The Farm Equipment Quiz



By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Cretì Stefano / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Whether you nurture a couple of veggies and spices in a window box or you tend to vast a acreage of soy, maize and barley, you're part of the great and glorious legacy of the historical figure who lead their fellow humans in the literal planting of roots: the farmer. Indeed, anyone who grows things draws on more than ten thousand years of human history and the combined knowledge of every society that has ever stepped foot on earth.

Most of the farming tools we use today are simply replicas of the same devices our ancient ancestors first used to turn over the soil in a meadow they'd found. In the last 10,000 years, the materials used to make these tools have changed and productivity has soared thanks to the introduction of engines, commercial fertilizers, smart breeding and genetic engineering, as well as weather satellites, apps and sensors that tell farmers all sorts of crucial facts about soil moisture, nitrogen levels and so on. We're even starting to bring back some of the more sustainable practices that commercial agriculture rejected, such as hilling, no-till farming, and replacing monoculture with mixed planting and cover crops. A combination of clever practices and crafty breeding has greatly reduced pesticide application and made better use of fertilizers.

Farming has become very smart, and thank goodness for that. Otherwise, there is no way we'd be able to feed anything like the population we have! However, at its heart, it's still the same natural, primitive tradition of the cavefolk who first thought, "I like that berry patch. I'm going to pull up the other plants around it so it can thrive." In doing this, they changed the world. 

We should all know the equipment that modern farmers use, but only the best-informed truly do. Are you one of them?

You'll attach a lot of the most important equipment to this big, car-like fellow. Can you remember its name?

It's an easy one to start with, but it's very important. A tractor does a lot of tasks on a farm, pushing and pulling all manner of equipment as it helps out with plowing, reaping, sowing, transport and just about everything else that happens in modern agriculture! It saves so many man-hours; no farmer should ever be without one.


What is this protective, non-pesticide stuff you put on your crops?

Understandably, people are very upset about pesticides on crops. Even though residue doesn't survive the washing of produce, the pesticides that get into the groundwater or kill off biodiversity on the farm itself are horrifically bad for the planet. Enter biologicals, which are non-synthetic "natural" pesticides that are lower in planetary impact and derive from things like microbes and fungi. They're a small but growing feature of modern farming.


Can you name this contraption that's delivering stuff to where it needs to be?

In Europe, this is called a centrifugal fertilizer spreader. It's a device that spreads seeds -- or sand, salt, lime, etc -- all about the place. It's not as accurate as a drop seeder, but it's quicker, and not all seeds need that sort of precision.


What is the proper term for this piece of wood that transformed early plowing?

When animals were first domesticated to work -- as opposed for meat and dairy -- the early harness design suffered from a key flaw: It put a loop around the animal's neck. This means that pulling hard is very uncomfortable, and can even strangle the ox or horse, thus making them no more effective than a strong man. The solution is the yoke, which spreads the load and permits the ox or horse to give it their best effort. Indeed, it changed farming so much that the size of an acre was originally based on the area that a man with a pair of oxen can plow in a day.


When you want to carry something too heavy, you use this. What's it called?

Carrying things around is rough on the joints but you can't always justify a wagon. That's when it's time to break out the wheelbarrow. These generally come in one, two, or four-wheeled versions, and they're a lifesaver for the farmer's knees!


Do you recognize this hand tool that's used to slice down standing crops?

This is a scythe, which is a two-handed tool that you use while standing up. It is NOT to be confused with the sickle, which is a one-handed tool that you have to lean over to use. A scythe is superior for most purposes, especially since if your kids plan to dress up as Death for Halloween. You can just repurpose it!


What's this terribly clever device that's used for planting without plowing?

No-till farming is a great idea in drier areas where the soil might become crumbly and blow away if you break it up too much. It's becoming increasingly popular as a way of keeping carbon in the soil, too; if carbon taxes become the norm, farmers stand to make a great deal of money from adopting such practices, as well as saving on water and labor.


When plowing is simply too much, you can just use this tool. What is it called?

Harrowing is like less intense plowing. It means turning over and scraping the top of the soil, but not digging in deeply. It's suited for different soil types or different crops than those that require plowing, and is somewhat more amenable to keeping carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients in the soil.


What's this machine called that turns cut crops into big blocks?

A baler is a terrific machine that can take cut flax straw, cotton, grass, salt marsh hay or silage and turn it into delightful building blocks. Sadly, the bales of today are usually too big for a person to move them individually, but there was a marvelous period until about 30 years ago when most balers made bales that you could just about pick up and stack like Lego. Farm kids often have glorious memories of the forts they built once the bales reached the barn! Was it dangerous? Sure! Did we sometimes fall down a terrifyingly deep crack between the bales, get hurt, crawl out and not tell our parents in case we were forbidden to do it again? Well, yeah. Did that stop us? No, it did not.


What's this almost invisible line that might stop you from entering or leaving a field?

Electric fencing is very portable because it is so light, meaning it's great for animals that you need to move from meadow to meadow. It's useful for areas where you don't want a permanent fence, such as when you want to keep your sheep in only half a field. It doesn't run "hot" constantly; instead, there are just pulses. These are usually tolerable if it's set for the level that deters cows from crossing it, but goodness help you if you walk into one that's set up for sheep! Thanks to their thick wool, they require quite a zap before they react.


When a gate is too inconvenient, what is this amazing floor device called?

Known as a "cattle grid" in Europe, a cattle guard is a brilliant way of keeping cows in a field without the bother of a gate, which is ideal when it's a gateway that you need to go through often. For example, it's perfect for the field where your barn or house happen to be! Cattle guards are also a great way to test if your kids have learned to ride their bikes properly, because if they weren't listening, they'll fall right in!


When you're trying to let humans and dogs in and out, but not cows, what's the name of this nifty U-shaped gate that can help?

It's called a kissing gate because it kisses the sides! It's not because it's encouraging anything inappropriate, we promise! These gates are a very handy option for a field that has a footpath across it. They're not as expensive as cattle guards, so they're a good option if you only need to walk in and out instead of driving.


If you're clearing some ground, what would you call this monster machine?

If you have a piece of land that you need to clear, a mulching machine is the quickest way to get the land ready to farm. There's even a version that can clear a former forest, though you need a different machine to cut the trees down in the first place!


By what name is this fella known whose entire life consists of standing in a field as if he's lost his way?

This is a very simple one, as scarecrows have been around for a long time. They don't just scare crows, though; they're a good and humane anti-pest device that is still useful, even though it does have its limits. Still, what would a field of corn be without a scarecrow? Even without a brain, it can be quite effective!


You've got to climb a fence or hedge and it's too high or prickly. What's this handy step called?

A stile is an essential tool for when there isn't space to put in a gate, but you need access in and out of a field at a specific point. It's not the most accessible option because it requires you to be fairly hale and hearty, but it's a lot better than clambering over fencing with barbed wire along the top!


When you're planning to maintain your ditches, what handy tool might you use that you can see depicted here?

A trencher is the ideal tool for digging a long, thin hole, also known as a ditch. Ditches help drain fields and channel excess water back into rivers. Most farmland has at least some drainage, unless you're extremely fortunate in your soil and topography. Indeed, the right amount of water is one of the main differences between arable land and swamp.


What's the name of this tool which helps you maintain an alternative to fencing?

No fancy names for this particular device; it does exactly what its title implies. Hedges are the ideal way to encircle a field as they are environmentally friendly, providing habitat "corridors" between wooded areas, meaning that necessary pollinators like bees can thrive. They're beautiful, of course. They also help to anchor topsoil, which prevents ditches from getting clogged, and unlike a fence, once you put in a hedge, it grows stronger the longer you leave it in place. The only downside is that you do have to trim them if they get too big!


What's the name of this large vessel at the dairy?

A bulk tank is a key part of a working dairy. Once you've milked all the cows, you need to keep the milk nice and chilled before it heads off to the buyer -- whether it be a dairy purveyor, supermarket or middleman -- who will pasteurize it and sell it to the consumer. The bulk tank is where the milk is kept for this purpose.


What would you call this big, mechanized piece of cutlery?

A hay fork is built on the same principle as the hand tool of the same name. It helps move large quantities of hay all at once. It is, of course, also known as a pitchfork, though that refers more exclusively to the handheld version instead of to the mechanical one.


Once your hay's nicely baled, which machine completes the next step?

Bale wrappers do what they say: they wrap bales. You can't just leave bales lying around for the very reason that you want them in the first place: an awful lot of creatures consider a bale to be food. Indeed, rats, birds and other animals often think bales aren't just food, they're home! That's why wrapping your bales is a necessary precaution. Indeed, watching a combo baler and bale wrapper go is one of the most satisfying processes the human eye can behold; it's a veritable ballet of machinery (and it smells great, too).


Can you pick the right name for this excellent machine that helps with tiny grains?

Rice, when it is picked, isn't just something you can toss in a pot and cook. It has a "hull," a sort of little shell that you need to remove. This is unbelievably annoying to do by hand, hence the rice hulling machine. This is another terrific machine that is worth seeing in action. Rice goes in en masse, gets hulled, and then edible grains come out! It's magnificent!


What should you call this machine that organizes cut crops?

After you cut your corn, you need to organize it nicely so that you can pick it up. Enter the swather, which does this very neatly; that's how we get the "cornrows" you'll recognize from any field mid-harvest. In Australia, this machine is called a windrower.


Do you know the correct term to describe this primitive farmer's friend?

Barbed wire was first invented by Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, in 1867. It wasn't very similar to what we think of as barbed wire, as a number of other inventions and patents came along that changed it up. However, the idea of needing light, easily-moved fencing that kept animals in and pests (and certain humans) out is a fairly old one, and barbed wire is very helpful in that regard!


Back to basics. What is this handy tool that you can use to neaten up the farmyard?

As we mentioned, there are some tools that really haven't changed in centuries. The rake is one of them. An essential piece of farmyard equipment, it's handy for keeping things where they belong. Keeping order is essential to preventing vermin, stopping machines from getting clogged up, and simply running a respectable farm, and a trusty rake is a simple but useful part of maintaining it.


What generic name is given to this fascinating egg "change machine"?

Automated sorting of produce saves a huge amount of time and labor, as well as prevents spoiling. For example, if you put tomatoes of the same size in a package, they will all be held in place and arrive fresh, whereas a too-small tomato will ricochet around and a too-large one will be squashed. Watching an egg sorter go, in particular, is absolutely mesmerizing.


What would you call this mysterious silo?

If grain gets too much moisture in it, it can spoil or sprout. The grain drier is the ideal way to store the grain so that it slowly dries out, meaning that it is ready for grinding. You can dry grain out in the air, using windrows, but you lose more to pests that way. Plus, you'd better be darn sure about the weather forecast!


Can you name this specially-equipped room that is the center of the dairy farm?

A milking parlor is where it all happens. The cows are always seen in order, with the best milkers going first or last to ensure that they are attended at the closest to a true twelve-hour interval. Cows generally like to be milked because they know and trust the dairyman, it relieves discomfort, and they get to eat during it. In hotter climates, milking parlors are air conditioned. After the cows are milked, they tend to be pretty mellow. That's why when you go out to bring them in for milking, they're already at the gate lowing at you as if to say, "Open the door, let's do this!"


What's the name of this little plane that helps put pesticide or fertilizer down?

The crop duster is a rare sight these days, as we have superior machines and drip irrigation systems that can place the necessary chemicals right at the roots where they are most effective. This reduces the need for excessive spraying, and also massively reduces the odds that you'll waste a lot of money spraying expensive products into the air only to see them blown to your neighbor's farm!


What are these tubes along the field?

These pipes don't take water away like a drain. Instead, they bring it. This is irrigation, which is great in places where water doesn't show up in the form of rain as often as you'd like. Now that sensors and apps can tell farmers exactly how moist the soil is, water can be used more sparingly. This is good news: As future climates suffer more droughts, smarter water usage will be more and more necessary.


By what name is this produce-carrying truck known?

The wagon may not be pulled by a fine pair of shire horses any more, but it's still a wagon. If you watch a combine harvester go, you'll see that the reaped corn is put straight into the wagon, and usually two wagons are used as a tag team. This way, the combine can simply pour corn out all day, which means you don't waste daylight during the precious harvest period when your corn is perfectly ripe and ready to be cropped.


What is this special type of process making?

Silage is a special kind of fermented grass product that is especially nutritious. You make it by compacting grass or wrapping corn tightly and weighing it down, as shown here, but a silo will do it quicker. Silage silos operate at just the right moisture and temperature. They are similar to a grain driers, only they have pretty much the opposite function!


This looks like just a piece of cloth, but it's much more. What is it?

Tarpaulin is reinforced plastic cloth, and it's essential on a farm. Its name comes from its origin as tarred canvas, and while you do see it on all sorts of places that aren't farms, it's priceless to a farmer as a way to protect feed, put up temporary shelters, and make silage by creating the perfect anaerobic conditions for fermenting grass.


What is this versatile, absolute boss of the farm?

You used to have to reap, thresh and winnow your wheat one step at a time. The combine does it all as a combo action! It reaps (cutting the crop). It threshes (bashing the crop to take the husk and straw off the edible grain). It winnows (whipping the crop again to get the chaff out). Then it puts the husks and chaff down on the field where it can be plowed back in as fertilizer, while putting the grain straight into a wagon. It only works a few weeks a year and yet, by making it possible to harvest exponentially larger areas while the grain is ripe, it has saved millions of people from food shortages. All hail the combine harvester, king of farm equipment!


Do you know how to label this intriguing digging device?

The plow is the OG of farm equipment, the one that started it all. It is true that farming wasn't invented overnight; it was a centuries-long process of realizing that humans could promote the growth of plants we liked by nurturing a good environment for them, weeding out competitors, ensuring a water supply and putting manure down to feed them. However, the plow is generally agreed to be the symbol of the moment that we truly committed as a species to agriculture, and the world has not been the same since!


This farmworker is very important to certain kinds of farms. What is his or her name?

Dogs are still much better at herding than humans, especially when it comes to sheep who, frankly, aren't very bright and need to be told what to do. You can herd them on a little tractor, or just walk around with your arms out and hope not too many of them get away, but that would be a strange choice when a sheepdog will make light work of the same task and be your best friend to boot!


What's the proper term for this container that you really, really don't want to fall into?

Slurry is probably the most disgusting stuff on a farm. It's not just manure; it is also water, hay, and other unusable runoff from the farm. It all goes into the slurry tank where it becomes doubly potent (both its potential as fertilizer, and the smell) and then it gets sprayed on the fields as a delightful organic fertilizer. We've recommended watching a few of the processes of a farm throughout this quiz, but this one, you can skip. (Or, if you're really curious, at least remember to stay upwind.)


What is this piece of equipment that the farmer uses after the slurry tank?

Yep, that manure isn't going to spread itself! Whether it's slurry or just plain manure, putting it all over the fields requires this wonderful piece of equipment, which spares farmers from having to get up close and personal. You'll still want the longest shower of your life after working with the manure spreader, but at least you're not completely covered.


When it's time to remove something big from the ground, what's this piece of equipment that gets deployed?

The backhoe is seen in other places than the farm, but it's still an essential part of farm life. Its function is to dig out big things that would probably damage a plow, such as rocks or root balls. You also use it to make holes for big posts, such as the frame of a barn.


If you want to go deeper than the harrow but not as far as the plow, it's time for this guy. What's it called?

Cultivators have lots of shark-like teeth that really do a number on the soil. You wouldn't want it to go as deep as a plow, because that would mess up your topsoil and make it too prone to erosion. Despite its scary looks, the cultivator is the gentler option that merely prepares the harvested field for the plow to come back in due course.


When it comes to planting at just the right depth, what's the name for this gizmo that gets the job done?

If you put your seed in too shallow, birds will eat it, or the soil will be too crumbly for the seed to put down a good, strong root. If you put it in too deep, it won't get enough light, water or space to root itself and then grow. That's why the seed drill is a blessing: You just tell it how deep you want to plant, and it gets the job done.


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