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The Iowa Agriculturist

Harvesting: Small Grain

Harvesting was a very important time for the American farmer. It was the time when the rewards of growing could be clearly seen. Harvest had its own beautiful color and smells.

Cutting wheat with a scythe and cradle.


Man cutting grain with a cradle.The small grain crops, whether wheat, or some other plant, required much work to harvest. Long ago, before machines helped the farmer, the crop had to be worked by hand. First it had to be cut and then bunched carefully.

It would then be tied in a bundle. The bundles were "shocked" or set up in groups of bundles for drying. Once the bundles dried, they were hauled to a specific location to be beaten or tramped on a floor. This grueling and slow work loosened the grains on the stalk. Finally, the chaff had to be separated from the kernels, usually by throwing the whole mixture into the air. This allowed the wind to blow the chaff away.

The introduction of inventions to many of the harvesting stages helped farmers a great deal. Early horse drawn cutters allowed the farmer to sit down while cutting grain.

Man on horse-drawn grain cutter.

During the 1880's mechanical harvesters were being invented. In addition to cutting the crop by machine, a binding attachment packed and wrapped the bundle with twine.

Harvesting grain with a horse-drawn reaper that cut and bundled small grain.

All of the early inventions - reapers, headers, harvesters, and binders - helped farmers to reduce the workload.

From: Explorations in Iowa History Project, Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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