Plough (Plow)

Plough or plow is a tool used by farmers in order to prepare a field for the planting of a crop. By using this tool the farmer is able to overturn the soil, bringing up nutrients, while covering weeds and other remnants for added compost. Aeration of the soil is also achieved, giving a fresh moisture absorbing base for the planting of a crop.

Horses and oxen have been the traditional way, since human powered plows were not as sufficient, that farmers plowed their fields. In places where machinery became more readily available, farmers found an even greater amount of efficiency in the use of steam powered tractors, and then later gas powered tractors. Erosion and soil damage, eventually lead to a decreasing level of plow usage, giving way to a gentler way of crop preparations.


Several different types of plows provide several different advantages to farmers. Each plow has a specific use for the different needs of a farmer.

In the areas of less fertile ground, the mould-board plow allows the farmer to cut into the ground and overturn the nutrient rich soil. The mould-board plow has several parts, all serving a purpose in its particular use. The share is the cutting blade that cuts horizontally into the ground. In front of the share is a coulter that cuts into the ground before the share lifts up the dirt. After lifting the dirt, the mould-board overturns the dirt, creating a furrow or mound of soil. After several passes in the field, this techniques leaves an alternating furrow/gutter pattern. This allows for the soil to drain and the snow runoff at a faster pace, thus allowing the farmer to plant the crop sooner.

Other parts of the mould-board plow consist of the coupling, which attaches to the pulling force used by the farmer; a fore carriage that, depending on the size of the plow, consist of one or more wheels supporting the frame. When a farmer is using a single mould-board plow, there are handles at the rear for steering and only one wheel for frame support. Behind the mould-board plow is a runner that pushes against the furrow — this is what keeps control of the direction of the plow.

A manual technique called Loy plowing was adopted in areas like Ireland because of the restricted access with horses. Also, most farmers could not afford the use of animals to plow the field. Loy plowing gave an advantage on the sides of mountains and in bogs.

Improvement on the designs of plows has been made time and time again to allow for better efficiency. For heavy plows, tires replaced the runners and larger metal mould boards added on. Eventually, instead of the typical wooden plow, cast iron shares were being used, also adding weight to the plows.

Other designs omitted the majority of what the heavy plow consisted of, creating a lighter plow. This plow had only three parts: the coulter, mould-board, and the handles. This design was also improved on creating the Scots plow, a single piece of iron. As time went on the plows were built in pieces, allowing for replacement of broken parts, even replacing the iron with steel, a much stronger metal that helped farmers cut fields where it was once thought there couldn’t be a crop.

Farmers had to plow their fields in a particular fashion, because earlier mould-board plows were fabricated to turn over the soil in one direction. This was referred to as single-sided plowing. The turnwrest plow gave the farmer a consistent movement along the field. As the farmer got to the end of each row, the mould-board was removed and placed on the other side.

A more modern plow design is the reversible plow. While the farmer is pulling with the tractor, plowing to the right, at the end of the row the plow is flipped over, now plowing to the left. This also gave a faster more efficient plow to the field.

More specific plows include the chisel plow, allowing for deeper tilling and keeping remnants on top of the soil; the stump-jump plow, which has a weight on it that when an object such as a rock or stump comes along the plowshare is raised until the obstacle is cleared; ridging plows are specifically used for potato farms; mole plows create tunnels under the ground, which help with runoff and the breaking of hard soil; paraplows give farmers an advantage against ground that is packed down, while also leaving remnants on top.

Image Caption: A mould-board plough at the Whithorn Trust Museum, The Machars, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Credit: Roger Griffith/Wikipedia