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The use of human power in agriculture continues to be important, but, above all in the past, both animal and human power had a decisive impact on the way of working and on the crops until the introduction of modern machinery. As indicated in the San Martín de Unx (N) field research, the initial power source came from humans, who oversaw and triggered other instrumental sources, such as animal or mechanical, from the manual to motorised tools.

Both forces are intertwined because even though men and women do some tasks directly using farm implements, but the hardest ones needed the vital support of animal force and that power now comes from machinery. The information collected in Moreda (Álava), where they reported that human power still persists, animal power has practically disappeared and machinery or tractors are the most common, can be accepted as generally the case nowadays.

Human power

Shared work of the family

Information was gathered in Abezia (A) that can be applied to the rural world as a whole. It was standard practice at all the farmsteads for all members of the family, from children to the elderly, to be involved in the livestock and farming work. In Moreda (A), parents and children, and occasionally the grandparents, would usually run an agricultural holding.

The same point about the participation of all the members of the family – men, women and children – in the farming tasks was raised in Berganzo, Treviño and La Puebla de Arganzón (A); Ajangiz, Ajuria, Bedarona, Gautegiz Arteaga, Nabarniz, Urduliz, (B); Hondarribia (G); Izurdiaga, Valle de Roncal (Ustárroz, Isaba y Urzainqui) (N) and Donazaharre (BN). In Beasain (G), they reported that in general everyone living in the household had chores to do there and they stressed that even those who were employed in workshops outside the home.

At Zamudio (B), they explained that the father, mother and older children worked the land and the younger members of the families helped to harvest, collect water or look after the livestock out at grass. The men looked after the livestock in the barn and the women the home and prepared the meals.

More typical work of the men

Some examples gathered in the surveyed locations are given below and describe the specific work for men and it can be seen that the more physically demanding tasks were done by men.

Thus, it was seen in Apodaka (A) that men got up earlier to feed the oxen and they then could chew the cud when they were yoked together. Men cleaned the barns and stables, packed the grain, chopped the firewood, yoked the oxen and reaped the grass. In the fields, they ploughed the land with the oxen and went took the livestock up to the upland grazing and brought the animals down. The physically demanding work in the fields was and is still done by the men; they also herded the animals along the trails, even though women now go as well today.

Women’s involvement

The people surveyed in Abezia (A) explained that women were never left on one side when it came to farming and livestock work. Instead, they did nearly the same work as men, except some tasks such as ploughing or cutting firework, even though they did them in some cases. Women have played a fundamental role when it came to harvesting cereal. Certain tasks were considered typical of women, such as weeding or looking after the vegetable garden. Housewives had to combine the work in the fields with housework and looking after children, which men left purely up to women. Many mothers took suckling and new-born children to the fields and left them in a bucket, in a layette or in a reed shelter while they worked.

Neighbours helping each other

In general, it was reported that family and neighbours would help each other particularly in those tasks that were particularly labour intensive, such as preparing the land for sowing and during the harvest, and in the cases of illness or disability of a family member and/or illness of the livestock needed for agricultural work,

There also a neighbourhood farming-related task, which was regulated, to repair the paths prior to the harvest and collecting any grass to make sure the paths were clear.

Contracting temporary workers

Day labourers or temporary workers were the labourers temporarily contracted for specific tasks at times where large workforces were needed. In the past, the contracted workers were usually from the locality itself or nearby towns and villages. As the years passed, those workers, usually in gangs, were usually from more remote locations and, in more recent times, immigrants. Contracting those workers has been more common in the case of owners of large areas of single crops, particularly in the south of the Basque Country.

Animal power

The data collected in the surveyed locations indicate that oxen were a status symbol. Horses were used to a greater extent for farming tasks on the Mediterranean side of the watershed. Cows were used when oxen were not available. Donkeys were used throughout the territory for work requiring less force, to transport small loads from the market garden or from the meadow to the home, from the grain store to the mill, the goods for sale and milk churns to market and to take people to the meadows and arable land.

Animal power in farming is a thing of the past and has been replaced by tractors, initially simple ones and then larger vehicles, which began to make their mark in the 1970s, first in the cereal-growing areas in the south of the territory and later on the Atlantic side of the watershed.