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Good And Bad Husbandry

Necessity is the master of us all. A farmer may be as strenuous for deep

plowing as I am--may firmly believe that the soil should be thoroughly

broken up and pulverized to a depth of fifteen to thirty inches,

according to the crop; but, if all the team he can muster is a yoke of

thin, light steers, or a span of old, spavined horses, which have not

even a speaking acquaintance with grain, what shall he do? So he may

tily wish he had a thousand loads of barn-yard manure, and know how

to make a good use of every ounce of it; but, if he has it not, and is

not able to buy it, he can't always afford to forbear sowing and

planting, and so, because he cannot secure great crops, do without any

crops at all. If he does the best he can, what better can he do?

Again: Many farmers have fields that must await the pleasure of Nature

to fit them for thorough cultivation. Here is a field--sometimes a whole

farm--which, if partially divested of the primitive forest, is still

thickly dotted with obstinate stumps and filled with green, tenacious

roots, which could only be removed at a heavy, perhaps ruinous, cost. A

rich man might order them all dug out in a month, and see his order

fully obeyed; but, except to clear a spot for a garden or under very

peculiar circumstances, it would not pay; and a poor man cannot afford

to incur a heavy expense merely for appearance's sake, or to make a

theatrical display of energy. In the great majority of cases, he who

farms for a living can't afford to pull green stumps, but must put his

newly-cleared land into grass at the earliest day, mow the smoother,

pasture the rougher portions of it, and wait for rain and drouth, heat

and frost, to rot his stumps until they can easily be pulled or burned

out as they stand.

So with regard to a process I detest, known as Pasturing. I do firmly

believe that the time is at hand when nearly all the food of cattle

will, in our Eastern and Middle States, be cut and fed to them--that we

can't afford much longer, even if we can at present, to let than roam at

will over hill and dale, through meadow and forest, biting off the

better plants and letting the worse go to seed; often poaching up the

soft, wet soil, especially in Spring, so that their hoofs destroy as

much as they eat; nipping and often killing in their infancy the finest

trees, such as the Sugar Maple, and leaving only such as Hemlock, Red

Oak, Beech, &c., to attain maturity. Our race generally emerged from

savageism and squalor into industry, comfort and thrift, through the

Pastoral condition--the herding, taming, rearing and training of

animals being that department of husbandry to which barbarians are most

easily attracted: hence, we cling to Pasturing long after the reason for

it has vanished. The radical, incurable vice of Pasturing--that of

devouring the better plants and leaving the worse to ripen and diffuse

seed--can never be wholly obviated; and I deem it safe to estimate that

almost any farm will carry twice as much stock if their food be mainly

cut and fed to them as it will if they are required to pick it up where

and as it grows or grew. I am sure that the general adoption of Soiling

instead of Pasturing will add immensely to the annual product, to the

wealth, and to the population, of our older States. And yet, I know

right well that many farms are now so rough and otherwise so unsuited to

Soiling as to preclude its adoption thereon for many years to come.

Let me indicate what I mean by Good Farming, through an illustration

drawn from the Great West:

All over the settled portions of the Valley of the Upper Mississippi and

the Missouri, there are large and small herds of cattle that are

provided with little or no shelter. The lee of a fence or stack, the

partial protection of a young and leafless wood, they may chance to

enjoy; but that it is a ruinous waste to leave than a prey to biting

frosts and piercing north-westers, their owners seem not to comprehend.

Many farmers far above want will this Winter feed out fields of Corn and

stacks of Hay to herds of cattle that will not be one pound heavier on

the 1st of next May than they were on the 1st of last December--who

will have required that fodder merely to preserve their vitality and

escape freezing to death. It has mainly been employed as fuel rather

than as nourishment, and has served, not to put on flesh, but to keep

out frost.

Now I am familiar with the excuses for this waste; but they do not

satisfy me. The poorest pioneer might have built for his one cow a rude

shelter of stakes, and poles, and straw or prairie-grass, if he had

realized its importance, simply in the light of economy. He who has many

cattle is rarely without both straw and timber, and might shelter his

stock abundantly if he only would. Nay, he could not have neglected or

omitted it if he had clearly understood that his beasts must somehow be

supplied with heat, and that he can far cheaper warm them from without

than from within.

The broad, general, unquestionable truths, on which I insist in behalf

of Good Farming are these; and I do not admit that they are subject to


I. It is very rarely impracticable to grow good crops, if you are

willing to work for them. If your land is too poor to grow Wheat or

Corn, and you are not yet able to enrich it, sow Rye or Buckwheat; if

you cannot coax it to grow a good crop of anything, let it alone; and,

if you cannot run away from it, work out by the day or month for your

more fortunate neighbors. The time and means squandered in trying to

grow crops, where only half or quarter crops can be made, constitute

the heaviest item on the wrong side of our farmers' balance-sheets;

taxing them more than their National, State, and local governments

together do.

II. Good crops rarely fail to yield a profit to the grower. I know there

are exceptions, but they are very few. Keep your eye on the farmer who

almost uniformly has great Grass, good Wheat, heavy Corn, &c., and,

unless he drinks, or has some other bad habit, you will find him growing

rich. I am confident that white blackbirds are nearly as abundant as

farmers who have become poor while usually growing good crops.

III. The fairest single test of good farming is the increasing

productiveness of the soil. That farm which averaged twenty bushels of

grain to the acre twenty years ago, twenty-five bushels ten years ago,

and will measure up thirty bushels to the acre from this year's crop,

has been and is in good hands. I know no other touchstone of Farming so

unerring as that of the increase or decrease from year to year of its

aggregate product. If you would convince me that X. is a good farmer, do

not tell me of some great crop he has just grown, but show me that his

crop has regularly increased from year to year, and I am satisfied.

--I shall have more to say on these points as I proceed. It suffices for

the present if I have clearly indicated what I mean by Good and what by

Bad Farming.