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Before farmers could plant seeds in the soil, they needed to prepare the soil. The prairie would need to be broken up, which would often leave the soil with large clumps that had to be smoothed out. Other soil would need to be turned. All of these processes were completed with a variety of tillage equipment.

An illustrated farmer holds onto a plow that is being pulled by horses in a farm field.

Farmers walked behind horses around the whole field while controlling the plow. This was a lot of walking and hard work for farmers!


Plows were simple structures that were hooked up behind animals like horses, oxen, or mules. They were originally built out of wood, and as they were pulled along a metal or wooden stick ran through the soil creating a small trench. Seeds were planted in this trench and covered with dirt.

This farmer is using a plow to break prairie soil.


This farmer is using a plow to make a trench-like line in the soil where seeds can be planted.

Plows were further adapted to be built from steel or cast iron. This changed the weight of the plows, allowing farmers to plow deeper while still moving smoothly. However, this required more power when tilling the fields. Tractors once again replaced the need for animal power, and the plows were able to be built even bigger.

A tractor pulls a modern plow through the field.

Tractors replaced the need for animals to pull plows.


Diskers are used to break up land, such as sloughs or pastureland. The original designs used small steel implements that would be pulled by horses to break up the land. This adapted as tractors were introduced, and the size of the disker has grown, allowing farmers to cover more ground.

A farmer sits on top of steel diskers that are being pulled through a field with a team of two horses.

Farmers used farm diskers that were pulled by horses.

A tractor pulls modern diskers through a farm field.

Tractors pull large modern diskers.


Cultivators are used to turn over the ground and mix up the soil. Before air seeders were invented, farmers had to cultivate and harrow the soil before they could seed into it.

They were originally pulled by animals such as horses, oxen, or mules. Cultivators were built from wood and steel and have evolved to be built mainly from steel. 

Two illustrated horses are pulling a steel cultivator.

Early cultivators were made from steel and wood and pulled by animals.

Modern cultivators do the same work in the field, but they have grown in size and require tractors to pull them. Many farmers have chosen to reduce the amount they cultivate to protect the soil and prevent soil erosion.

A tractor pulls a modern cultivator in a field.

Many farmers no longer use cultivators to help prevent soil erosion.

A farmer is holding onto a cultivator that is being pulled by mules through a farm field.

This was a cultivator from the early 1900s.

A tractor pulls a modern cultivator through a farm field.

Tractors pull large modern cultivators.


Harrows were designed as a tool that would break up soil and smooth out the surface. They used to be pulled by horses. Harrows were usually made from steel with spikes attached to drag across the ground. Modern harrows are wider and can also fold and unfold behind the tractor so they can move from field to field easier.

An illustrated harrow is shown.

Harrows would smooth out the surface of a farm field and prepare it for seeding.

Some farmers harrow after seeding to make the fields smoother for spraying and harvesting. Most farmers will also harrow after combining to spread the straw out. This is important because little seeds cannot grow through a lot of straw.

A farmer walks behind a harrow that is being pulled over a farm field by four horses.

Farmers pulled harrows with teams of horses.

A tractor with tracks pulls a large set of harrows across a farm field.

Farmers pull modern harrows with large tractors.