Threshing is the process used to separate the chaff, the protective covering around the grain, and the kernel of grain used for food, from a plant’s stalk. Farmers used flails to remove the chaff and grain from the stalk and to crack open the chaff.
This image from Benjamin Butterworth’s The Growth of Industrial Art, depicts reaping grain during the colonial period. Reaping had to be done by hand, using a scythe or hay knife to cut the grain. Notice that the whole family helps with the field work.
By the mid-nineteenth century, farmers no longer had to reap entirely by hand. Machines made the work of harvesting go more quickly. This Self Raker Harvester was patented in 1855, to help farmers bring in their harvest.
Threshing, also spelled thrashing, is the process used to separate the chaff, the protective covering around the grain, and the kernel of grain we use for food, from a plant’s stalk. During the nineteenth century, farmers used a variety of methods to remove the chaff and grain from the stalk and to crack open the chaff. Some used flails, others used hand-powered machines such as this, and still others used animal-powered machines. Today, farmers thresh primarily with gasoline-powered machines.
Companies that made agricultural equipment often stressed how efficient their machines were. This photograph from a trade catalog demonstrates that by using the company’s milking machine, one woman can do the work of three milkers.
During the nineteenth century, the woman of the household was usually responsible for making cheese and butter. She would set milk out in pans to separate the cream from the milk. The thick cream would rise to the top of the pan, and she would skim it off. The cream was used to make butter.
To harvest grain, the crop was usually first cut, then the grain was separated from the stalk or body of the crop. Grain cradles were used for cutting and gathering the crops. The long wooden “fingers” of the cradle gathered the straw as it was cut and deposited it in piles. The cradle was an improvement on a single blade because the fingers acted as extensions of the farmer’s arms and made harvesting a little easier.
Milk was a very important resource for a farmer in the nineteenth century. With little meat available, dairy products such as butter and cheese were the best way for people to get protein in their diets. Cows had to be milked twice a day. During the mid-nineteenth century, milking was done entirely by hand. Farmers sat on a stool and milked into a bucket.
The milk produced at Fenimore Farm had one of three destinations. Some was bottled and sold locally and regionally, while other milk was bottled and shipped by rail to The Dakota, an upscale apartment building in Manhattan that Edward Severin Clark owned. The rest of the milk was sold in bulk to larger dairy producers.
Threshing (also known as thrashing), refers to the method of separating grain from its outer hull, called chaff. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the farmer usually threshed by hand, swinging a flail against the grain on the barn floor to open the grain. The introduction of steam and animal-powered machinery in the mid to late nineteenth century, brought convenience to the process.