May 19, 2010

Threshing 2.0

Grains were one of the first crops to be domesticated some 10,000 years ago, and since that time have remained the centerpiece of almost every cultures' food supply: wheat in the Western World, rice in Asia, corn in the Southwest and Mexico, barley in parts of South America and mountainous regions of Asia. Unlike fresh vegetables, grain can be stored with relative ease, easily transported, and feeds livestock as well as people. It has a nice balance of protein and carbohydrates making it a natural choice for a staple crop..."give us now our daily bread."
The challenge has always been figuring out efficient ways to extract the tiny kernels of grain from the seed heads. Also, once separated, the loose grain still had to be separated from the remaining straw and chaff. One time-honored way involved the use of the flail: two sticks connected by a piece of leather. Beating the grain out with a flail, and then tossing the loose grain and straw up in a stiff breeze allowed the chaff to fly away and the heavier grain to fall to the ground to be collected. An alternate method was to drive livestock round and round on a threshing barn floor. The hooves of the cattle or horses did an admirable, if sometimes messy job of beating the kernels out of the grain heads.
In the middle of the nineteenth century mechanical threshing machines began to be developed. Most relied on a revolving drum with fingers which removed the grain. Gradually a series of fans and screens were added so as to accomplish the threshing and winnowing in the same operation. Hand-cranked and horse-powered versions eventually gave way to steam and gasoline powered tractor driven machines. All threshing machines at this point were stationary, with power being transfered from the power source to the thresher via belts and pulleys. In the 1950's the modern combine put nearly all the old stationary threshing machines out of business. The combine, as the name implies, combines the reaping and threshing operations into one. It is basically a threshing machine which powers itself and cuts and separates the crop in one operation.
Our machine is a 1950 McCormick-Deering stationary thresher, operated for the first time at Littlefield Farm just last week. More to come on our threshing adventure. Stay tuned.

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