Hello again bugbear,
1) "When tractors were first introduced, how much faster could you
plow with one than with horses?"
Well, it all depended on so many variables it is difficult to come up
with a neat and tidy answer. For example, is the land sandy or clay?
Wet or dry? Hilly or flat? Rocky or clear? How many horses on the
team? However, using a basic formula to determine "acres covered per
10-hour day", we inserted some of the figures we found in the links
below, which hopefully will be suitable for your purposes. We've
focused on the steam tractor because it preceded the internal
combustion engine on the farm, but you can use this formula for any
type of equipment that you'd like.
Width in feet x m.p.h. = acres per 10 hour day
1' cut x 2 m.p.h. = 2 acres per 10 hour day
7" x 2.5 m.p.h. = 1.46 acres per 10 hour day
Early Steam Tractors:
9" x 3 m.p.h. = 2.25 acres per 10 hour day
"Probably the simplest and easiest method of determining the duty of a
tractor or horse-drawn implement in acres covered per 10-hour day is
to multiply the effective width of cut in feet by the rate of travel
in mile per hour.
Width cut in feet x miles per hour = acres per day.
Example: 1 ft. cut x 2 mph = 2 acres per day.
The average speed of mules is 2 mph.
The average speed for tractors: plowing 3 mph; harrowing, 4mph;
cultivating 2-4 mph; mowing, 3-4 mph and combining, 3-4 mph."
THE ALMANAC OF RURAL LIVING
by Harvey C. Neese
NY: Wm Morrow, 1979
p471: Table: Distance Traveled in Plowing 1 Acre
"It took a farmer an hour and a half to till an acre of ground with
five horses and a gang plow. With a 27-horsepower tractor and a
moldboard plow, it took only a half-hour to plow an acre and only 15
minutes with a 35-horsepower tractor and a moldboard plow. Today,
using a 154-horsepower tractor and a chisel plow, a farmer can till an
acre in five minutes."
"The double furrow ploughs turn over 2 1/2 acres per day; and the
single furrow 1 1/8 acre per day; the former worked by three to four
horses, and the latter by two horses."
"A furlong - furrow-long - used to be how far a pair of horses could
pull a plough before they got tired and stopped - further in sandy
soil than in heavy clay."
"In the spring of 1871 the leading implement firm of Junction City
featured an assortment of plows listed as breaking, stirring, corn,
subsoil, double Michigan, road, grubbing and gang plows. In 1872 a
gang plow equipped with a three-horse equalizing evener was displayed
at Wakefield. The observer reported that one man with this plow could
do as much as two men, teams and plows....In 1879 the grange store
sponsored a competition between a Hapgood sulky 16-inch plow and a
14-inch walking plow, the draft being measured with a dynamometer,
with the results certified in favor of the sulky, of course."
"At that time, the steam engine was just being introduced and Mr. Watt
decided to perform an experiment. So in 1783, his experiment was
performed by hitching a draft horse to a rope with pulleys, which in
turn was fastened to a 100 lb. weight, suspended in a well. The draft
horse was driven forward at a walk. The normal walking speed of a
draft horse is 2.5 miles per hour or 220 feet per minute. Watt
observed that the horse while walking forward at 220 feet per minute
could easily raise the 100-pound weight. Watt then reasoned that one
horsepower was equal to 220 feet per minute times 100 lbs. or 22,000
foot lbs. of work per minute. Watt changed his formula by adding
another 11,000 foot lbs., or 50% of the original 22,000 foot lbs,
which made it 33,000 foot lbs
This formula is still used today to calculate horse power, and it
simply means that one horsepower is equal to the amount of power used
to raise 33,000 lbs. a distance of one foot in one minute.
And so Professor Collins wrote, ?Plowing requires more power than any
other one farming operation, the draft of a 14 inch plow plowing 6
inches deep in sudan grass requires 500 lbs. of tractive force, which
from the testing results requires three horses to be used for the days
"Early drills were small enough to be pulled by a single horse, and
many of these remained in use into the 1930s."
"Such engines were truly huge. Some weighed more than 20 tons... The
biggest models were used almost exclusively where the soil ? under
grass for centuries ? was hellishly hard to break up with any plow
pushed by hand or pulled by horses. The soils and climate of the
Western states were suited to growing grain, but that was profitable
only when the grain was produced on a large scale, and it needed
enormous labor to harvest. The flat, open land was forgiving of the
great machines' size and clumsiness."
"But well past mid-century the source of power was still primarily
horses or oxen. Teams of up to 40 horses, hitched to enormous plows
and harvesters, worked the ever-expanding fields of the West. To keep
a horse requires about five acres of land per horse. Horses need a lot
of care. They cannot pull without harnesses, and harnesses need to be
maintained. During a workday, teams had to be changed at least once
for rest, and often two or three times. Inventors kept working to
improve steam power on the land, especially for use with heavy
"The machines sometimes clanked and rumbled, belching smoke and
cinders as they moved along at two or three miles per hour."
"Although expensive to operate, steam ploughs were significantly more
efficient than horses, and they did not need to be fed all year. Steam
threshing was certainly faster than the old method, which involved a
separator turned by horses on a treadmill, but the machines were not
without their drawbacks. With their heavy boilers, steam engines were
very heavy, and could only be used on relatively dry fields. Their
weight also posed a transportation problem. In addition to the risk of
becoming stuck on a soft road, many steam engines were too heavy for
local bridges, often necessitating long and time consuming detours.
Steam engines were also limited by water supply, and often several
teams of waterman had to travel over long distances to keep the
"Like our ancestors, we continue to strive for improvement. If we take
a look at plough development over the last 50 years there has been
enormous change. Horse ploughs soon became redundant for more
efficient steam units with large multi furrow balance ploughs, quietly
trundling up and down fields with only the sound of a whistle to
indicate a change of ploughing direction."
"Using converted horse ploughs, the more manoeuvrable wheeled tractor
slowly took over from steam in the early 1900's and was the start of
the format we are all familiar with today. When Harry Fergurson's
3-point linkage appeared in 1920, it totally revolutionised implement
attachment and machine performance and has now become the universal
"Over the years, furrow widths have increased from as little as 6in.
to over 20in. today. Back in the 1930's, horse and early tractor
ploughs operated with furrow widths of 6 to 9in. a) because of limited
power to pull them, b) horses were still being used extensively on the
land. The average width of a horses foot is around 7in. therefore,
when land was ploughed and subsequently sown, often by hand, onto what
is termed oat seed furrows, sown seed would roll and lay in the 'V'
shaped furrow. The ploughing would then be cross harrowed covering the
seeds with soil. Once germinated, the seed would be in rows 7in.
apart, just wide enough for the horses foot to pass while walking
through the established crop."
Furrow Width Adjustment
"The majority of early reversible ploughs had furrow widths fixed at
12 or 14in. in size. To improve output efficiency and plough
versatility, furrows had to get wider and capable of being adjusted.
This was not only to suit soil conditions, but to help reduce
manufacture and dealer stocking levels. In the late 70's, plough
frames were being introduced with wedges, holes and parallel linkage
to enable the furrow width to be easily changed. As today, output was
the key factor and 16" ploughs began to appear from Europe."
2) how much did tractors increase productivity?
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that it took 40-50 labor
hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat on five acres with a gang plow,
seeder, harrow, binder, thresher, wagons, and horses in the 1890s. By
1930, it took 15-20 labor hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat on 5
acres with a three-bottom gang plow, tractor, 10-foot tandem disk,
harrow, 12-foot combine, and trucks."
Farming through the Century:
Good general discussion -- talk of plowing --horses/tractors -- changes/innovations
Horse Power to Tractor Power:
"A pair of horses could generally pull a one-bottom plow. When the
settlers arrived and started plowing the virgin prairie they were only
able to work about 8 acres a year."
"When WWI started to draw men from the farm a more efficient means of
farming had to be introduced. Steam traction engines were the
forerunners of the modern tractor. Steam engines were used to replace
horse power on the farm in several ways. At first they were to big and
slow to replace the draft animals in the field so they were used to
power stationary machinery like threshers, cornshellers and elevators.
Because the steam engine uses fire to produce steam there was always
the chance of a fire. Steam traction engines became more maneuverable
and versatile and were introduced to jobs that draft animals were
generally used for such as plowing. This greatly increased the amount
of land that could be worked by a farmer."
Economic History of Tractors in the United States:
Tools, Machines, & Other Items Needed for Harvesting Grain:
Comparison of horse and tractor traction using energy analysis:
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences:
...compares typical horse in context of 1927 Sweden to typical tractor
in context of 1996 Sweden.
...average horse of 1927: served 8.4 ha, weighed 700 kg, worked 150
days hard & 50 days light, draught power: 0.7 kW
...average tractor of 1996: 65 kW (drawbar traction: 21 kW), 4000 kg, serves 38 ha
"One 60kW tractor is capable of plowing seven to eight hectares per
day or one hectare per hour."
Appropriate Technology -- Agricultural Tools:
Includes many books/manuals about the current use of animal traction
throughout the world:
I hope we've answered your question - if you have any questions,
please post a clarification request before closing/rating my answer.
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