Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An Acre

While the world is largely metric, except for the U.S., it came to my attention today just how an acre (.4 ha) of land was originally measured. Aecre is an Old English word, in whose time it denoted how much land a yoke (i.e., two oxen) could plow in one day. It equalled 4,840 square yards or relatively the same distance from the goal line to the visitor's 10 yard line on an American football field (don't ask what that is in CFL terms!).

Seeing that I used to work on a farm cultivating land it may come as a surprise that I had difficulty visualizing what an acre looked like. I, more or less, relied on the distance shown on an instrument in the tractor cab. Although that became somewhat improved when one day another farmhand and I had to measure out a quarter-section (160 ac) into strips. Strip farming (see picture)
is done in Southern Alberta to combat wind erosion that can occur due to the high Chinook winds that frequent this region. If fields are cultivated using regular fallow techniques all your good topsoil just ends up in Saskatchewan. So strip farming breaks up the topography of a field, alternating between crop and fallow. The crop creates a windbreak. Anyway, to measure out each strip required using a rod triangle, which is essentially a triangle frame constructed of two wood arms along the sides to the apex, and joined at the base with a 8.25 foot metal rod. I tried to find a picture on the web, but with no joy. You'll just have to imagine it. To measure the breadth of an acre meant pivoting this frame (end-to-end) across the strip you are measuring eight times (twice gives you a measure of a rod; 4 rods gives you the width of an acre). You could do well with a measuring tape, and I am sure many do so. But, there is something about tapping into old farming techniques that gives me some satisfaction.

Something else that gives me satisfaction is reading the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. This is where all this info about an acre got its start this afternoon.

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