and stir the subsoil, without bringing it to the surface, by following in the wake of the common plough, are now much used. The first of the kind --- the invention of the late Mr. Smith of Deanston --- is a ponderous implement, requiring at least four good horses to draw it. It is well adapted for displacing and aiding in the removal of earth-fast stones. The inventor has happily described its operation by terming it a "horse pick." Read’s subsoil-plough is a much lighter implement, which can usually be drawn by two horses. Since the introduction of thorough draining, it is found beneficial to loosen the soil to a much greater depth than was formerly practicable, and this class of implements is well fitted for the work. It is always advisable to use this implement, and to mark and dig out the large stones encountered by it, before introducing steam cultivation.

Broadshare or paring-plough are much used in various parts of England in the autumn cleaning of stubble. A broad-cutting edge is made to penetrate the soil to the depth of three or four inches, so as to cut up the root-weeds which at that season lie for the most part near the surface. These, as well as the stubble, being thus detached from the firm soil, are removed by harrowing and raking; after which the land is worked by the common plough. An implement of this kind is frequently used in carrying out the operation of paring and burning. Bentall’s Broadshare has the reputation of being the best of its class; but we can confidently recommend the common plough stripped of its mould-board and fitted with a share twelve inches broad, as not only the cheapest, but decidedly the most efficient scarifier that has yet been used.

An ingenious Aberdeenshire mechanic, Mr. Pirie of Kinmundy, has recently invented a double-furrow plough on an entirely new principle, which has met with general approval, and has already been adopted by all the great plough makers. By carrying the plough on the three wheels, one on the land and two beveled ones in the angle of the furrow, Mr. Pirie dispenses with both soles and side plates, and thereby lessens the friction, and avoids that hurtful glazing and hardening of the bottom of the furrows which attends the use of other ploughs. So much is the draught lessened by this improved, that three horses and one man with this double-plough can perform as much work in a day as four horses and two men with two ordinary ploughs. For a seed-furrow or level field of free soil, two horses are quite able to work the double-plough.

Various implements of the plough type, so modified as to adapt them for particular processes, have from time to time been offered to public notice, but have failed to meet with general favour. We limit our notice to those of ascertained utility, and refer the reader who desires fuller information to Ransome’s Implements of Agriculture, [Footnote 312-1] and the more recent work by Messr Stephens and Scott Burn, where he will find descriptions of the most interesting of them.


312-1 The Implements of Agriculture, by J. Allen Ransome, Lond. 1843. The Book of Farm Implements and Machines, by Henry Stephens R. Scott Burn, Edin.

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