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The Iowa Agriculturist


Hay is a mixture of many grasses and other plants. To the farmer, hay is a very important plant. For the most part hay is used for livestock feed. Horses, cattle, hogs and sheep use hay for food. It was, therefore, an important crop on the early farms of Iowa. For many years hay had been cut by a scythe, or sharp knife.

Cutting small grain with a scythe.

Around the time of the Civil War, workable sickle mowers were invented. The earliest mower was the horse-rake. It was a toothed sickle, which moved rapidly back and forth on a frame and was pulled by a horse. The revolving horse-rake replaced about six people with hand rakes.

Horse-drawn hay rake.

During the late 1860's a seat for a driver was added to the horse rake. This "sulky" had a lever from the rake to the drive, enabling the operator to trip the load when the rake was full.

The other types of rakes, including the side-delivery and sweep types, followed shortly. Each of these rakes attempted to make mowing hay easier for the farmer.

From: Explorations in Iowa History Project, Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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