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A plough (UK) or plow (US; both /plaʊ/) is a tool or farm implement

used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed
or planting to loosen or turn the soil.[1] Ploughs were traditionally drawn by
working animals such as oxen and horses, but in modern times are mostly
drawn by tractors. A plough may be made of wood, iron, or steel frame with
an attached blade or stick used to cut the soil and loosen it. It has been a
basic instrument for most of recorded history, although despite
archeological evidence for its use[2] written references to the plough do not
appear in the English language before c. 1100, after which point it is
Traditional ploughing: a farmer
referenced frequently. The plough represents one of the major agricultural
works the land with horses and
inventions in human history. The earliest ploughs were wheelless, and the plough
Romans used a wheelless plough called the aratrum, but Celtic peoples
began using wheeled ploughs during the Roman era.[3]

The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the
soil,[4] bringing fresh nutrients to the surface,[5] while burying weeds and
the remains of previous crops and allowing them to break down. As the
plough is drawn through the soil it creates long trenches of fertile soil called
furrows. In modern use, a ploughed field is typically left to dry out, and is
then harrowed before planting. Ploughing and cultivating a soil
homogenises and modifies the upper 12 to 25 centimetres (5 to 10 in) of the
soil to form a plough layer. In many soils, the majority of fine plant feeder
roots can be found in the topsoil or plough layer. 13th century depiction of a
ploughing peasant, Royal Library of
Ploughs were initially human-powered, but the process became Spain
considerably more efficient once animals were pressed into service. The
first animal-powered ploughs were undoubtedly pulled by oxen, and later
in many areas by horses (generally draft horses) and mules, although
various other animals have been used for this purpose. In industrialised
countries, the first mechanical means of pulling a plough were steam-
powered (ploughing engines or steam tractors), but these were gradually
superseded by internal-combustion-powered tractors.

Modern competitions take place for ploughing enthusiasts like the National
Ploughing Championships in Ireland. Use of the plough has decreased in Ox-drawn ploughing
some areas, often those significantly threatened by soil damage and
erosion, in favour of shallower ploughing and other less-invasive
conservation tillage techniques.

Mouldboard plough
Plough wheel
Plough protective devices
Loy ploughing
Heavy ploughs
Improved designs
Single-sided ploughing
Turnwrest plough
Modern tractor ploughing in South
Reversible plough
Africa. This plough has five non-
Riding and multiple-furrow ploughs
reversible mouldboards. The fifth,
Improvement in metallurgy and design
empty furrow on the left may be
Balance plough filled by the first furrow of the next
Stump-jump plough pass.
Modern ploughs
Specialist ploughs
Chisel plough
Ridging plough
Scottish hand plough
Mole plough
Spade plough
Switch plough
Effects of mouldboard ploughing
See also
Further reading
External links

In older English, as in other Germanic languages, the plough was
traditionally known by other names, e.g. Old English sulh, Old High
German medela, geiza, huohilī(n), Old Norse arðr (Swedish årder), and
Gothic hōha, all presumably referring to the ard (scratch plough). The term
plough, as used today, was not common until 1700.

The modern word plough comes from Old Norse plógr, and therefore
Germanic, but it appears relatively late (it is not attested in Gothic), and is
thought to be a loanword from one of the north Italic languages. Words
with the same root appeared with related meanings: in Raetic plaumorati Ploughing.
"wheeled heavy plough" (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 18, 172), and in Latin plaustrum
"farm cart", plōstrum,  plōstellum "cart", and plōxenum,  plōximum "cart
box".[6][7] The word must have originally referred to the wheeled heavy plough, which was common in Roman
northwestern Europe by the A.D. 5th century.[8]

Orel (2003)[9] tentatively attaches plough to a PIE stem *blōkó­, which gave Armenian peɫem "to dig" and Welsh
bwlch "crack", though the word may not be of Indo-European origin.

The diagram (right) shows the basic parts of the modern plough:

1. beam
2. hitch (Brit: hake)
3. vertical regulator
4. coulter (knife coulter pictured, but disk coulter common)
5. chisel (foreshare)
6. share (mainshare)
7. mouldboard
Diagram – modern plough
Other parts not shown or labelled include the frog (or frame), runner,
landside, shin, trashboard, and stilts (handles).

On modern ploughs and some older ploughs, the mouldboard is separate from the share and runner, so these parts can
be replaced without replacing the mouldboard. Abrasion eventually destroys all parts of a plough that come into
contact with the soil.


When agriculture was first developed, soil was turned using simple hand-
held digging sticks and hoes.[4] These were used in highly fertile areas, such
as the banks of the Nile where the annual flood rejuvenates the soil, to
create drills (furrows) to plant seeds in. Digging sticks, hoes, and mattocks
were not invented in any one place, and hoe-cultivation must have been
common everywhere agriculture was practiced. Hoe-farming is the
traditional tillage method in tropical or sub-tropical regions, which are Ploughing with buffalo in Hubei,
characterised by stony soils, steep slope gradients, predominant root crops, China
and coarse grains grown at wide distances apart. While hoe-agriculture is
best suited to these regions, it is used in some fashion everywhere. Instead
of hoeing, some cultures use pigs to trample the soil and grub the earth.

Some ancient hoes, like the Egyptian mr, were pointed and strong enough
to clear rocky soil and make seed drills, which is why they are called hand­
ards. However, the domestication of oxen in Mesopotamia and the Indus
valley civilization, perhaps as early as the 6th millennium BC, provided
mankind with the draft power necessary to develop the larger, animal-
drawn true ard (or scratch plough). The earliest evidence of a ploughed
field in the world was found at the Indus Valley Civilization site of
Kalibangan (c. 2800 B.C.).[10] Archeological finds in Prague, Czech Ancient Egyptian ard, c. 1200 BC.
Republic, push oldest known ploughed field even further, to 3500 - 3800 (Burial chamber of Sennedjem)
B.C. Institute of Archeology of CAS report (
17) A terracotta model of the early ards was found at Banawali, giving
historians insight into the form of the tool.[11]

The earliest was the bow ard, which consists of a draft­pole (or beam) pierced by a thinner vertical pointed stick called
the head (or body), with one end being the stilt (handle) and the other a share (cutting blade) that was dragged
through the topsoil to cut a shallow furrow suitable for most cereal crops. The ard does not clear new land well, so hoes
or mattocks must be used to pull up grass and undergrowth, and a hand-held, coulter-like ristle could be used to cut
deeper furrows ahead of the share. Because the ard leaves a strip of undisturbed earth between the furrows, the fields
are often cross-ploughed lengthwise and widthwise, and this tends to form squarish fields (Celtic fields).[12] The ard is
best suited to loamy or sandy soils that are naturally fertilised by annual flooding, as in the Nile Delta and Fertile
Crescent, and to a lesser extent any other cereal-growing region with light or thin soil. By the late Iron Age, ards in
Europe were commonly fitted with coulters.

Mouldboard plough
To grow crops regularly in less-fertile areas, it was once believed that the
soil must be turned to bring nutrients to the surface. A major advance for
this type of farming was the turnplough, also known as the mouldboard
plough (UK), moldboard plow (US), or frame-plough. A coulter (or skeith)
could be added to cut vertically into the ground just ahead of the share (in
front of the frog), a wedge-shaped cutting edge at the bottom front of the
mouldboard with the landside of the frame supporting the undershare
(below-ground component). The mouldboard plough was introduced in the Water buffalo used for ploughing in
18th century and was a major advance in plough technology.[4] Si Phan Don, Laos

The upper parts of the frame carry (from the front) the coupling for the
motive power (horses), the coulter and the landside frame. Depending on the size of the implement, and the number of
furrows it is designed to plough at one time, a forecarriage with a wheel or wheels (known as a furrow wheel and
support wheel) may be added to support the frame (wheeled plough). In the case of a single-furrow plough there is only
one wheel at the front and handles at the rear for the ploughman to steer and manoeuvre it.

When dragged through a field the coulter cuts down into the soil and the share cuts horizontally from the previous
furrow to the vertical cut. This releases a rectangular strip of sod that is then lifted by the share and carried by the
mouldboard up and over, so that the strip of sod (slice of the topsoil) that is being cut lifts and rolls over as the plough
moves forward, dropping back to the ground upside down into the furrow and onto the turned soil from the previous
run down the field. Each gap in the ground where the soil has been lifted and moved across (usually to the right) is
called a furrow. The sod that has been lifted from it rests at about a 45 degree angle in the next-door furrow and lies up
the back of the sod from the previous run.

In this way, a series of ploughing runs down a field leaves a row of sods that lie partly in the furrows and partly on the
ground lifted earlier. Visually, across the rows, there is the land (unploughed part) on the left, a furrow (half the width
of the removed strip of soil) and the removed strip almost upside-down lying on about half of the previous strip of
inverted soil, and so on across the field. Each layer of soil and the gutter it came from forms the classic furrow.

The mouldboard plough greatly reduced the amount of time needed to prepare a field, and as a consequence, allowed a
farmer to work a larger area of land. In addition, the resulting pattern of low (under the mouldboard) and high (beside
it) ridges in the soil forms water channels, allowing the soil to drain. In areas where snow buildup causes difficulties,
this lets farmers plant the soil earlier, as the snow runoff drains away more quickly.

There are five major parts of a mouldboard plough:

1. Mouldboard
2. Share
3. Landside (short or long)
4. Frog (sometimes called a standard)
5. Tailpiece
Share, landside, mouldboard are bolted to the frog which is an irregular piece of cast iron. The base of a plough body is
called the frog and the soil wearing parts are bolted to it.
The share is the cutting edge of the mouldboard plough. The share makes
the horizontal cut that separates the furrow slice from the soil below and
when it is worn it is important to fit a new one. Conventional shares have
points that are shaped. This shape, which was developed through years of
field experience, penetrates ordinary soil efficiently and stands rough use.
The share is shaped so that it pulls itself into the ground. As the share wears
away, it becomes blunt and the plough will require more power to pull it
through the soil. A plough body with a worn share will not have enough
'suck' to ensure that it penetrates the ground to its full working depth. The
A reconstruction of a mouldboard
tip of the share is pointed downward, causing the plough to run into the
ground. This is called “suction or down suck”; it literally sucks the plough
into the ground, to a regulated depth. The clearance, also usually referred to
as “suction or down suck”, varies with different makes and types of ploughs (the related clearance at the side is called
“land suck”). Its configuration is related to soil type, particularly in the down suction, or concavity, of its lower surface.
Generally, three degrees of clearance or down suction are recognized: regular for light soil, deep for ordinary dry soil,
and double-deep for clay and gravelly soils. In addition, the share has horizontal suction, which is related to the
amount its point is bent out of line with the landside. Down suction causes the plough to penetrate to proper depth
when pulled forward, while horizontal suction causes the plough to create the desired width of furrow. The share is a
plane part with trapezoidal shape. It cuts the soil horizontally and lifts it. Common types are regular, winged-plane,
bar-point, and share with mounted or welded point. The regular share conserves a good cut but is recommended on
stone-free soils. The winged-plane share is used on heavy soil with a moderate amount of stones. The bar-point share
can be used in extreme conditions (hard and stony soils). The use of the share with mounted point is somewhere
between the last two types. Manufacturers have designed shares of various shapes (trapezium, diamond, etc.) with
bolted point and wings, often separately renewable. Sometimes the share cutting edge is placed well in advance of the
mouldboard to reduce the pulverizing action of the soil.

The mouldboard is that part of the plough which receives the furrow slice from the share.[4] The mouldboard is
responsible for lifting and turning the furrow slice and sometimes for shattering it, depending on the type of
mouldboard, ploughing depth, and soil conditions. The intensity of this action depends on the type of the mouldboard.
To suit different soil conditions and crop requirements, mouldboards have been designed in different shapes, each
producing its own furrow profile and surface finish, but they still basically conform to the original plough body
classification. Traditionally, the various types of plough body have been classified as general purpose, digger, and semi-
digger, as described below.

1. The general-purpose mouldboard. This is a low draft body with a gently curved and a cross-sectional convex curve
from top to bottom, which turns a furrow three parts wide by two parts deep, e.g. 300 mm wide by 200 mm deep. It
turns the furrow slice slowly almost without breaking it, and is normally used for shallow ploughing (maximum
200 mm depth). It is useful for grassland ploughing and sets up the land for weathering by winter frosts, which reduces
the time taken to prepare a seedbed for spring sown crops.

2. The digger mouldboard has a short, abruptly curved with a concave cross-section both from top to bottom and from
shin to tail. It turns the furrow slice rapidly, giving maximum shatter and deeper than its width. It is normally used for
very deep ploughing (300  mm deep or more). It has a higher power requirement and leaves a very broken surface.
Digger ploughs are mainly used for land to be or planted with potatoes and other root crops.

3. The semi-digger mouldboard. This is a bit shorter than the general-purpose mouldboard, but with a concave cross-
section and a more abrupt curve. Being intermediate between the two mouldboards above described, it has a
performance that comes in between (approximately 250  mm deep) and with less shattering than the digger
mouldboard. It turns an almost square sectioned furrow and leaves a more broken surface finish. Semi-digger
mouldboards can be used at different depths and speeds, making them suitable for most of the general ploughing on
the farm.
(In addition, slatted mouldboards are preferred by some farmers, though they are a less common type. They consist of
a number of curved steel slats bolted to the frog along the length of the mouldboard, so that there are gaps between the
slats. They tend to break up the soil more than a full mouldboard and improve soil movement across the mouldboard
when working in sticky soils where the solid mouldboard does not scour well.)

The landside is the flat plate which presses against and transmits the lateral thrust of the plough bottom to the furrow
wall. It helps to resist the side pressure exerted by the furrow slice on the mouldboard. It also helps in stabilizing the
plough while it is in operations. The rear bottom end of the landslide, which rubs against the furrow sole, is known as
heel . A heel iron is bolted to the end of the rear of the landside and helps to carry the back of the plough. The landside
and share are arranged to give a ‘'lead” towards the unploughed land, thus helping to maintain the correct furrow
width. The landside is usually made of solid medium carbon steel, and is very short except on the rear bottom of the
plough. The heel or rear end of the rear landside may be subject to excessive wear if the rear wheel is out of
adjustment, therefore, a chilled iron heel piece is frequently used. This heel is inexpensive and can be easily replaced.
The land side is fastened to the frog with the help of plough bolts.

The frog (standard) is the central part of the plough bottom to which the other components of the bottom are attached.
It is an irregular piece of metal, which may be made of cast iron for cast iron ploughs or welded steel for steel ploughs.
The frog is the foundation of the plough bottom. It takes the shock resulting from hitting rocks, and therefore should
be tough and strong. The frog is in turn fastened to the plough frame.

A runner extending from behind the share to the rear of the plough controls the direction of the plough, because it is
held against the bottom land-side corner of the new furrow being formed. The holding force is the weight of the sod, as
it is raised and rotated, on the curved surface of the mouldboard. Because of this runner, the mouldboard plough is
harder to turn around than the scratch plough, and its introduction brought about a change in the shape of fields  –
from mostly square fields into longer rectangular "strips" (hence the introduction of the furlong).

An advance on the basic design was the iron ploughshare, a replaceable horizontal cutting surface mounted on the tip
of the share. The earliest ploughs with a detachable and replaceable share date from around 1000 BC in the Ancient
Near East,[13] and the earliest iron ploughshares from ca. 500 BC in China.[14] Early mouldboards were basically
wedges that sat inside the cut formed by the coulter, turning over the soil to the side. The ploughshare spread the cut
horizontally below the surface, so when the mouldboard lifted it, a wider area of soil was turned over. Mouldboards are
known in Britain from the late 6th century[15] on.

Mouldboard plough type is usually determined by the method in which the plough is attached to the tractor and by the
way it is lifted and carried. The basic types are:

1.Three wheel trailing type – attached to the standard tractor drawbar and carried on its own three wheels. 2.Mounted
or integral – most use a three-point hitch and have a rear wheel in use only when ploughing. Some also have a gauge
wheel to regulate maximum depth. 3.Semi-mounted  – used principally for larger ploughs. These have a rear wheel
which usually carries weight and side thrust when ploughing and sometimes the weight of the rear end of the plough
when lifted. The front end of the plough is carried on the tractor lower or draft links.

Plough wheel
Gauge wheel – It is an auxiliary wheel of an implement to maintain uniform depth of working. Gauge wheel helps to
maintain uniformity in respect of depth of ploughing in different soil conditions. It is usually placed in hanging

Land wheel – It is the wheel of the plough, which runs on the ploughed land.

Front furrow wheel – It is the front wheel of the plough, which runs in the furrow.

Rear furrow wheel – It is the rear wheel of the plough, which runs in the furrow.
Plough protective devices
When a plough hits a rock or other solid obstruction, serious damage may
result unless the plough is equipped with some safety device. The damage
may be bent or broken shares, bent standards, beams or braces.

Three basic types of safety devices are used on mouldboard ploughs as


1. A spring release device in the plough drawbar.

2. Trip beam construction on each bottom
3. Automatic reset design on each bottom.
The spring release device was used in the past almost universally on trailing
type ploughs with one to three or four bottoms. It is not practical on larger
ploughs. When an obstruction is encountered the spring release mechanism
in the hitch permits the plough to uncouple from the tractor. When a
hydraulic lift is used on the plough, the hydraulic hoses will also usually
uncouple automatically when the plough uncouples. Most plough makers
offer an automatic reset system for tough conditions or rocky soils. The re- 19th century ploughs

set mechanism allows each body to move rearward and upward to pass over
obstacle (e.g. rocks hidden below soil surface) without damage. A heavy leaf
or coil spring mechanism, which holds the body in its working position under normal conditions, resets the plough
after the obstruction is passed.

Another type of auto-reset mechanism uses an oil (hydraulic) and gas accumulator. Shock loads cause the oil to
compress the gas, when the gas expands again the leg returns to its working ploughing position after passing over the
obstacle. The most simple mechanism is a breaking (shear) bolt that needs replacement. Shear bolts which break when
a plough body hits an obstruction are a cheaper overload protection device. It is important to use the correct
replacement bolt.

Trip beam ploughs are constructed with a hinge point in the beam. This point is usually located some distance above
the top of the plough bottom. The bottom is held in normal ploughing position by a spring operated latch. When an
obstruction is encountered the entire bottom is released and hinges back and up so as to pass over the obstruction. It is
necessary to back up the tractor and plough to reset the bottom This construction is used to protect the individual
bottoms. The automatic reset design has only recently been introduced on American ploughs, but has been used
extensively on European and Australian ploughs. In this construction the beam is hinged at a point nearly above the
point of the share. The bottom is held in the normal position by a set of springs or by a hydraulic cylinder on each

When an obstruction is encountered, the plough bottom hinges back and up in such a way as to pass over the
obstruction, without stopping the tractor and plough. The bottom automatically returns to normal ploughing position
as soon as the obstruction is passed, without any interruption of forward motion. The automatic reset design permits
higher field efficiencies since stopping for stones is practically eliminated. It also reduces costs for broken shares,
beams and other parts. The fast resetting action also helps produce a better job of ploughing since large areas of
unploughed land are not left as when lifting a plough over a stone.

Loy ploughing
Loy ploughing was a form of manual ploughing in Ireland, on very small farms – or on very hilly ground, where horses
could not work or where farmers could not afford them.[16] It was used up until the 1960s in poorer land.[17] This suited
the moist climate of Ireland, as the trenches formed by turning in the sods provided drainage. It also allowed the
growing of potatoes in bogs as well as on mountain slopes where no other cultivation could take place.[18][19]
Heavy ploughs
In the basic mouldboard plough the depth of the cut is adjusted by lifting
against the runner in the furrow, which limited the weight of the plough to
what the ploughman could easily lift. This limited the construction to a
small amount of wood (although metal edges were possible). These ploughs
were fairly fragile, and were not suitable for breaking up the heavier soils of
northern Europe. The introduction of wheels to replace the runner allowed
the weight of the plough to increase, and in turn allowed the use of a much
larger mouldboard faced in metal. These heavy ploughs led to greater food
production and eventually a significant population increase beginning
around 1000 AD.

Before the Han Dynasty (202 BC  – AD 220), Chinese ploughs were made
almost entirely of wood, except the iron blade of the ploughshare. By the
Han period, the entire ploughshare was made of cast iron; these are the
first known heavy mouldboard iron ploughs.[14][20]

The Romans achieved the heavy wheeled mouldboard plough in the late 3rd Chinese iron plough with curved
and 4th century AD, when archaeological evidence appears, inter alia, in mouldboard, 1637
Roman Britain.[21] The first indisputable appearance after the Roman
period is from 643, in a northern Italian document.[22] Old words
connected with the heavy plough and its use appear in Slavic, suggesting possible early use in this region.[23] The
general adoption of the carruca heavy plough in Europe appears to have accompanied the adoption of the three-field
system in the later eighth and early ninth centuries, leading to an improvement of the agricultural productivity per unit
of land in northern Europe.[24] This was accompanied by larger fields as well, known variously as carucates,
ploughlands, and ploughgates.

Improved designs
The basic plough, with coulter, ploughshare and mouldboard, remained in
use for a millennium. Major changes in design did not become common
until the Age of Enlightenment, when there was rapid progress in design.
Joseph Foljambe in Rotherham, England, in 1730 used new shapes as the
basis for the Rotherham plough, which also covered the mouldboard with
iron.[25] Unlike the heavy plough, the Rotherham (or Rotherham swing)
plough consisted entirely of the coulter, mouldboard and handles. It was
much lighter than conventional designs and became very popular in
England. It may have been the first plough to be widely built in factories 'A Champion ploughman', from
and the first to be commercially successful.[26] Australia, c. 1900

In 1789 Robert Ransome, an iron founder in Ipswich, started casting

ploughshares in a disused malting at St Margaret's Ditches. As a result of a mishap in his foundry, a broken mould
caused molten metal to come into contact with cold metal, making the metal surface extremely hard. This process,
chilled casting, resulted in what Ransome advertised as "self-sharpening" ploughs. He received patents for his

James Small further advanced the design. Using mathematical methods he experimented with various designs until he
arrived at a shape cast from a single piece of iron, an improvement on the Scots  plough of James Anderson of
Hermiston.[27] A single-piece cast iron plough was also developed and patented by Charles Newbold in the United
States. This was again improved on by Jethro Wood, a blacksmith of Scipio, New York, who made a three-part Scots
Plough that allowed a broken piece to be replaced. In 1837 John Deere introduced the first steel plough; it was so much
stronger than iron designs that it could work soil in areas of the US that had previously been considered unsuitable for

Improvements on this followed developments in metallurgy: steel coulters and shares with softer iron mouldboards to
prevent breakage, the chilled plough (an early example of surface-hardened steel),[28] and eventually mouldboards with
faces strong enough to dispense with the coulter.

Single-sided ploughing
The first mouldboard ploughs could only turn the soil over in one direction
(conventionally always to the right), as dictated by the shape of the
mouldboard, and so the field had to be ploughed in long strips, or lands.
The plough was usually worked clockwise around each land, ploughing the
long sides and being dragged across the short sides without ploughing. The
length of the strip was limited by the distance oxen (or later horses) could
comfortably work without a rest, and their width by the distance the plough
could conveniently be dragged. These distances determined the traditional
size of the strips: a furlong, (or "furrow's length", 220 yards (200 m)) by a
Single-sided ploughing in a
chain (22 yards (20 m)) – an area of one acre (about 0.4 hectares); this is
ploughing match
the origin of the acre. The one-sided action gradually moved soil from the
sides to the centre line of the strip. If the strip was in the same place each
year, the soil built up into a ridge, creating the ridge and furrow topography still seen in some ancient fields.

Turnwrest plough
The turnwrest plough allows ploughing to be done to either side. The mouldboard is removable, turning to the right for
one furrow, then being moved to the other side of the plough to turn to the left (the coulter and ploughshare are fixed).
In this way adjacent furrows can be ploughed in opposite directions, allowing ploughing to proceed continuously along
the field and thus avoiding the ridge and furrow topography.

Reversible plough
The reversible plough (or "rollover plow") has two mouldboard ploughs
mounted back-to-back, one turning to the right, the other to the left. While
one is working the land, the other is carried upside-down in the air. At the
end of each row, the paired ploughs are turned over, so the other can be
used. This returns along the next furrow, again working the field in a
consistent direction. These ploughs date back to the days of the steam
engine and the horse. In almost universal use on farms, they have right-
and left-handed mouldboards enabling them to work up and down the
same furrow. Reversible ploughs may either be mounted or semi-mounted A four-furrow reversible Kverneland
and are heavier and more expensive than right-handed models, but they plough.
have the great advantage of leaving a level surface which makes seedbed
preparation and harvesting easier. Very little marking out is necessary
before ploughing can start and idle running on the headland is minimal compared with conventional ploughs.

Driving the tractor with the furrow-side wheels in the furrow bottom provides the most efficient line of draft between
tractor and plough. It is also easier to steer the tractor and driving with the front wheel against the furrow wall will
keep the front furrow at the correct width. This is less satisfactory when using a tractor with very wide front tyres, for
although they make better use of the tractor power, the tyres may compact part of the last furrow slice turned on the
previous run. The use of furrow widener or a longer mouldboard on the rear body will overcome the problem. The
latter moves the soil further towards the ploughed land leaving more room for the tractor wheels on the next run.

Driving with all four wheels on unploughed land is another solution to the problem of wide tyres. Semi-mounted
ploughs can be hitched in a way that allows the tractor to run on unbroken land and pull the plough in correct
alignment without any sideways movement (crabbing).

Riding and multiple-furrow ploughs

Early steel ploughs, like those for thousands of years prior, were walking
ploughs, directed by the ploughman holding onto handles on either side of
the plough. The steel ploughs were so much easier to draw through the soil
that the constant adjustments of the blade to react to roots or clods was no
longer necessary, as the plough could easily cut through them.
Consequently, it was not long after that the first riding ploughs appeared.
On these, wheels kept the plough at an adjustable level above the ground,
while the ploughman sat on a seat; whereas, with earlier ploughs the
Early tractor-drawn two-furrow
ploughman would have had to walk. Direction was now controlled mostly plough.
through the draught team, with levers allowing fine adjustments. This led
very quickly to riding ploughs with multiple mouldboards, dramatically
increasing ploughing performance.

A single draught horse can normally pull a single-furrow plough in clean light soil, but in heavier soils two horses are
needed, one walking on the land and one in the furrow. For ploughs with two or more furrows more than two horses
are needed and, usually, one or more horses have to walk on the loose ploughed sod – and that makes hard going for
them, and the horse treads the newly ploughed land down. It is usual to rest such horses every half-hour for about ten

Heavy volcanic loam soils, such as are found in New Zealand, require the use of four heavy draught horses to pull a
double-furrow plough. Where paddocks are more square than long-rectangular it is more economical to have horses
four wide in harness than two-by-two ahead, thus one horse is always on the ploughed land (the sod). The limits of
strength and endurance of horses made greater than two-furrow ploughs uneconomic to use on one farm.

Amish farmers tend to use a team of about seven horses or mules when spring ploughing and as Amish farmers often
help each other plough, teams are sometimes changed at noon. Using this method about 10 acres (4.0  ha) can be
ploughed per day in light soils and about 2 acres (0.81 ha) in heavy soils.

Improvement in metallurgy and design

John Deere, an Illinois, US blacksmith, noted that the ploughing of many sticky, non-sandy soils might benefit from
modifications in the design of the mouldboard and in the metals used. He noted that a polished needle would enter
leather and fabric with greater ease, and a polished pitchfork required less effort as well. In the pursuit of a polished
and thus slicker surface for a plough, he experimented with portions of saw blades and by 1837, he was making
polished, cast steel ploughs. The energy effort required was lessened, which enabled the use of larger ploughs, making
more effective use of horse power.

Balance plough
The advent of the mobile steam engine allowed steam power to be applied
to ploughing from about 1850. In Europe, soil conditions were often too
soft to support the weight of heavy traction engines. Instead,
counterbalanced, wheeled ploughs, known as balance ploughs, were drawn
by cables across the fields by pairs of ploughing engines on opposite field
edges, or by a single engine drawing directly towards it at one end and
drawing away from it via a pulley at the other end. The balance plough had
two sets of ploughs facing each other, arranged so when one was in the
ground, the other set was lifted into the air. When pulled in one direction, A German balance plough. The left-
the trailing ploughs were lowered onto the ground by the tension on the turning set of shares have just
completed a pass, and the right-
cable. When the plough reached the edge of the field, the other engine
turning shares are about to enter the
pulled the opposite cable, and the plough tilted (balanced), putting the
ground to return across the field.
other set of shares into the ground, and the plough worked back across the

One set of ploughs was right-handed, and the other left-handed, allowing continuous ploughing along the field, as with
the turnwrest and reversible ploughs. The man credited with the invention of the ploughing engine and the associated
balance plough, in the mid nineteenth century, was John Fowler, an English agricultural engineer and inventor.[29]

In America the firm soil of the Plains allowed direct pulling with steam tractors, such as the big Case, Reeves or
Sawyer-Massey breaking engines. Gang ploughs of up to fourteen bottoms were used. Often these big ploughs were
used in regiments of engines, so that in a single field there might be ten steam tractors each drawing a plough. In this
way hundreds of acres could be turned over in a day. Only steam engines had the power to draw the big units. When
internal combustion engines appeared, they had neither the strength nor the ruggedness compared to the big steam
tractors. Only by reducing the number of shares could the work be completed.

Stump-jump plough
The stump-jump plough was an Australian invention of the 1870s, designed
to cope with the breaking up of new farming land, that contains many tree
stumps and rocks that would be very expensive to remove. The plough uses
a moveable weight to hold the ploughshare in position. When a tree stump
or other obstruction such as a rock is encountered, the ploughshare is
thrown upwards, clear of the obstacle, to avoid breaking the plough's
harness or linkage; ploughing can be continued when the weight is returned
to the earth after the obstacle is passed.
Disc ploughs in Australia, c. 1900
A simpler system, developed later, uses a concave disc (or a pair of them)
set at a large angle to the direction of progress, that uses the concave shape
to hold the disc into the soil – unless something hard strikes the circumference of the disk, causing it to roll up and
over the obstruction. As the arrangement is dragged forward, the sharp edge of the disc cuts the soil, and the concave
surface of the rotating disc lifts and throws the soil to the side. It doesn't make as good a job as the mouldboard plough
(but this is not considered a disadvantage, because it helps fight wind erosion), but it does lift and break up the soil
(see disc harrow).

Modern ploughs
Modern ploughs are usually multiple reversible ploughs, mounted on a tractor via a three-point linkage.[30] These
commonly have between two and as many as seven mouldboards – and semi­mounted ploughs (the lifting of which is
supplemented by a wheel about halfway along their length) can have as many as eighteen mouldboards. The hydraulic
system of the tractor is used to lift and reverse the implement, as well as to adjust furrow width and depth. The
ploughman still has to set the draughting linkage from the tractor so that the
plough is carried at the proper angle in the soil. This angle and depth can be
controlled automatically by modern tractors. As a complement to the rear plough
a two or three mouldboards-plough can be mounted on the front of the tractor if it
is equipped with front three-point linkage.

Specialist ploughs

Chisel plough
The chisel plough is a common tool to get deep tillage (prepared land) with limited
soil disruption. The main function of this plough is to loosen and aerate the soils
while leaving crop residue at the top of the soil. This plough can be used to reduce
the effects of compaction and to help break up ploughpan and hardpan. Unlike
A British woman ploughing
many other ploughs the chisel will not invert or turn the soil. This characteristic
on a World War I recruitment
poster for the Women's Land has made it a useful addition to no-till and low-till farming practices that attempt
Army. to maximise the erosion-prevention benefits of keeping organic matter and
farming residues present on the soil surface through the year. Because of these
attributes, the use of a chisel plough is considered by some to be more sustainable
than other types of plough, such as the mouldboard plough.

Chisel ploughs are becoming more popular as a primary tillage tool in row
crop farming areas. Basically the chisel plough is a very heavy duty field
cultivator intended to operate at depths from 15  cm [6 in] to as much as
46  cm [18 in]. However some models may run much deeper. Each of the
individual ploughs, or shanks, are typically set from nine inches (229 mm)
to twelve inches (305 mm) apart. Such a plough can encounter significant
A modern John Deere 8110 Farm
soil drag, consequently a tractor of sufficient power and good traction is
Tractor using a chisel plough. The
required. When planning to plough with a chisel plough it is important to ploughing tines are at the rear; the
bear in mind that 10 to 20 horsepower (7.5 to 15  kW) per shank will be refuse-cutting coulters at the front.
required, depending on depth.

Pull type chisel ploughs are made in working widths from about 2.5 m [8 ft]
up to 13.7 m [45  ft], they are tractor mounted and working depth is
hydraulically controlled. Those more than about 4 m [13  ft] wide may be
equipped with folding wings to reduce transport width. Wider machines
may have the wings supported by individual wheels and have hinge joints to
allow flexing of the machine over uneven ground. The wider models usually Bigham Brother Tomato Tiller
have a wheel at each side to control working depth. Three-point hitch
mounted units are made in widths from about 1.5 m [5 ft] to 9 m [30 ft].

Cultivators are often similar in form to chisel ploughs, but their goals are different. Cultivator teeth work near the
surface, usually for weed control, whereas chisel plough shanks work deep beneath the surface. Consequently,
cultivating also takes much less power per shank than does chisel ploughing.

Ridging plough
A ridging plough is used for crops, such as potatoes or scallions, which are grown buried in ridges of soil using a
technique called ridging or hilling. A ridging plough has two mouldboards facing away from each other, cutting a deep
furrow on each pass, with high ridges either side. The same plough may be used to split the ridges to harvest the crop.
Scottish hand plough
This is a variety of ridge plough notable in that the blade points towards the operator. It is used solely by human effort
rather than with animal or machine assistance, and is pulled backwards by the operator, requiring great physical effort.
It is particularly used for second breaking of ground, and for potato planting. It is found in Shetland, some western
crofts and more rarely Central Scotland. The tool is typically found on small holdings too small or poor to merit use of

Mole plough
The mole plough allows underdrainage to be installed without trenches, or it breaks up deep impermeable soil layers
that impede drainage. It is a very deep plough, with a torpedo-shaped or wedge-shaped tip, and a narrow blade
connecting this to the body. When dragged through the ground, it leaves a channel deep under the ground, and this
acts as a drain. Modern mole ploughs may also bury a flexible perforated plastic drain pipe as they go, making a more
permanent drain – or they may be used to lay pipes for water supply or other purposes. Similar machines, so called
pipe-and-cable-laying ploughs, are even used under the sea, for the laying of cables, as well as preparing the earth for
side-scan sonar in a process used in oil exploration.

Heavy land requires draining to reduce its water content to a level satisfactory for efficient plant growth. Heavy soils
usually have a system of permanent drains using either perforated plastic or clay pipes which discharge into a ditch.
Mole ploughs are used to form small tunnels (mole drains) in the soil at a depth of up to 950 mm (30 in) at an angle to
the pipe drains. Water from the mole drains seeps into the pipes and runs along them into a ditch.

The mole plough allows underdrainage to be installed without trenches, or it breaks up deep impermeable soil layers
which impede drainage. It is a very deep plough, with a torpedo-shaped or wedge-shaped tip, and a narrow blade
connecting this to the body. When dragged through the ground, it leaves a channel deep under the ground, and this
acts as a drain. Modern mole ploughs may also bury a flexible perforated plastic drain pipe as they go, making a more
permanent drain – or they may be used to lay pipes for water supply or other purposes. A simple check can be made to
find if the subsoil is in the right condition for mole ploughing. Compact a tennis ball sized sample taken at moling
depth by hand, then push a pencil through. If the hole remains intact without splitting the ball the soil is in an ideal
condition for the mole plough.

Mole ploughs are usually trailed and pulled by a crawler tractor, but lighter models for use on the three-point linkage
of powerful four-wheel drive tractors are also made. A mole plough has a very strong frame which slides along the
ground when the machine is in work. A heavy leg, similar to a subsoiler leg, is attached to the frame and a circular
section share with a larger diameter expander on a flexible link is bolted to the leg. The bullet shaped share forms a
tunnel, about 75 mm diameter, in the soil and the expander presses the soil outwards to form a long-lasting drainage

The paraplough, or paraplow, is a tool for loosening compacted soil layers 12 to 16 inches deep and still maintain high
surface residue levels.[31]

Spade plough
The spade plough is designed to cut the soil and turn it on its side, minimising the damage to the earthworms, soil
microorganism, and fungi. This helps maximise the sustainability and long term fertility of the soils.

Switch plough
Using a bar with square shares mounted perpendicularly and a pivot point to change the bar's angle, the switch plough
allows ploughing in either direction. It is best in previously-worked soils, as the ploughshares are designed more to
turn the soil over than for deep tillage. At the headland, the operator pivots the bar (and thus the ploughshares) to turn
the soil to the opposite side of the direction of travel. Switch ploughs are usually lighter than rollover ploughs,
requiring less horsepower to operate.

Effects of mouldboard ploughing
Mouldboard ploughing, in cold and temperate climates, no deeper than 20  cm, aerates the soil by loosening it. It
incorporates crop residues, solid manures, limestone and commercial fertilisers along with oxygen. By doing so, it
reduces nitrogen losses by denitrification, accelerates mineralization and increases short-term nitrogen availability for
transformation of organic matter into humus. It erases wheel tracks and ruts caused by harvesting equipment. It
controls many perennial weeds and pushes back the growth of other weeds until the following spring. It accelerates soil
warming and water evaporation in spring because of the lesser quantity of residues on the soil surface. It facilitates
seeding with a lighter seeder. It controls many enemies of crops (slugs, crane flies, seedcorn maggots-bean seed flies,
borers). It increases the number of "soil-eating" earthworms (endogea) but is detrimental to vertical-dwelling
earthworms (anecic).

Ploughing leaves very little crop residue on the surface, which otherwise could reduce both wind and water erosion.
Over-ploughing can lead to the formation of hardpan. Typically farmers break up hardpan up with a subsoiler, which
acts as a long, sharp knife to slice through the hardened layer of soil deep below the surface. Soil erosion due to
improper land and plough utilisation is possible. Contour ploughing mitigates soil erosion by ploughing across a slope,
along elevation lines. Alternatives to ploughing, such as the no till method, have the potential to actually build soil
levels and humus. These may be suitable to smaller, more intensively cultivated plots, and to farming on poor, shallow
or degraded soils that ploughing would further degrade.

Ploughs in art
Back side of a 100 Mark banknote 1975 Italian Lira coin
issued 1908

Robert Burns statue, Schenley Park, The Gefion Fountain in Copenhagen


Henry Herbert La Thangue, The Last Ploughing in the Nivernais by Rosa

Furrow, 1895 Bonheur (1849)

See also
Boustrophedon (Greek: "ox-turning") — an ancient way of writing, each line being read in the opposite direction
like reversible ploughing.
Conduit current collection
Foot plough
Headland (agriculture)
History of agriculture
Railroad plough
Ransome Victory Plough
Silviculture has a technique for preparing soil for seeding in forests called scarification, which is explained in that

1. "Plough". Cambridge English Dictionary. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
2. BBC - Anglo-Saxon 7th Century plough coulter found in Kent - 7 April 2011 (
3. Collingwood, R. G.; Collingwood, Robin George; Nowell, John; Myres, Linton (1936). "Roman Britain and the
English Settlements" ( Biblo & Tannen
Publishers. p. 211.
4. "Plow" ( Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
5. Sahgal, A C; Sahgal, Mukul. Living Sci. 8 Silver Jubilee (
=PA7). India: Ratna Sagar. p. 7. ISBN 9788183325035.
6. C.T. Onions, ed., Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, s.v. "plough" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
7. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. "plow" (NY: Gramercy Books, 1996).
8. Dr. Judith A. Weller, "Agricultural Use", in Roman Traction Systems: accessed 20 April 2012, available at [1] (htt
9. Orel, Vladimir (2003). A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. s.v. "*plōȝuz".
10. Lal, BB (2003). Excavations at Kalibangan, the Early Harappans, 1960–1969. Archaeological Survey of India. pp.
17, 98
11. McIntosh, Jane (2008). The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives (
A-CbccC&pg=PA121). ABC-CLIO. p. 121.
12. Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford: University Press, 1962), p. 42.
13. White, K. D. (1984): Greek and Roman Technology, London: Thames and Hudson, p. 59.
14. Robert Greenberger, The Technology of Ancient China (New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2006), pp. 11–
15. Hill and Kucharski 1990.
16. Paul Hughes (3 March 2011). "Castlepollard venue to host Westmeath ploughing finals" (http://www.westmeathexa
Westmeath Examiner. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
17. Patrick Freyne (September 27, 2009). "The plough and the stars" (
ep/27/the-plough-and-the-stars/). Sunday Tribune. Dublin. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
18. "The Famine Potato" (
otato/). St Mary's Famine History Museum. Archived from the original (
potato/) on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
19. Jonathan Bell, "Wooden Ploughs From the Mountains of Mourne, Ireland", Tools & Tillage (1980) 4#1. pp. 46–56;
Mervyn Watson, "Common Irish Plough Types and Tillage Techniques", Tools & Tillage (1985) 5#2. pp. 85–98.
20. Wang Zhongshu, trans. by K. C. Chang and Collaborators, Han Civilization (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 1982).
21. Margaritis, Evi; Jones, Martin K.: "Greek and Roman Agriculture", in: Oleson, John Peter (ed.): The Oxford
Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World, Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-
518731-1, pp. 158–174 (166, 170)
22. White, Medieval Technology, p. 50
23. White, Medieval Technology, pp. 49ff
24. White, Medieval Technology, pp. 69–78
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on%20scotch%20plough&f=false). Birlinn. ISBN 9780857908827. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
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Further reading
Brunt, Liam. "Mechanical Innovation in the Industrial Revolution: The Case of Plough Design". Economic History
Review (2003) 56#3, pp. 444–477. JSTOR 3698571 (
Hill, P. and Kucharski, K. "Early Medieval Ploughing at Whithorn and the Chronology of Plough Pebbles",
Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Vol. LXV, 1990, pp 73–
Nair, V. Sankaran. Nanchinadu: Harbinger of Rice and Plough Culture in the Ancient World.
Wainwright, Raymond P.; Wesley F. Buchele; Stephen J. Marley; William I. Baldwin (1983). "A Variable Approach-
Angle Moldboard Plow" ( Transactions of the ASAE. 26 (2): 392–396.
doi:10.13031/2013.33944 (
Steven Stoll, Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Hill and Wang,

External links
The Rotherham Plough (
tm) — the first commercially successful iron plough
History of the steel plough (
history/index.html) — as developed by John Deere in the United States
Breast Ploughs and other antique hand farm tools (
"Tractor Guide Saves Labor for the Farmer" (
onepage&q=&f=true), Popular Mechanics, December 1934.

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