Life on a Viking farm during the age of the Vikinger during the eighth to eleventh centuries required lots of hard, constant work. Most Viking farms raised enough crops and animals to sustain everyone who lived on the farm, human and animal. Most Vikings were farmers, a common fact of the medieval era, even if they also traded or fished part of the time. Viking farms were usually small, unless the owner was wealthy. While some farms were isolated, many grouped together in small farming villages.

Below is a list of the animals, crops and vegetables raised on a Viking farm:

  • Cattle
  • Sheep
  • Goats
  • Pigs
  • Horses
  • Geese, Ducks and Chickens
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Cabbages
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Turnips
  • Beans
  • Peas

Because winters were so severe in the Scandinavian lands, cattle had to be kept indoors during the winter. This meant that farmers had to grow enough hay to keep their cattle alive during that time.

Besides hay, farmers grew barley, rye and oats. Women tended vegetable gardens, and some Viking farms had apple orchards as well. Plowing, sowing the crops and harvest were all done according to the seasons. Some tasks were year-round: fencing and repairing fences, mucking out animal stalls, gathering wood or dung for fires, making or repairing tools, milking cows and sheep and feeding chickens and ducks. Everyone worked, from toddlers on up. Slaves did the hardest, most backbreaking work.

When Viking men went away on fishing or raiding expeditions, the women ran the farm and did the work. For that reason, women held a certain amount of power in Viking society. Children didn’t go to school; boys learned the tasks of the men and girls learned by helping their mothers. Most Viking men returned from raiding for the harvest and to winter over at their farms.

In summer, cattle and sheep were often driven to higher ground to pasture there for the season. Pigs were often set free to roam and forage in the wild until it was time to round them up and butcher them for the winter. Horses were kept closer to the farm as they were used for farm work and transportation. Dairy cows, sheep and goats also stayed closer to the farm as they had to be milked daily. Vikings appreciated cheeses, butter, buttermilk and whey and valued them more highly than meat.

Unfortunately, we don’t know too much of Viking farming methods. Most farming tools and implements didn’t survive the 1,000 years between then and now. We do know a simple plow called an ard was used to cut grooves through the soil in preparation for sowing. Harvesting the grain required iron sickles and sharp knives for cutting hay.

We also know that Viking farms and villages didn’t stay in the same place. Both farms and villages would shift one hundred meters every generation to take advantage of fresh soils. It wasn’t until the transition to Christianity when Vikings built stone churches that villages remained in the same place.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about Vikings history. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Vikings history