AgricultureIn earlier times the technical facility was lacking in effective fertilization, pesticides and the improved culturing of plants: Agriculture yielded such little crop that up to the middle ages most people had to work as farmers. (Today 2% of the population can produce enough food for all.)
The basis of nourishment was a grain mush, therefore the most important work was in agriculture.
Most of the fields were less than 25 acres (10 ha) in size. A piece of land that was 7.5 acres (325,000 square feet or 560 feet x 560 feet) was large enough to feed 6 adults and a few children (3 ha or 30,000 qm or 170m x 170m in European measures). To do so, 2 or 3 people had to work hard the entire year:
The soil was ripped open with a hook-plow, which was drawn by cattle or humans. Then they could sow seeds for barley, wheat, sorghum, oat or rye. Until it was time to harvest they would have to weed the fields repeatedly. Finally, they could harvest the crops in a laborious manner using sickles.
They would then loosen the grains by beating the crop with bats on a wooden plank, which was followed by separating the chaff and the stems from the crops. Lastly, they would sieve the grains to remove any weed-seeds.
If all went well they would now have a grain supply of a few hundred kilograms, which would be enough for the following year; If the harvest was less successful, however, the family would have to go hungry.
In a lot of the tribes the fields were communal property and would be distributed every year. After the fields had been cultivated for a few years the soil would be sapped and could only be used as a feedlot for cattle for a little while. To gain new fields for cultivation or to make a fallowed piece of land fertile again they had to cut down part of a forest or trees that had re-grown on the fields with iron axes.
Besides this kind of agriculture the Germanic tribes would also practice stock-farming. Especially Cattle was kept for the production of milk and as work animals.
One big problem was producing an ample supply of winter food every year: Because each cattle would need about 5,500 lbs. (2,500 kg) of hay during the winter time. To produce such a quantity of hay it took 150 work hours and since most extended families had 6 or more cattle on their farms, they would need 33,000 lbs. (15,000 kg) of hay. In addition to the cattle, there would often be sheep or pigs that needed winter food as well. If necessary dried leaves were used as a substitute; or sometimes in adverse conditions one of these valuable animals would be slaughtered and the meat was then smoked or salted.
It took a lot of hard and costly labor just to ensure that the daily food would be produced. Most families did not possess the manpower necessary to produce any surplus or or an ample supply of food, so that hunger and hardship were constantly looming.
This situation may have contributed to the fact that the Germanic tribes would often wage wars with neighboring tribes and that they were determined to turn the defeated into slaves: The value of a slave could not be overestimated. Through his labor he would feed himself, any surplus in food he produced would feed his master, who now was freed up from the most strenuous work himself.
One hour of brave fighting could save months of hard work on the fields - maybe this explains some of the warlike characteristics of the Germanic society, and the frequent raids on the more civilized neighboring countries as well.