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Miles Per Acre

| 3/24/2009 9:38:55 AM

I found in an old farm textbook a chart showing how many miles are traveled in plowing an acre of ground.

The chart is reproduced here:

miles traveled in plowing an acre

Width of Furrow
Distance Traveled

Can you imagine the thoughts of a 19th century, Midwestern farmer setting out to plow the “back 40” we’ve all heard so much about? A 40-acre field is one-quarter of a mile on each side, or one full mile around the outside edge.

Horse-drawn plowing in 1940    
Russell Lee
Bill Stagg turning up pinto beans, October 1940, Pie Town, N.M.

According to the chart above, in plowing that 40-acre field with a 12-inch walking plow (the standard size for two horses), our sturdy farmer (not to mention his faithful team of horses, mules or oxen) would have to walk 330 miles, and that doesn't include getting to and returning from the field. Allowing time for periodically resting the animals, a slowly plodding yoke of oxen would have required about 25 10-hour days to plow 40 acres.

It’s small wonder that horses steadily replaced oxen, even though a horse cost more to feed, had less stamina and was more excitable, and besides that, couldn’t be eaten when he became too old to work (well, he could, but it wasn’t real popular). A horse could walk almost a mile an hour faster than an ox, bringing the total time to plow 40 acres down to about 16 10-hour days. A modern tractor with a 5-bottom, 16-inch plow could easily knock off the entire field in a day.


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