Farming in Buchan in the era of the horse

Pratt (1858) states that before the introduction of horse-drawn ploughs, oxen were used:

Every farmer of any note had twelve or at least ten oxen for every plough, with the ploughman and goodman—the latter generally a stripling, one of whose qualifications was a capability of whistling well and cheerily, a process by which it was supposed the oxen did their work more briskly and conjointly.

The plough was a heavy wooden implement, drawn by the oxen yoked in pairs, the pairs from the front (furthest from the plough) were referred to as the On-wyner (nearside, on the land, on the ploughman's left), and the Wyner-ox (offside, in the furrow); next came the On-Steer draught (nearside) and Steer draught (offside), Fore Throck on land (nearside), Fore Throck in fur (offside), Mid Throck on land, Mid Throck in fur, Hind Throck on Land, Hind Throck in fur, Fit on land, and Fit in fur. Young oxen were added to the team in the Steer draught position and were moved back through the team towards the plough as they became more experienced. The Fit o' land was not fully trained until he lowered his neck to plough more deeply when the ploughman called Jouk. (Pratt op.cit.)

It must have been a skilled job to manage twelve oxen, and no doubt the goodman was called upon to do much more than merely whistle. In fact Lyon (2003) mentions ploughmen's assistants, from one to four men, termed gadsmen who directed the oxen using pointed sticks or gads, a word presumably cognate with goads.

The invention, around 1740, of the iron plough, drawn by two horses, controlled by one ploughman, capable of ploughing at the same speed as the ox-plough, must have been an amazing technological innovation; with incremental improvements to the quality of heavy horses, harness, and the ploughs, this method persisted as the favoured method of ploughing until horses were replaced by the tractor. The era of the horse therefore extended from the last quarter of the 18th to the first half of the 20th century. In that time the art of managing heavy draught horses was developed, and in Buchan, transmitted to neophytes through the Society of the Horseman's Word, a quasi-masonic secret society devoted to preserving the knowledge of horses and to keeping the knowledge to the initiated members of the Society.

(Revision date: Tuesday 10th April 2012)