Traditional harvest - labour

MattR

Member
Just out of interest really -

A recent conversation got me wondering about how much labour was involved harvest/threshing etc pre-mechanisation. I've heard a man could cut around an acre a day with a scythe, is that about right? If so this was obviously only the start - I'm guessing some of the other jobs (binding sheaves, threshing etc) were probably even more time-consuming.

Is the following an accurate list of the work involved in a pre-industrial harvest, and if so is anyone able to put a figure on how many man-hours, per ton or acre or whatever, each step would have taken?

Reaping (scythe)
Binding sheaves
Shocking
Pitching/loading/carting sheaves
Building ricks
Threshing (by flail)
Winnowing etc

Then say in the early c20th, with binders and threshing machines, I guess it would have been (?):

Cutting with binder
Shocking
Loading/carting sheaves
Building ricks
Threshing (machine- team of how many, 8 ish?)
 

Tubbylew

Member
Location
Herefordshire
I think there were about 6 full time people here, back in the day, I wouldn't know how many were men and boys, would have been 120ish acres mixed farm with many hedges to maintain in the winter, I believe the threshing team brought a couple of labourers, although there was a threshing barn here for a time. I can remember my father getting some occasional casual help when he was milking through the eighties /nineties, now we both work elsewhere a bit to keep going, livestock would be a similar number to great grandads day but no corn/roots. How times have changed, I'll never forget the arguments my grandad used to have with his friend whether times had changed for the better or worse.
 

DrWazzock

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Lincolnshire
The sickle was used before the scythe arrived in the scene. With the sickle you grasped a bunch of wheat and slashed it off. With the scythe you didn’t grasp a bunch you just mowed a row and your missus bound the cereals into sheaves. The scythe was only possible when they discovered the Bessemer process of making thin but strong blades. Farmers were sceptical about the vibration of scythes shaking grain out the heads particularly as you didn’t grasp a bunch before slashing it off as with the sickle which had a thicker blade pre Bessemer iron blade. Do I know this because I was told it by my rustic grandparents? No, I read it in the uni library while keeping out of the rain between tedious lectures.😆
 

Wisconsonian

Member
Trade
Precisely, they didn't know how lucky they had it with a scythe. For most of the history of grain farming, grain would have been harvested by grasping the bunch and cutting with an iron, bronze, bone or stone tool. I suggest it would have been too valuable to risk dropping a head, or knocking grains loose. Metal would have been too valuable to use on a scythe blade, when a sickle would do.

I'd like to know the history of hay making. Maybe that would be the prehistory of hay making.
 

Tubbylew

Member
Location
Herefordshire
The sickle was used before the scythe arrived in the scene. With the sickle you grasped a bunch of wheat and slashed it off. With the scythe you didn’t grasp a bunch you just mowed a row and your missus bound the cereals into sheaves. The scythe was only possible when they discovered the Bessemer process of making thin but strong blades. Farmers were sceptical about the vibration of scythes shaking grain out the heads particularly as you didn’t grasp a bunch before slashing it off as with the sickle which had a thicker blade pre Bessemer iron blade. Do I know this because I was told it by my rustic grandparents? No, I read it in the uni library while keeping out of the rain between tedious lectures.😆
By hook and crook as they say.
 

AndrewM

Member
BASIS
Location
Devon
The sickle was used before the scythe arrived in the scene. With the sickle you grasped a bunch of wheat and slashed it off. With the scythe you didn’t grasp a bunch you just mowed a row and your missus bound the cereals into sheaves. The scythe was only possible when they discovered the Bessemer process of making thin but strong blades. Farmers were sceptical about the vibration of scythes shaking grain out the heads particularly as you didn’t grasp a bunch before slashing it off as with the sickle which had a thicker blade pre Bessemer iron blade. Do I know this because I was told it by my rustic grandparents? No, I read it in the uni library while keeping out of the rain between tedious lectures.😆


they are still introducting the scythe technology to parts of india!
 

7610 super q

Member
Arable Farmer
All I know is.......great grandad had a 70 acre farm, could afford their own binder.....and got a contactor in to thresh. I'm going to have to dig deep to purchase a S/H binder before next harvest, which will not pay for itself even at 2021 grain prices.

IMG_0310.JPG
IMG_0303.JPG
 
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That’s fascinating. I own and use a scythe myself but never really seem to get it working nicely. My old man made it seem effortless. Grass just seemed to fall over in front of him but I end up slashing at it. Something I still haven’t mastered.
My father was the same, I have seen him cutting the orchard years ago, shaving it off at ground level, yet only 2" of grass on it, clean and tidy
 

Cowmansam

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Shropshire
Got to get a scythe razor sharp my old mate Pete used to do his lawn with one dunno why guess he just liked it would sharpen its with a stone wheel then go at it with a bit of wood with leather on to get the fine edge to it he spent ages trying to teach me as a kid but been left handed id be always nearly taking my foot off
 

yellowbelly

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
N.Lincs
Just out of interest really -

A recent conversation got me wondering about how much labour was involved harvest/threshing etc pre-mechanisation. I've heard a man could cut around an acre a day with a scythe, is that about right? If so this was obviously only the start - I'm guessing some of the other jobs (binding sheaves, threshing etc) were probably even more time-consuming.

Is the following an accurate list of the work involved in a pre-industrial harvest, and if so is anyone able to put a figure on how many man-hours, per ton or acre or whatever, each step would have taken?

Reaping (scythe)
Binding sheaves
Shocking
Pitching/loading/carting sheaves
Building ricks
Threshing (by flail)
Winnowing etc

Then say in the early c20th, with binders and threshing machines, I guess it would have been (?):

Cutting with binder
Shocking
Loading/carting sheaves
Building ricks
Threshing (machine- team of how many, 8 ish?)
Don't know how well these pics will come out but they're from @Mrs Y B's great grandfather's accounts from 1897 for a 300 acre (ish) Lincolnshire Wold farm..
Looks like he had three annually 'retained' men.......
20210909_213441.jpg

.....at an annual cost of £44 a year.
.....and 6 casuals during harvest that cost him £5 0s 2d a week.
20210909_213554.jpg

He also had a shepherd and a foreman (can't understand why they aren't down in this account book :scratchhead: but I'd guess they'd be on £20/yr each.

Just to give you an idea of stocking levels, here's his start of the year inventory (it also shows his 'machinery line up'....
20210909_213357.jpg
 

DrWazzock

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Lincolnshire
I can remember my father and uncle scything all the way round a field to open up for the offset tractor drawn combine so that the tractor didn’t run down the standing crop. Didn’t take them very long. Similar to how we used to hand top a row of beet with a spade to open up for the trailed harvester with offset topper. Those were the days. Then somebody decided to put them inline. What a good idea.
The orchard was always hand scythed for some hay right up to the 1970’s, as was the churchyard by a motley gang of villagers including ourselves as lads. One old boy fed his cow on churchyard grass, scythed and zero grazed.
 

DrWazzock

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Lincolnshire
Don't know how well these pics will come out but they're from @Mrs Y B's great grandfather's accounts from 1897 for a 300 acre (ish) Lincolnshire Wold farm..
Looks like he had three annually 'retained' men.......
View attachment 984776
.....at an annual cost of £44 a year.
.....and 6 casuals during harvest that cost him £5 0s 2d a week.
View attachment 984777
He also had a shepherd and a foreman (can't understand why they aren't down in this account book :scratchhead: but I'd guess they'd be on £20/yr each.

Just to give you an idea of stocking levels, here's his start of the year inventory (it also shows his 'machinery line up'....
View attachment 984781
Good old Lincolnshire surnames there including Lusby.
 

yellowbelly

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
N.Lincs
Good old Lincolnshire surnames there including Lusby.
Yeah, there's more on the casuals page but my dodgy photographic skills managed to cut them off.
Three of them are 'regular' casuals (they appear pretty much all year round) the other three are just down as 'Irishman' and only appear in the harvest period.
 

Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

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Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

Written by Lisa Applin

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In July, we opened the applications window for farmers to join our Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is 1 of the 3 new environmental land management schemes. It sits alongside the future Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes.

Through the Sustainable Farming Incentive, farmers will be paid for environmentally sustainable actions – ones that are simple to do and do not require previous agri-environment scheme experience.

We are piloting the scheme to...
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