Shocking History

Fall is just around the corner.  Pretty soon you’ll start to see fall displays of pumpkins, mums, and corn shocks.  Today corn shocks are used as a decoration, but a little over a century ago they still served a very real purpose.


Until the invention of modern harvesting equipment and new breeds, corn was one of the most labor intensive crops to grow, but its high nutritional value for livestock made it well worth the effort.  However, northern areas of the US faced a climate problem when it came to growing corn.  It wouldn’t normally be dry in time to plant a winter cover crop, like winter wheat, if it was left standing.  Also, an early winter could make fields too muddy to work in.  Shocking corn allowed the stalks to dry while also freeing up the space in between the shocks for a cover crop.


Farmers had to chop down stalks one at a time and stack them in shocks to dry.  Early shocks were created by weaving smaller stalks into the shock and also tying leaves together to help give it structure.  After the shocks had dried, they were loaded onto a wagon to be hauled to the barn for processing.  Then they were shucked by hand.  The fodder was then cut into small pieces and stored to feed livestock, and the ears were moved to a corn crib for further drying.


As machines were invented, the time needed to harvest the corn lessened.  However, these early machines just bundled the corn into shocks.  Shucking the ears and cutting the shocks into silage was still mostly done by hand.  Today, of course, pretty much the whole process has been automated.

Today corn shocks have been relegated to fall decorations.  In our area many people build them with corn stalks from their own gardens.  Check out the video below on building corn shocks the way it was done centuries ago.