The plough (UK) or plow (US; both /ˈplaʊ/) is a tool (or machine) used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting to loosen or turn the soil. Ploughs are traditionally drawn by working animals such as horses or cattle, but in modern times may be drawn by tractors. A plough may be made of wood, iron, or steel frame with an attached blade or stick used to cut the earth. It has been a basic instrument for most of recorded history, although written references to the plough do not appear in English until 1100 CE at which point it is referenced frequently. The plough represents one of the major advances in agriculture.
The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds and the remains of previous crops and allowing them to break down. As the plough is drawn through the soil it creates long trenches of fertile soil called furrows. In modern use, a ploughed field is typically left to dry out, and is then harrowed before planting. Plowing and cultivating a soil homogenizes and modifies the upper 12 to 25 cm of the soil to form a plow layer. In many soils, the majority of fine plant feeder roots can be found in the topsoil or plow layer.
Ploughs were initially human powered, but the process became considerably more efficient once animals were pressed into service. The first animal powered ploughs were undoubtedly pulled by oxen, and later in many areas by horses (generally draught horses) and mules, although various other animals have been used for this purpose. In industrialised countries, the first mechanical means of pulling a plough were steam-powered (ploughing engines or steam tractors), but these were gradually superseded by internal-combustion-powered tractors.