Power on the farm

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Power on the farm.


For several centuries man has used horses as a draught animal which hastened the demise of oxen. It is quite obvious if a horse can pull a cart this power can be used for both ploughing and many other tasks in agriculture. Initially all such equipment would be pulled or in a few cases propelled by the horses but the invention of a piece of machinery called a horse-gear turned horses haulage power into rotary motion. This utilisation to provide rotary power for smaller and less demanding jobs was quickly eclipsed by the newly invented steam engine.

Steam engines

The first use of steam in agriculture came in the form of a fixed engine situated somewhere in the main farm complex. Only the largest of farms would ever be able to avail themselves of this technology, it is also doubtful if it was truly economically viable since unlike a factory where constant power was essential on the farm it fluctuated. The development of portable engines made the employment of steam on the farm a practical reality.

With the far greater power available than that produced by horse-gears, things such as thrashing drums increased dramatically both in size and efficiency to produce better results. It was inevitable that this power to drive machinery would be harnessed make the engine self-moving thus came the dawn of the traction engine. The engineers of the day were quick to exploit the potential of making the steam engine capable of a range of duties often quite specialised. The capital outlay for such equipment that made it uneconomic for all but the largest farmers was the catalyst to bring about specialist agricultural contractors who would provide the equipment and take on these various tasks.

Internal combustion

It was the intervention of this kind of power that was to revolutionise farming. To have a form of motive power that could replace both the steam engine and the horse was indeed a revolution in agriculture. Early tractors had their limitations but having a piece of equipment capable of performing tasks daily throughout the year even many using steam power was revolutionary. With the smaller initial outlay, a tractor could be worked all day at the end of which switch it off with no need for stabling as with the horses. Since one size does not fit all, soon tractors became available in a range of sizes, being equipped for specific land types or jobs. Tractors were only one part of the equation, small portable engines known as barn or stationary engines became available, mechanisation of many previous hand jobs reduced labour making it cost effective.

It was only a matter of time before equipment and the internal combustion engine became combined hence the invention of the combine harvester. A machine that was able to reap and thrash saw harvesting change beyond recognition. This was only one of several amalgamations of tasks undertaken by a single piece of machinery which over the years have become bigger and bigger and hence often beyond the reach of individual farms. This is once again brought to the fore the agricultural contractor as in the days of steam.