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Farm life in the late 1800s

Discussion in 'Campfire Chat - General Discussions' started by Mr King, Mar 28, 2010.

  1. Mr King

    Mr King Sergeant

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    I would like to start a thread on the farm life in the late 1800's. What they did including farming the crops and raising livestock. Please share your historical knowledge and family knowledge on the farm life back in those times. There are some questions I am curious to know about. I'll start off with one:

    1. What did the farmers do during the winter after the harvest season was over?
     

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  3. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    My ancestors were farmers in the Appalachian mountains, subsistance farmers with only a couple of hundred acres of land for the most part. Burley tobacco was a money source as were cattle. Most of their energy went into the growing of food for both people and animals. The work never stopped. At the end of the harvest, the processing of food and feed for preservation began and work continued in preparation for the long winters. Haystacks were created and secured as well as moving some hay and fodder into the barn for the most severe weather. Corn was taken to the grainery for storage and all the human food crops were processed, hogs killed, potatoes stored, vegetables canned and stocked in cellars. Wood for both cooking and warmth was an ongoing project and wood piles were stocked close to the house for easy retrieval. About this time the processing of tobacco for market began which in the mountains mean air-curing burley varieties in the barn which was removed before the coldest winter when the animals that weren't sold that year were brought in for shelter. If all that work had been done properly during the earlier parts of they year, winter was somewhat a time of slower work and enjoyment. Back then the Christmas season was actually about Christ. Christmas presents might have been worked on in spare periods (rare time) for an entire year. There was rejoicing merely for the fact that all had survived.
     
  4. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Winter was slightly only less hectic than the growing season. My people didn't raise tobacco, but there was plenty of work to go around. The animals still had to be fed and the cows milked (mostly done by lantern-light), the wood-pile needed constant attention and, time-permitting, something needed to be made ready for spring planting.

    Winter also provided time for repairs on the outbuildings, if not the house.
     
  5. Baggage Handler #2

    Baggage Handler #2 2nd Lieutenant

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    For a dairy operation pre internal combustion, figure about 10-20 cows (guess), also figure 3-4 acres per cow, so an 80 acre farm would be pretty substantial figure 40-50 as more the norm - and not all of that cultivated. That would be fairly consistent with the limitations of what you could do with a team of horses too, I think.

    What you did in the winter depended on how harsh the environment was. A lot of places you weren't going to see parts of the buildings until March, so presumably you'd use winter hours to maintain tack & harness.

    But in general, you'd get up in the pitch dark, feed the cows, milk, clean and store the milking equipment, tend to the milk, put the cows out (if weather allowed), clean the stalls (or parlor, if you milked in a parlor instead of in stalls), had breakfast, got things ready for evening, tended to correspondence or "herd management," had lunch, maybe took a little break, then figured out what maintenance needed doing, followed by another "feed/milk/clean" cycle.
    Grain, beef, or cash crops would have had an entirely different day, but the dairy farmer was called by his cows every twelve hours without fail. You hear, occasionally, of someone who missed a milking - went 12.5 hours between milkings until they had only 27 in 14 days instead of 28. You don't want to be that guy. It shows a lack of pride in one's work.
     
  6. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    All good stuff. My understanding is, in the 1800's, 40 acres was about as much as one man could till. He might have acres in pasture, and he would have to for the livestock, but unless he had sons or a hired hand, 40 acres was about it.

    Ten cows would be way too much to handle ... overly ambitious if grain crops were included. Ten cows would take more than an hour to milk, especially if you figure in the time to walk back to the house to empty the buckets. Ten cows, milked twice daily, would be a full-time job all by itself. Given that some cows would be dry and some would be coming fresh, the ten cows becomes twenty. Still in the late 1800s, but I'm guessing that in the rabbit-warrens of the cities, someone had to sell milk. Or did the city-folk do without? (Lots of city-folks kept a cow ... believe Lincoln had one in Springfield. Remember Mrs. O'Leary?)

    Milk doesn't keep well ... even in spring-houses. (We kept our cream in the cistern.) A few hours and the cream rises to the top. That was skimmed off and made into butter or sold to someone who would make it into butter. What wasn't used up in a day could be made into curds and whey or fed to the pigs.

    But the single-family farm would have only one or two milch cows -- just enough for the family. Know nothing of those who worked the dairy trade.
     
  7. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    Grandpa raised beef cattle, hence a few more per acre and no milking, if you didn't want to get kicked. We lived next to a dairy farm. Never had any envy for those boys.
     
  8. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    My ancestors were farmers in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina. The ones in North Carolina were subsistance farmers that raised corn, beans and potatoes. They had sheep for wool. The hogs were turned out in the fall to fatten up on acorns and chestnuts and later trapped live prior to slaughter. That's the poor mans way of fattening them up and one of the reasons there are so many wild hogs in the mountains. They didn't always catch them all.

    They traded their excess for salt and tools. They made their own clothing but bought their shoes and boots.

    One of the boys would travel to the closest town and work long enough to pay their taxes.

    My Georgia ancestors lived much the same way except they had an apple orchard and sold grafted apple trees delivered via mule drawn wagon.

    The farm was situated in a valley with a trout stream running through it. The bottoms were planted in row crops and the hillsides were pasture and orchards.

    As Ole and Larry stated the work was never ending.


    Sincerely,
    dvrmte
     
  9. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Thanks, dvrmte. Your post illustrates that "farmer" is not a definition. Each did what he could with what he had. First came the need to get through the winter. Second was the excess he might be able to trade for what he couldn't raise: salt, sugar, maybe coffee and a bolt or two of cloth. Life wasn't easy then. If you couldn't raise it or trade for it, you did without it.

    Come fall and late fall and winter, if you didn't have enough stored or preserved to feed you through the winter, and spring, and the months of the growing season, you starved until the next harvest. You had to, in about 6 months. accumulate enough stuff to get you through the next six months. And your animals.

    Somehow, many managed that. Some didn't.
     
  10. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    I can't imagine how my G-G-Grandma made it with five small children when G-G-Grandpa didn't come back from the war. All but one of his brothers were severely wounded. Her brothers came back but they couldn't do it all.



    dvrmte
     
  11. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    I forgot to mention that those old mountain folk raised alot more corn than could be eaten. Some of them brewed some mean white lightnin..... they still do.

    dvrmte
     
  12. TinCup

    TinCup Cadet

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    It is my understanding that corn liquor brought many a family through hard times. It was something they could sell, sort of a cash crop. It was another way to survive, and became imbedded in southern culture. I'm no expert, but this is my general understanding of it based on whatever spitwads of information that may have stuck to the side of my brain for the past 55 years.

    Especially southerners felt it was their right to make moonshine. Can't blame them for that. Truth is, I happen to know that moonshining is not eradicated in northern NE either, to this day. I can attest to that as fact, and no, I can't supply references.
     
  13. Ellsworth avenger

    Ellsworth avenger Sergeant Major

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  14. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    The chestnuts are gone now, victims of blight. I've seen a few small trees in my life that bore a few nuts before succombing to the blight. The American chestnut is the best tasting of all IMO.

    My wifes kin are from the mountains of SC and they used to turn their hogs out in the fall as well.

    Good stuff y'all,


    dvrmte
     
  15. Copper 83rd PA INF

    Copper 83rd PA INF Sergeant

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    What a great thread so far!

    My ancestors were all farmers in the Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio region. My grandfather's farm (where I was born and raised) was a 90 acre farm about 20 miles from where I live now. My grandfather is gone now, so my dad and my brother run it now. I too never envied the dairy farmers. I didn't enjoy milking, but my brother took a second job on an adjacent farm who milked over 400 head of dairy cattle to make some extra money.

    Winter time always seemed busier to me than any other time of the year on our farm. There was always so much to do (fixing the barn, working on machinery, butchering chickens, hogs and cows, winterizing everything, etc.) I always enjoyed working and living on a farm, but later decided it wasn't for me. I moved away while the rest of my family stuck around.

    As far as shine goes, I distinctly remember g-grandma going down to her "special shed" to get her "medicine" when I was very small. I'll never forget that smell.
     
  16. prroh

    prroh Captain

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    I visited a farm restored to mid 19th century look. In the barn they had a display of the often very specialized tools that were used. made a farm sef-sufficient to be able to do the whole process. This particular barn also had a display of about a dozen tool-looking objects that nobody could identify. there were paper and pencil next to each object for visitor input.

    Letting hogs run loose in wooded areas was a common practice. They kept the underbrush down and is the reason why large bodies of troops could manuever in good order through wooded areas such as the West Woods at Antietam.
     
  17. Copper 83rd PA INF

    Copper 83rd PA INF Sergeant

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    Our farm was very self-sufficient, which is one of the things I really miss about it. We used alot of modern machinery, but we also used some of the older hand tools because they were reliable.

    We never let our pigs run loose, but we did have free-range goats who ate EVERYTHING.
     
  18. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    And it was often a reason that the wounded didn't survive. Makes one churn to think that the wounded were often chomped on by pigs. Fences in rural areas were often built to keep the pigs out rather than in.

    When we think of pigs, we tend to think in terms of bacon, hams and chops. We forget that the pig is much like a cat ... one step away from reverting to societal dominance. Your basic duroc will, when free, grow tusks and fend very well for itself. One step away. Were humans to go away, cats, hogs and cockroaches would survive. Maybe a dog or three. Forget the peekapoo and the thoroughbred.

    Do I need a nap?

    Ole
     
  19. Craig L Barry

    Craig L Barry First Sergeant

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    Reason for the ring through the nose of the pig:
    To keep it from tearing up that which the farmer seeks
    to cultivate.

    Wild dogs subsist in the southern swamps and as
    with feral pigs and cats, revert back to a common
    ancestoral appearance in a couple generations. The
    so-called "Carolina Dog" is quite close in appearance
    (if not size) to the Australian Dingo.
     
  20. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    To All,

    First off, thank you.

    Such excellent posts on a very, VERY, neglected topic. So many of the boys of '61 came from small farms, from all over the country, its nice to see some background on their former lives. And to realize just how great the shock and horror of actual war must have been to those gentle souls from the farm when they first encountered the hell of combat. And the awe it brings to me when they stuck with it for all those years.

    Now, to other matters.

    When I was reenacting, I used to buy books for references to help me develope my first-person impression when I interacted with spectators at events. One of those books was, 1840's Farm Life In Central Ohio, by Martin Welker, which was published in 1892. If I may, I would like to share some of it with you here and see how it measures up to your own experiences and sources.

    FARM WORK

    "The first and great work of the farm was the grubbing and clearing the heavy timber from the land. This was done by the early settlers in a great measure. But at the period of which we write, the ground had to be cleared of brush and fallen timber previously deadened, every spring before plowing. There being no cross-cut saws, and to save the labor with the ax to cut up the logs, they were burnt into sections by what was called "n*ig*g*e*r*i*n*g," putting sticks across logs and setting them on fire. These had to be stirred up often to keep them burning. This was called "stirring up the n*i*g*g*e*r*s." These logs rolled up together in log heaps, and with the brush were burnt up. Then the field had to be "sprouted," that is, the sprouts of green stumps cut off. Generally a patch of new ground would be cleared each winter for a turnip or potatoe patch and be ready for the spring.

    The plowing was generally done with what was called the bar-shear plow with wooden mould-board, with a boy along side with a paddle to keep the dirt from clogging on the mould-board, and stirred with the one-horse plow. Occasionally a plow with a mettle mould-board was used by the more advanced farmers.

    Wheat and rye and oats, and all seeds, were sown broad-cast by hand, and covered by the triangular wooden or iron toothed harrow, and dug in with the mattock around the stumps and trees. Corn was planted b y hand, covered with the hoe, and cultivated with the shovel plow and the hoe. Hoeing corn was the special work of the boys, and sometimes of the girls; and boy or girl would ride the horse hitched to the plow when the corn was high."

    More to follow,
    Unionblue
     
  21. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Continued from above...,

    "Wheat and rye were cut with the sickle, made of steel with fine saw-teeth edge, and bound into sheaves by hand with straw bands, and oats and buckwheat cut with scythe, until the advent of the hand cradle then making its appearance. All grains were thrashed with the wooden flail, and cleaned with a sheet, two men so swinging the sheet as to blow the chaff from the grain, as it was slowly poured out of the half bushel by another hand, then the hand riddle used to clean the wheat for use. It was about a winter's job for a lone farmer to thresh out and clean the crop of a ten acre field. Men made it a specialty to so thresh during the winter for an agreed price per bushel, going around the neighborhood.

    The wind mill, or fanning mill, made its appearance soon after the hand cradle, wheat then would some times be tramped out with horses on the barn floor. Buckwheat was threshed with a flail on a ground floor in the field, and cleaned with a sheet until the wind mill came.

    Grass was cut with the hand-scythe, and cured with the fork and hand rake, hauled to the stack in co*ck, by horse and rope or chain, or by wagon, and generally stacked in the meadow where cut, and there fed to cattle, horses and sheep from the stack, on the ground in the winter time. The manure was left where dropped in the field. But little attention was paid to fertilizing the land, because it was not needed. Farming in fact was a sort of skimming process, as compared with the fine cultivation of the present time (1892 is when the author wrote this book about 1840s farming).

    The harvest time was then, as it always has been, and still is, a great event as well as a busy time on the farm. Usually quite a number of hands would be employed to reap in the wheat or rye field, who with sickle and regular step, each one upon his allotted land, would literally march through the golden grain, with a leader in front, enlivened by song or joke, until the end of the round was reached, where water, and whisky and shade, would rest the jolly reapers. With sickle on shoulder, the reaper would bind back his sheaves. And woe to the reaper who did not stand the day's work and had to "give out" and lay in the fence corner, and in the parlance of the day, whose "hide was hung on the fence."

    The mowing in large meadows was done about the same way and order, by numbers working together.

    The old men and boys, and often girls, carried water to the harvest or hay fielf in the coffee pot or jug, and generally the bottle of whisky was to be found in the shade of a tree or fence corner.

    The favorite amusement was to see who could get the most blackberries out of the bottle in one drink. The one able to stand the most whisky usually got the most berries. To the workers on the farm, the blast of the dinner horn was a welcome sound, and particularly so to the hungry boys.

    One of the special duties of the farm boy, at noon, during hay harvest, while the mowers were resting, was to turn the grind stone to grind the scythes. This duty, often performed by the writer, has made him hate grind stones ever since."

    END OF CHAPTER.

    Unionblue
     

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