Imagine Ploughing Your Land With Oxen, Donkeys Or Horses. Though I’m Now No Dig I Am Nostalgic About Past Practices & Appreciate the Skill Involved.

I doubt many allotments or gardens get ploughed today. No Dig is more prevalent and most places are just too difficult or small to plough. But it wasn’t always so as the following videos demonstrate

When I was just a few years old I remember my grandfather taking me to a field where they were loading loose hay onto a horse and cart. Thought I’m getting old I’m not so old for this to have been the norm. It might have been the last time it happened in Devon.

Ploughing with Oxen. Constant Troyon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed tractors came in when so many farm labourers went to war. With fewer people a tractor replaced the need for such big labour force.

The first commercially successful lightweight petrol powered tractor built in Britain was made by Dan Albone, in Bedfordshire before World War One but only replaced the horse due to the war when horses and men were sent to the front.

Horses and Plough - Boverton by Mick Lobb, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Before that the horse, mighty Shires, Clydesdales, Percherons and others were the power unit of the English farm. But it wasn’t always that way.

Ox Powered Ploughing

During the medieval period the main motive power on the farm was the ox. And they were also mighty beasts. Gentle giants that could be slowly used to plough a furlong.

Often, on lighter land they worked in pairs. But on heavy clay as many as a dozen yoke could be used to plough a furrow. Ox are not the easiest beasts to get to walk in a straight line and using twelve yoke must have been a nightmare. Plus that many would require a lot of space at the end of the filed just to turn a round.

I don’t think donkeys really caught on here for framework, though mules were used in mediaeval times as baggage animals.

Overseas Ploughing Practices

The following three videos provide a bit of ploughing nostalgia. Two are videos from France but you don’t need to speak French to appreciate them The story is told so well in pictures.

As you can see using ox is not an easy affair. The work needed to keep them working is almost as hard as pulling a plough ourselves. Well not quite maybe!

And in all these videos the ploughing is made much easier by the fact they are using metal ploughs of relatively modern design. Centuries ago they would have been wooden ploughs with a metal ploughshare. And go back even further and the ploughshare was just a pointed stick that wore out in hours.

It always surprised me how fast a metal plough share wore out when I ploughed with a tractor. Setting up the plough properly prolonged its life but shares had to be replaced far too often in my bosses opinion and I remember being sent down to the local ironmonger to collect 2-3 ploughshares. Even in the 80s when I first had my market garden my local ironmonger stocked ploughshares. I doubt ironmongers now stock them.

Enjoy these nostalgic videos .. we’ll probably never see this type of ploughing again. The skills are dying out and can never be replaced.

Image Attribution:
Horses and Plough – Boverton by Mick Lobb, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Constant Troyon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tag: Ploughing With Oxen

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