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The usual practice after plowing a furlong was to then turn the team around on a "land" and plow the other direction. Lands were laid out so the farmer would be able to finish a land every 10 rounds with a 10 inch plowshare (about 16.5 feet). One could imagine that perhaps farmers used a pole or rod that was 16.5 feet long when laying out lands because this measure of distance is still called a rod today. By starting early in the morning, two lands could be finished before noon with a good yoke of oxen. At noon, the farmer stopped for his noon meal and to feed, water, and rest his animals. After the noon break, another two lands could be finished before quitting time. Four lands, or forty rounds (80 furrows) measured 16.5 x 4 = 66 feet across by 1/8 mile (660 feet) long and was considered a good days work with a walking plow. The area plowed was therefore 43,560 square feet and became the standard unit of land area we call an acre. By the way, a farmer who plowed 80 furrows an eighth of a mile long would have walked ten miles while wrestling with the hand guided walking plow. Is it any wonder this measure of land area became known as an acre (ache-er)! Actually, the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary states that the name comes from the Old English ‘aecer'; akin to Old High German ‘ackar' (field), Latin ‘ager' (field), Greek ‘agros' (field), or Latin ‘agere' (to drive).
Fence posts are still commonly spaced a rod apart and barbed wire still comes in 80 rod spools. Much of Nebraska was settled by homesteaders. In eastern Nebraska, the Homestead Act awarded each homesteader one-quarter section (160 acres). When posts are spaced a rod apart on the perimeter fence of a quarter section, the space between each fence post represents an acre, if measured across the full width of the quarter section.
A standard acre as described above was one chain (66 feet) wide by ten chains (660 feet) long, or ten square chains. Before the age of pocket calculators and computers, surveyors used chain measure to measure land because it simplified the calculations. The length and width of a rectangular tract of land could be measured using a chain measure with the area expressed in square chains. Since there are ten square chains to an acre, the conversion from square chains to acres could be done mentally. Odd shaped tracts of land could be divided into smaller parcels each representing a standard shape (a rectangle, a triangle, a trapezoid, and full or part circle) and each parcel could be measured using a chain-measure. The area of each parcel, in square chains, could be added and then divided by ten to report total acres in the field. University
of Nebraska Cooperative Extension abides with the non-discrimination policies
of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the United States Department
of Agriculture. |