Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Designing a wheeled walk-behind donkey-drawn plow / cultivator

Using Pratie Place as a file cabinet again, here are pictures I've been accumulating as I try to figure out what kind of a farming implement for pasture renovation and reseeding would be pullable by my standard donkey. If you aren't interested in plows, I won't be offended if you slip out the door...

This picture was drawn by the author of "Farm Tools Through the Ages" by Michael Partridge - it's his copy of a 16th century woodcut. You see what I'm looking for is not a new-fangled invention.

This is a mouldboard plow with a coulter - the old-fashioned coulter was a knife which got pulled vertically through the soil in front of the big metal shape which lifted and turned the soil. Moldboard ploughs (aka bottom plows) are, I think, still most used here in the U.S. as well as elsewhere, even though a lot of researchers now think disrupting this much soil, and leaving a barren naked soil exposed to the wind and rain, is a major cause of erosion and soil degradation. It leaves a neat field, though, a field that says: "My farmer is strong and worked hard."

Well, I don't want to work that hard, and I don't want bare earth, because I have perfectly nice grass and weeds growing in my field already. I just want to be able to plant some more seeds, and improve water retention.
Spike harrows - in the family of drag harrows - have been around since the middle ages - the early ones were wooden bars tied at their junctions, with wooden pegs driven through them. But the basic design isn't much different now.

This is a modern one - looks small enough to be pulled by a donkey, but getting around corners might be pretty dangerous for everybody concerned.

This is a chain harrow. Same idea. In fact, people have dragged just about anything behind a horse or mule. Pieces of chain link fence, tires, boards and logs, anything to break through and also smooth the surface of the ground.

These are usually, however, used after a regular (moldboard) plough has turned the earth. Or they're used to smooth roads. Not sure they would work so well on a hardpacked clay soil like mine. Maybe the tines would just skid along on top of the ground.

This gizmo was invented in 1820 and is called "Findlayson's grubber." He wanted it to scratch the weeds out of the ground but not tangle and choke them in his machinery. I guess it worked pretty well. I like my weeds and don't want to get rid of them.

Notice that this machine sits in a framework - the tines, always parallel to the ground, can be raised or lowered.

Here's a field cultivator, using the same idea. Like a spring-tooth harrow, it has curled teeth which stick into the ground with their own tension as they are dragged forward. This design, unless it was much smaller, would be too "aggressive" as they say - that is, it demands a lot of, uh, horsepower to function and does a lot of damage. I don't want to kill or remove the stuff which is already growing in my field.

Isn't this one scary looking? But a good size! A chisel plow has teeth like this but many more of them.

This one has cultivator-type spikes, which I think would work well, especially if they were filed to be narrower.

That one, and these next three are all, I think, in the family called "horse hoes." Notice the single wheel in front. They were designed to be pulled between crop rows - they grub out the weeds in a narrow area.

I bet pulling something with only one forward wheel takes more strength and skill than I'm likely to develop at this age, but I love these ploughs. These handles are close to what I'd like.

A modern version, not much different.

This one is sold by Northern Tool and is called the Earthway Kentucky High Wheel Walk-Behind Cultivator. It looks too good to be true. Like those speedy onion-cutters they sell at the state fair. Easy when "they" do it. A nightmare when "you" try it.

But how sweet it looks, and the model plying it on the site is smiling and is clearly not working up a sweat. It must be a piece of cake. And look how nice her dirt is!!! We don't have that here.

Now here is a major improvement, in my opinion - two forward wheels. This is how I'll make my plow, with two wheels in front, lower than these.

These are called vertical coulters, and are used in today's low-tillage or no-till farming to make slots for seeding through stubble, avoiding the moldboard plough. Unfortunately, most low-inversion tillage systems recommend a huge drenching of herbicides to kill everything completely dead. Fortunately, since I don't need to kill anything, I can skip the poisons.

Here you see "ripple coulters" mounted.

And here you see an ATV pulling a coulter plow through a cover crop of some kind. See how the coulters are mounted on a rear axle? That's how I want to make my plow, except I want it to have ploughshares (handles) so I can lift it and press it down into the ground. Like the horse hoes above.

This small disk harrow and the one below below are like coulter plows and look pullable by a donkey. I think they depend on having additional weight(s) piled on top of them.

They are not navigable from behind. I'd give one of them a try, though.

I'm thinking of using old table saw blades (10") or rotary saw blades (7-1/4") instead of disks or coulters, which are expensive. I'd space them with sawed-off pieces of conduit and they would be easily replaceable because I think I'll bust a lot of them.

Finally, a picture of a no-till driller being pulled by a donkey through ground that looks like mine will if our North Carolina drought doesn't end.

UPDATE: Jethro's plow was designed and built and used!

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At 4:25 PM, Blogger Susan said...

Good information. I am moving to Virginia and am thinking about having a donkey to help me till some land for a large garden in addition to garding the sheep. This is a good beginning. Thanks,
Soon to be a farmer

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I am in Australia and likewise want to know more about utilising my donkey.Have found this site but speak no French.What do you think?

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Inka said...

Hi, enjoyed your site. We have a pasture that our pigs have tilled up. It now needs to be smoothed out and reseeded. We are thinking of using the draft horses with a chain style harrow. Hopefully it will break up the clumps and leave us with decent ground in which to reseed. I am hoping my expmeriment creates better pasture than we had before. Now to decide what type of seed to use. Thanks for your informative blog.

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great info! I am looking to get a plow my donkey (mammoth) can pull. The simpler the better, I'm no spring chicken anymore. You have a lot of examples, thank you!

At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great page. I'm thinking about having my third grade class pull one!

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Akshay Karna said...

Sir I want the project report of earthway high wheel cultivator.where can I find?


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