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Preparing the Soil

Plows and Harrows

Preparing the soil for seeding has been an important step in farming for a very long time! As farming has changed, so have the practises farmers use. When settlers first came to Canada, they used a steel plow pulled by a strong farm animal, such as a horse or an oxen, to break the land. After they plowed, they would follow with a harrow to break up the lumps in the soil.

A man is holding onto a plow that is being pulled by two horses to break prairie sod. There is another group of two horses pulling a plow in the background.

Photo Credit: Western Development Museum

This farmer is breaking prairie sod in 1903 with a plow.

A man is holding onto the reins of four horses, as the horses pull harrows over a farm field.

Photo Credit: Saskatchewan History Album

This farmer is using a team of horses to pull harrows over the ground to smooth out lumps.

The image shows an illustration of a plow.

Settlers had to use plows to break the soil.

An illustrated harrow is shown.

Settlers used harrows to break up lumps in the soil.


In the 1920s, tractors were becoming a bit more affordable than they were in the early 1900s, but they were still expensive for farmers. Tractors allowed farmers to pull their plow or harrow through their fields much quicker and were much less labour intensive than farming with horses and oxen.

The first tractors still had steel wheels which slowed them down. When new tractors came out in the 1930s with rubber tires, they changed the farming game! Rubber tires were lighter than steel tires and allowed tractors to move through the fields much faster saving the farmer a lot of time. Farmers continued to plow the fields until the mid-1930s when soil erosion led them to change their techniques.

A man is steering a tractor with steel wheels in a farm field.


The first tractors that came out had heavy steel wheels!

An illustrated green and yellow, old-style tractor is shown.

The first tractors had steel wheels.

An illustrated green tractor with tracks is shown.

Some current tractors have tracks.


Summer fallow was a practice used by farmers all over Saskatchewan for several decades on dryland fields. Summer fallow is farmland that is purposely not seeded to a crop for one season. The land was still cultivated because cultivating was believed to help conserve soil moisture, improve soil nutrients, control weeds, and manage pests and diseases.

A man is sitting on a cultivator that is being pulled by two horses through a farm field.


This farmer pulls a cultivator across his field with a team of two horses.

Around the 1980s, farmers realized that summer fallow caused a loss of organic matter in the soil and left the soil bare so the wind and rain blew it away (we now call this soil erosion). Research found that summer fallow did not significantly increase moisture and nutrient reserves nor control weeds any better than growing a competitive crop.

Famers generally abandoned the practice in favor of new minimum tillage techniques.

A tractor pulls a cultivator through a bare farm field.

Cultivators aren’t used very often anymore because they can dry out the soil and cause it to blow around.

An illustrated cultivator that is being pulled by a horse is shown.

First Cultivators

An illustrated cultivator is being pulled by a current-style tractor.

Current Cultivators