A Feed Chopper

cutter advertisement and illustration
Left: Advertisement for a feed cutter in the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue. Right: Illustration of a farmer using an 1884 fodder cutter from The Growth of Industrial Art.

A feed chopper cuts straw, hay, or oats into small pieces for mixing with other forage to feed horses and cattle. This helps the animals digest their food. An experienced operator on the original treadle version of this machine produced forty bushels of chaff per day. But the invention of the hand-crank feed cutter in the 1840s made the task easier. The crank turned two rollers. The soft metal upper roller provided a cutting surface for the straight, evenly spaced blades attached to the lower roller. The operator fed the fodder between the rollers. A heavy flywheel enhanced the crank action. Operators still had to feed the first rotary cutters manually, but improved versions came equipped with automated feed systems. Heavy-duty cutters powered by horses or steam engines had a capacity of 500 bushels per hour.

feed chopper
Feed chopper. MCHS object 1976-061-0001.

Markings on the hand-crank feed chopper shown above indicate that the St. Louis manufacturer Whitman Agricultural Company patented the design in 1868. The Zajicek family used this cutter on their farm in Collinsville Township. Joseph and his seven siblings helped their father, a Bohemian immigrant, raise hogs and run a sawmill business. The chopper cut oat stalks to feed to horses and mules. Anderson Hospital now stands on a portion of the former Zajicek farm.

Zajicek farm photo
Photograph of the Zajicek family at their farm home in 1882. Eight-year-old Joseph Zajicek is the smaller of the two boys holding the mules or horses.