Saturday, November 28, 2020

Farming and Ranching on the Prairies -- with Giveaway -- by Donna Schlachter

                                                   Hand tools typical to farming and ranching, 1850s

Farming and ranching in the United States has a long and colorful history, beginning with the earliest settlers and reaching its heyday during the Westward Migration of the 1840s through 1880s.

The first settlers tended to claim a parcel of land near a water source such as a river or spring. Then they plowed up the grassy sod and constructed one-room homes called soddies, leaving a hole in the roof for smoke to escape, a door for entrance, and, if they were particularly resourceful, a window. This cleared land then served as the basis for their crops, primarily food for themselves and their stock. Often, the same oxen or horses that hauled their wagon were used to pull the plows, and crops were harvested by hand using tools such as scythes, threshers, and rakes. A family’s livelihood or lack thereof often dictated by the crop yield, the weather at harvest time, and their ability to store the harvest successfully to last through the harsh winter until spring.

Several important milestones occurred which made the farmers’ and ranchers’ lives a little easier and offered greater crop yields, including the invention of farm machinery, fencing materials, and fertilizers.

As far back as 1819, Jethro Wood patented the first iron plow with interchangeable parts for types of soil and plantings. Now the farmer could use the same plow to prepare a field for corn or potatoes, for example. Then, in 1837, John Deere manufactured plows with steel shares that were more durable and kept their edge longer than the iron version.

1840's grain reaper
                                                                        1840's plow

In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented a grain reaper, pulled by a horse. Now a farmer could harvest more acres in a shorter period of time, increasing his food supply and his cash crop sales. His unique design guided the stalks to the blade, cut and then shoved the stalks onto the ground in the wake of the reaper, making cradles and scythes obsolete. In 1854, McCormick introduced the self-rake reaper. This new design gathered the cut grain into neat piles which workers then tied into sheaves before sending to the thresher. Each self-rake reaper equaled the labor of four or five men, which was particularly valuable during the Civil War when so many men left home to enlist. In 1837, the Pitts Brothers patented a practical threshing machine. However, it wasn’t until 1926 that a successful light gasoline tractor was developed.

While we may consider hybridization of corn and other crops a recent advance, in 1816 John Lorain began discussing the benefits of cross-breeding corn to obtain higher yields; in 1866 Gregor Mendel published his experiments in plant hybridization; in 1872 Luther Burbank produced a “Burbank potato”, the first in a long line of new and improved varieties; in 1905 George Harrison Shull began experiments with cross-breeding varieties of corn, perfecting his method by 1909. Donald Jones developed a system in 1917 to grow modern hybrid seed; and in 1926 Henry Wallace used advertising and promotion to popularize his hybrid seed corn.

However, with increased yields and these new varieties, farmers realized they needed to assist the soil with additives and fertilizers. 1850 saw the manufacture of the first mixed fertilizer called Manufactured Guano. In 1908, Haber and Bosch developed the process to make ammonia, leading to increased food production sufficient to feed a billion people a year. In 1914 Edwin Broun Fred supplied cultures of nitrogen-fixing bacteria to growers of legumes. 1921 saw the use of a World War 1 airplane to spread lead arsenate dust in a grove in Ohio; and in 1939 Paul Muller discovered the insecticidal properties of DDT, which was later banned as being harmful to wildlife that ate the poisoned insects.

Barbed-wire samples
With farms and ranches increasing in acreage to produce more yield, the need for effective and efficient fencing arose. In 1874 the Glidden barbed-wire patent was granted to contain and protect cattle. The idea of fencing thousands of acres was revolutionary, and given the harsh weather on much of the plains, as well as limited trees for posts, barbed-wire was the perfect solution. On his farm in Illinois, Joseph Glidden first perfected his design in 1816, while a local lumber dealer, Jacob Haish, developed the “s” barb that came a close second for a short time.

Soon the cattlemen’s fervor to protect the best grazing and water sources created friction, forcing small farms and ranches into cutting the wire to regain access to land for their stock. Because of a history of open range ranching, where branded cattle wandered at will and were gathered up in the spring, the switch to fenced ranching resulted in violence and crime for many years. Barbed-wire, often nicknamed “devil’s rope”, now boasts more than two thousand types, and is still used today.

With overproduction and over-grazing, combined with drought and blizzards, the Great Plains faced serious problems in 1886 and 1887. As plow agriculture extended into the semi-arid plains, erosion swept away the topsoil. Just as in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, yields dropped, forcing farmers and ranchers to use increasingly invasive methods such as over fertilizing, plowing more land and increasing herd sizes, and more mechanization.

As you can see, much of the scientific and mechanical progress made over the past 150 years or so was due to the requirements of farmers and rancher and the demand for more food for a growing population. While the number of farms and ranches in the United States has decreased in the past 50 years or so, the size of the holdings and amount of food produced has increased to meet the demand. A typical family-owned farm currently produces enough food to feed more than 100 people. As we enjoy the Thanksgiving season, let’s remember to be thankful to our farmers and ranchers who keep us well-fed.

Leave a comment about your favorite Thanksgiving dish, and I’ll draw randomly for an ebook copy of A Pink Lady Thanksgiving.

About A Pink Lady Thanksgiving: Kate and Tom McBride, along with their newborn, John Thomas, settle into life in Oregon City, Oregon in November 1879. And while Kate enjoys being a wife, mother, and homemaker, she still remembers her fanciful dreams of last year: become a detective to solve mysteries. Her first case is to find the missing fiancée of a local banker. Tom, however, isn’t sure this is a good idea, particularly not when somebody throws a fiery bomb through the window of their home, burning it to the ground. They learn that their pasts may not be as far behind them as they’d hoped, but when their son is kidnaped, they just join forces to reveal who is trying to stop them—from finding the missing woman, and from starting their new life together.


     About Donna:

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, devotional books, and books on the writing craft. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!

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  1. Happy Thanksgiving, Donna! A very interesting post, especially seeing how one invention or situation led to another. We don't tend to think about "technology" in the olden days. (Author: not entering)

    1. Thanks, Linda. Yeah, the timeline is crowded for "technology" even way back then :)

  2. Thank you for the post! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. I think my favorite side dish is the stuffing, which we usually don't add to a normal meal, but I also think it's the whole plate that speaks Thanksgiving to me. We save that particular combination of simple dishes for the one day. I think it's interesting that lots of people are moving back toward subsistence farming these days.

    1. Forgot to leave email. bcrug(at)twc(dot)com

    2. Hi Connie, I love the colors of the cranberry sauce, the orange veggies, the green veggies, against a pretty china plate!

  3. Very interesting - I always learn a little more by all the research you wonderful authors do! I’m not sure what my favorite Thanksgiving dish is, although we did not have any sweet potatoes this year, and they were certainly I just throughly enjoy the whole meal, right down to the pumpkin pie :).
    Thanks for the giveaway - sounds very interesting. bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. Hi Betti, funny how we can miss one dish even though there are so many others to make up for it.

  4. Homemade stuffing, without the giblets, or green bean casserole.

    wfnren at aol dot com

    1. We eat the giblets, and the neck, and the "tail" -- fighting over it, in some cases :)

  5. Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful. My favorite thanksgiving dish is a jello/fruit salad that my mom made every year. Mom has been gone for 10 years now, but my sister makes it now. Yummmy. This sounds like such a wonderful book. Ohh I love old farm tools. My sister actually will find these at places and puts them up around her home. She lives on an old farm house with a huge barn. We grew up on a farm. So a lot of them were well known. And our grandparents on moms side were farmers and many tools were passed down. Soooo cool Thanks for todays post. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  6. Ooh, my grandmother made those. Jello and fruit cocktail. Jello made with milk, and pineapple mixed in. Not to mention the carrot and raisin salad.