A plough is an implement drawn by animal, steam-power or tractor, by which the surface of the soil is cut into longitudinal slices, and these successively raised up and turned over. The object of the operation is to expose a new surface to the action of the air, and to render the soil fit for receiving the seed or for other operations of agriculture.
Ploughs drawn by horses or oxen are of two chief kinds: those without wheels, commonly called swing-ploughs, and those with one or more wheels, called wheel-ploughs. The essential parts of both kinds of plough are, the beam, by which it is drawn; the stilts or handles, by which the ploughman guides it; the coulter, fixed into the beam, by which a longitudinal cut is made into the ground to separate the slice or portion to be turned over; the share, by which the bottom of the furrow-slice is cut and raised up; and finally, the mould-board, by which the furrow-slice is turned over. The wheel-plough is merely the swing-plough with a wheel or pair of wheels attached to the beam for keeping the share at a uniform distance beneath the surface. Besides these two kinds there are subsoil-ploughs, drill-ploughs, draining ploughs, etc.
Every part of a plough of the modern type is made of metal, usually iron. Double mould-board ploughs are common ploughs with a mould-board on each side, employed for making a large furrow in loose soil, for earthing-up potatoes, etc. Turn-wrest ploughs are ploughs fitted either with two mould-boards, one on each side, which can be brought into operation alternately, or with a mould-board capable of being shifted from one side to the other, so that, beginning at one side of a field, the whole surface may be turned over from that side, the furrow being always laid in the same direction. One of these ploughs with two mould-boards is so constructed as to be dragged by either end alternately, the horses and ploughmen changing their position at the end of every furrow. Such ploughs are useful in ploughing hill-sides, as the furrows can all be turned towards the hill, thus counteracting the tendency of the soil to work downwards. In the later improved style of wheel-plough there are a larger and a smaller wheel, the former to run in the furrow, the latter on the land. These have also a second or skim coulter, for use in lea ploughing, to turn over more effectually the grassy surface. What was called a going-plough was essentially a number of ploughs combined, four, six, or eight shares being fixed in one wheeled frame, and dragged by a sufficient number of horses, such ploughs being formerly used on very large farms.
Steam ploughs on various principles were introduced among farmers in the 19th century, being patented in 1855. Some were driven by one engine remaining stationary on the headland, which wound an endless rope (generally of wire) passing round pulleys attached to an apparatus called the 'anchor,' fixed at the opposite headland, and round a drum connected with the engine itself. Others were driven by two engines, one at either headland, thus superseding the 'anchor'. As steam-ploughing apparatus were usually beyond both the means and requirements of single farmers, companies were formed for hiring them out. In steam-ploughing it was common to use ploughs in which two sets of plough bodies and coulters were attached to an iron frame moving on a fulcrum, one set at either extremity, and pointing different ways. By this arrangement the plough could be used without turning, the one part of the frame being raised out of the ground when moving in one direction, and the other when moving in the opposite. It was the front part of the frame, or that farthest from the driver, which was elevated, the ploughing apparatus connected with the after part being inserted and doing the work. Generally two, three, or four sets of plough bodies and coulters were attached to either extremity, so that two three or four furrows were made at once.
The 20th century saw the introduction of the tractor drawn plough which replaced horse-drawn ploughs in Britain.
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