Our Farming Partner
The Animal as
The forest system includes the animal kingdom. We pointed out in our last chapter how rich and diversified is the animal population which pursues its life history under the forest canopy. We can now expand this statement and note without further parley that what is true of the forest is true of the prairie, the steppe and meadow, even of the bog and marsh and desert; animal life abounds; animals are a part of the natural order so essential that no portion of the earth's green carpet can exist without them. Indeed, the relationship between the animal and plant is the most significant of any in Nature. Animals and plants lead an interlocked existence: the connection could not be closer, more permanent, and more crucial.
We have no true conception of the green carpet unless we look on it as a double world of animals and plants together. This is natural law and it is our business to draw the right deductions; if the co-operation of animal and plant is the basis of the life of the forest and the prairie, it should also be the first principle of husbandry.
There are three ways in which the animal becomes our farming partner. It provides us with end products, such as milk, wool, meat, horn and hide; it provides us with power for pulling and drawing our implements; it provides us with dung and urine to enrich our fields. Many systems of farming use the animal for all three purposes together. When farming becomes wealthier it is usual to distinguish between the beast kept for man's consumption and the beast of burden; but this is not an important point in our discussion. The noteworthy thing is that, while it is a matter for our choice as to whether we propose to keep animals for food and draught, it is not really within our competence to decide for or against the keeping of animals for the third purpose -- that their waste products may enrich our soils.
The question whether an agriculture can afford to breed any animals for food has indeed been discussed; it takes a greater area and more intensity of effort to maintain such animals than to raise vegetable crops only; we know from our current experience that when scarcity threatens, we have to dispense with many animal products. The problem of maintaining or abolishing the draught animal also raises interesting queries as to the most suitable form of power in agriculture. But the continuance of the animal as enricher of the soil is integral to all we do; it is axiomatic and admits of no debate.
In our discussions we shall have the experience of mankind to guide us -- and also its mistakes. The best-established types of husbandry are correctly called mixed farming and are predominantly of the peasant type, though it is by no means essential that mixed husbandry should be carried on by peasant proprietors; there exists also large-scale estate farming which in every way conforms to the ideal of mixed husbandry. Our own country can show admirable examples and has an outstanding tradition, but such estate farming on mixed principles is found throughout France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Austria and in many other countries. In fact, systems of tenure do not affect this question. There may be peasant ownership, a tenancy system, or large-scale proprietorship; there may be plantations by foreign capital and run under salaried management. To any or all of these or to any other forms of agricultural enterprise the principles of mixed husbandry may be applied.
By mixed husbandry is meant a husbandry which at the same time maintains animals and grows crops. It does not matter which is the end product aimed at, it does not matter whether the farmer finally wishes to consume and to sell corn, or meat and milk; in the one case he proposes to maintain animals whose manure will keep his fields fertile, in the other he sets about growing crops to feed his cattle; in either case he simultaneously carries on vegetable and animal farming and never allows himself to do only the one or the other. Moreover, he is careful to do so in the right proportions. True mixed farming depends on keeping the number of animals correctly related to the area farmed, not forgetting that the area farmed is not to be measured by mere superficies but is larger or smaller according to how much of the pore space of the soil is called upon; a farm, in other words, goes downwards as well as spreading over the fields.
These principles are the right ones. The first thing the agricultural world must see to is to secure a correct general lay-out of the farming of any given area; and this correct layout should be established not only over the country as a whole but within each farming unit. More especially is it essential to secure, if crop growing is intensified -- and our modern agriculture concentrates largely on this -- that the animal population should be enlarged in proportion. But the opposite also holds good; it is useless and dangerous where crops are maintained merely at extensive levels, where wild natural pasture is the only feed provided, to keep on adding to the animal population.
That is just as bad a maladjustment as to deprive the earth's vegetable cover of its animal co-partnership. Whichever mistake is made, the earth's green carpet will be twisted awry. Either the vegetable crop will have to draw from a soil lacking the components which build up fertility because there are no animal wastes, or the animal population will be too heavy on the land.
Our thesis then is this: every estate, every plantation, every farm should aim at being a true unit of husbandry; it should maintain that number of animals which is necessary to the area farmed; it should be, manurially regarded, self-supporting; it should provide proper feed for its own animal population. The balance, in other words, should be deliberate and exact and should not be governed by considerations other than those connected with keeping the land fruitful.
It is rather shameful to have to admit that immense tracts of our planet are so mismanaged as entirely to ignore this essential principle. It is indeed a confession of negligence, ignorance and carelessness. There are fundamental reforms to be faced, and not in one type of farming only.
How do these mistakes occur? Let us take first that type of agriculture which aims at the production of a special plant product in bulk, to be handled commercially as an export crop. Such agriculture has to be very highly organized. It works for a money dividend, the amount of which is the principal deciding factor. It is thus peculiarly open to the temptation of sacrificing the future for an immediately profitable present. Its best-known forms are the great plantation industries which produce tea, coffee, sugar, rubber, cacao, cotton, sisal, etc., but it also embraces such cultivation as that of the vine in the south of France or the cotton crop of Egypt. What do we find here? Highly intensified systems of plant cropping combined with an almost total absence of animals. Where peasant ownership still holds a few animals linger -- the mule in the southern cotton States of North America, the donkey in Egypt. But as organization tightens, as commercial interests get the upper hand, the animal becomes rarer and rarer. The reason is obvious. Animals are eliminated as inappropriate; they must make way for the special cash crop to be grown. Why keep pigs when another grove of cacao trees could be planted?
The argument at first sight appears sound, or at least clear and lucid. The answer is provided in the woes of the industries which have been tempted to yield to it. Practically every plantation crop can show a history of advancing disease. To add to their troubles, old valued species of the plants they grow are running out, in other words, fail to reproduce themselves) so that fresh varieties have constantly to be bred and introduced at great expense; an instance is the bourbon variety of sugar cane in the West Indies, which suddenly began to fail towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is the same story in coffee, cacao, banana, rubber and cotton. The complete collapse of the plant, bush or tree to be cultivated, the constant abandonment of areas, the frantic search for fresh strips of virgin forest, which are ruthlessly felled and taken over in order to maintain some sort of production, tell but one story -- that of a natural law so flagrantly violated as to put an end to all that is being attempted.
Such a disastrous outcome of the opening-up of the earth's surface is quite unnecessary. Most interesting might it have been to stand by the side of one observer in 1908 and again thirty years later, in 1938, and pick out an estate in Ceylon where at the first glance the cacao trees were seen to be in flourishing condition, where obviously all was well with the land, and to learn, as that observer did, that this was the only estate in the island which kept pigs and cattle to get manure for the trees. (The Kondesalle estate near Kandy; exactly the same observation had been made years previously in Grenada; see Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, p. 118.) The experience was repeated in the south of France; again the naked eye picked out instantly a slope where the vines were healthy (at Jouques in the Department of Bouches du Rhone; op. cit. p. 135); quite a special appearance forced itself on the attention in their massed glossy leaves and fine bunches, and inquiry once more established the use for years past of animal manure. The notorious history of the vine in Europe, the whole stock of which had to be replaced after 1860 from American sources owing to the ravages of the Phylloxera, should have made the European populations careful. But just as they failed to perceive that the Irish potato murrain of 1845 and 1846 was due to bad farming practice following on a disastrous elimination of tree growth, so did they fail to realize what the collapse of the vine might have taught them: that mono-crop, cultivation is a dangerous experiment and one that, if it eliminates the animal, is fatal.
Not for nothing is the Afghan tribesman content to place only about one-tenth of his area under vine; his sprawling plants running in trenches resist every disease; the rest of his land is devoted to fallow or to ordinary cropping. Such supporting cultivation should always accompany a commercial crop and on no niggardly scale. With its help rotations may be arranged, if necessary long-term rotations; above all, it must support an animal population of a size to balance the vegetable production of cane, banana, tea, coffee, cacao, grapes, or whatever it may be. The manure from these animals is the only insurance against disaster.
In the long run this will have to be done. To the tea industry perhaps may be paid the tribute of having been the first to set its house in order. The tea bush is a very strong plant and disease, though known, was not on a great scale in the tea gardens. A number of estates in India and Ceylon, where the bulk of the industry lies, have now introduced the animal and have greatly benefited in healthier bushes, and let it be added, it signally increased production per bush.
(The best example comes from an estate of the Duncan group, the Grandrapara estate in North Bengal for many years under the managerment of Mr. J. C. Watson. The estate carries 2-1/2 million tea bushes, and maintains 200 head of cattle. The making of compost, first started in 1934, has resulted in raising the average yield of tea per bush from 5.09 oz. [five years previous to 1939] to 7.94 oz. [average 1939-45]. Details in Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, Appendix A, pp. 265-269, "Progress made on a Tea Estate in North Bengal".)
Important as they are the plantation industries and similar types of cultivation cover only a limited portion of the earth's surface. What of the rest of man's efforts? The picture is a very mixed one, ranging from what is superb to what is only indifferent or even invites condemnation or contempt.
Perhaps the greatest expansion of agriculture which the world has ever known within a short space of time has been in Canada and the United States of America -- from the agricultural point of view these countries are a single area. There is here nothing of the plantation principle. Ownership is divided and each farm, or section, as it is commonly called, is owned and farmed by an individual who has every motive to keep his land in good heart and hand it on to his heirs in a flourishing condition. There is, therefore, what may be called family farming. The two countries have been proud of their agriculture, and it is a recognized fact that their national wealth is largely based on agricultural production, which rapidly advanced from about 1840 onwards.
It is tragic that these rich plains should now be cited by all authorities as the worst examples of worn-out land. The figures for the United States, based on the computations of the federal authorities themselves, have often been quoted; 61 per cent of the total crop area has lost its fertility, either in whole or in part; less than 40 per cent of the land won by the pioneers is still in a condition to be farmed with success. Thus in one short century this great country has forfeited threefifths of its natural agricultural capital. These losses are now beginning to be brought home to the population, no longer in mere figures, but in those dust storms and destructive floods which are the inevitable verdict on soil mismanagement.
Perhaps the original conditions were such as almost to invite soil depredation. The land was virgin. The native Indians had lived principally by hunting and fishing; their agriculture was casual and unimportant. The accumulated fertility was colossal and included immense animal enrichment. The old tales about the herds of bison which roamed the plains now sound like fairy stories, but they are well authenticated. This glorious animal population was most thoughtlessly and extravagantly slain. But the soil had by that time acquired such an intense fertility that it held out for from fifty to eighty years. It was only with the beginning of the twentieth century that exhausion began to show.
It must also be remembered that there was plenty of land. If one section showed lessened fruitfulness the pioneer could move on. Population was fairly sparse for several generations and it was not until closer settlement had been achieved that the results of exploitation showed.
The farming undertaken in the Middle West and West -- far less on the Eastern seaboard -- was monocrop farming of an exaggerated kind. It repeated what had been done in the plantation industries with even less care, though the crop grown was different, a cereal. Year after year wheat was taken off the same ground not only without animal manure but without the rotation of root crops. The system of leaving fallow no doubt helped to maintain some fertility, but it is astounding that this continuous wheat-growing should have been possible on the scale practiced. The straw was not ploughed in but burnt as it stood, so that even this organic waste was not properly returned to the land. Where the farmer has his return from a single crop only it is obvious that this crop must be grown on a considerable scale if he is to live at all (there was so little to do after the wheat had been reaped that a large part of the farming population migrated to the towns during the winter). The North American "dirt farmer" was not rich. It was in an endeavour to live in the most simple comfort, not in any mad pursuit of unusual wealth, that he carried on his business. As might be expected from the system of agriculture pursued, and in spite of the stored fertility of the ground, harvests reaped were not heavy per area. It followed that to make a living a surprisingly large acreage had to be handled. To make this feasible, operations were simplified and mechanized to the last degree.
It is difficult to say whether the invention of the machine made North American farming what it was or whether the nature of that farming imperatively called for the machine. Machinery became at once an aid and a temptation. It was the boast of the farmer that with the acquisition of a suitable hook-up (the name given to all combinations of machines which can be attached to the tractor, often more than one machine at a time, whatever the operation to be done) he could by his own unaided efforts plough, sow and reap 640 acres (the original acreage of a section) or 1,000 acres or 2,000 or more. The help of a single "hired man" for a few weeks in the summer was sometimes, but not always, sought. An immense amount of thought, care and capital was put into the invention of agricultural machinery, in the making of which the United States still leads the world.
Machines have their legitimate place in our endeavour to make use of the green carpet. Agricultural operations are very laborious and the increase in efficiency which comes from replacing hand tools and animal draught by power-driven machinery is no small gain to us; one man can easily do the work of four. (This is a Canadian estimate of the rise in efficiency brought about by the use of machinery over a single decade. For ingenious calculations made by the Department of Agriculture of the United States, see a brief summary by the present author in Howard, L. E.: Labour in Agriculture: an International Survey, O.U.P., and Royal Institute of International Affairs, pp. 244 et sqq.) We could not nowadays do without the tractor in agriculture, certainly not without the binder, perhaps not without the combine, specialized though this machine is and only suited to certain climates. But if such machines pass over lands where not a horse, cow or pig is to be seen, then we have repeated in another type of agriculture exactly the same fatal error which has done so much to wreck the rich plantation industries. We come back to our original point, that the animal becomes our farming partner in more ways than one, and though we can do without him in one direction, we can never do without him in all. Abundant as is the animal wild life all around us, the birds, worms, insects, etc., we dare not depend on these for the fertility of our fields. For we are asking a great deal of the soil. We cultivate intensively and select our crops severely; we follow one crop with another. In this intensification and selection we are speeding up the cycle of plant life to an extent which we hardly realize. This is only possible in the long run if we keep the balance by maintaining also a suitable intensity of animal existence.
This is where the North American farmer -- and many other farmers -- have made their mistake. In replacing animals by machinery they forget the first law of Nature; they ignored the animals as a fertilizing agent. Some types of animal production were pushed to extremes, but always in particular zones or "belts" as they are named; the hog-belt, the beef-belt, etc. Here the aim was simply the animal end-product. There was a complete absence of the old European conception of mixed farming, where the vegetable crop and the animal population are kept in harmonious and intimate relation. The mistake is being made good. Mixed farming is being earnestly advocated by the authorities both of the United States and of Canada. But it is by no means easy to persuade a farming public to abandon practices which have been universal for generations; the passion for machinery has possessed the very heart of the North American farmer. He has been taught to be proud of it and he has had the reason. As ingenious instruments his machines could not be bettered. He boasts that the power machinery which ploughs and seeds and reaps and binds and threshes provides food for the modern world and the boast is not without foundation. It is the misfortune of the present generation that the account rendered by Nature is now due.
But the animal, besides conferring untold benefits on us, has also certain rights. Above all, he is entitled to proper feeding. Animals in the wild are sometimes starved, they often find it difficult to get sufficient sustenance and may roam hundreds of miles in search of it; their seasonal migrations for food are on a huge scale. The herds of bison which we noted in North America regularly followed each spring and summer from the south to the north of this huge continent what a farmer would call "the early bite", that is, the young fresh nourishing grass; on getting this particular form of nourishment depended the birth of their young. Of necessity we curtail such movements. Our animals do not roam; they are domesticated.
When the process has been finally carried out, the animal is too near us -- and far too valuable -- to suffer neglect. If any charge can be brought against modern animal husbandry where the animal is kept to assist human consumption, it is that of over-stimulation by an excess of rich food. The view is beginning to gather force that concentrates to stimulate the flow of milk in the milch cow, for instance, can do harm, the four stomachs of the ruminant demanding bulk -- its natural roughage; if not properly exercised this digestive system can easily fall a prey to disorders which lie at the root of many prevalent cattle diseases. Be this as it may, it at least exonerates us from one reproach, that of not finding an ordinary subsistence for our farming partners.
But when the process of domestication is incomplete, the danger may easily arise of a starvation against which the animal can no longer protect itself by natural means. Its roaming powers, if not entirely prohibited, are restricted. Simultaneously the size of herds is increased.
This is important. Nature decides, perhaps by cruel means, the size of the animal population appropriate to her green carpet; those in excess of the food supply perish. Man can, up to a point, contravene the law. He can collect, or cause to be brought to birth, a number of animals in excess of the appropriate measure. This originates a want of balance between the two component sides of the green carpet which is as great an error as the continual cropping of the soil in plants without animal enrichment.
The mistake is not widespread, but it does occur on quite an important scale, as it happens, in types of agriculture widely opposed to each other. It is a common experience to find in Africa that cattle are kept by the indigenous populations grossly in excess of the possible food supply. They are an accepted form of wealth, practically a currency. This currency is counted by numbers, not by the condition of the animals; many half-starved animals are worth more than a few well-kept beasts. The consequences are inevitable. The ravenous herds graze every blade down to the roots, thus killing the grass and rendering matters worse until disease and emaciation mercifully terminate their unnatural existence. The causes of this state of affairs do not lie in the practice of agriculture. They are economic and the reforms which clearly should be brought to the notice of the peoples concerned are a matter of social policy and outside our present discussion. The same may be said of the special religious tenents which affect the breeding and maintenance of cattle in India. Even more difficult questions are here involved. The results, however, in either case, have ended in a very serious maladjustment of animal population to food resources.
It is when we come to a thoroughly modern agriculture like that of Australia that we are astonished to find something of the same kind, and, unfortunately, once again on a large scale. The vast flocks of sheep maintained on the Australian pastoral ranches may run into hundreds of thousands. These flocks may be described as semi-domesticated. From time to time they are "mustered", as it is called, driven to the shearing stations and shorn. For the rest of the year they graze off the countryside.
As long as there is plenty of grass all is well. It is when the rains fail that these flocks are decimated. The sheep then perish by the hundred thousand, less from want of water than from want of food. For they are entirely dependent on the natural pasture. Their numbers are too great to allow of supplementary sources of food being grown for them; so Australian farming practice dictates. When the drought comes both masters and beasts are helpless.
There is here what may be called a lack of perspective. Such immense flocks are in proportion to the food supply only in good seasons; in bad seasons the animal population becomes altogether excessive, and Nature, exercising her undoubted right, removes it and restores that balance which she always observes in relation to her green carpet.
There is no question but that we have here a fundamental error. Such repeated dangers and disasters as attend the Australian pastoral industry are not a part of a proper farming system. It is scarcely to be wondered that the wealth of the sheep-rancher is a by-word for its instability; immense fortunes are easily accumulated and may vanish in a season. This is a contradiction to that continuity of effort and that reasonable permanence of reward which ought to accompany the farmer's career. (The same mistake of overloading the pastures with too many animals was at one time made in the pastoral industry of the West in the United States of America. See Paul B. Sears: Deserts on the March, pp. 65 et sqq.)
A lack of proportion between the size of an animal population and the volume of crops grown has often to be guarded against in farming. It arises insidiously. The examples described are outstanding because they exist or have existed on a large scale and over considerable periods, but they are not only ones which could be cited. Wherever the sense of the close interrelation of the animal and the plant has been lost, agriculture is liable to go astray. Not that every single farming enterprise can at all times be self-sufficient. In spite of the general principle which we laid down above, that each unit of farming should be manurially regarded self-supporting, there are many specialized forms of enterprise which must make demands outside their own limits; the idea of exchange need not be wholly forgone. Indeed it would not be practicable to preach so severe a doctrine; there must be give and take. It is where a whole section of the farming world allows itself to be pushed into a position of thoroughgoing dependence on some other interest that weakness arises.
Each situation requires to be judged in the light of circumstances. It would not be reasonable to expect the ordinary small allotment holder on the fringe of a city to keep the animals, even the poultry or rabbits, needed to supply the manure he requires; such an undertaking is usually beyond his time and his resources, and it is quite proper that he should call on others for his rotted dung, or failing that, on the municipal authorities for prepared compost or for bags of dried activated and digested sewage sludge. Whether the commercial market gardener is well advised to carry on his highly intensive cultivation by buying from outside sources what he must have to complete his heavy manurial programme is more open to question. His position is not what it used to be. In the days of urban horse traffic his wagons were able to bring out on their return journeys the horse manure of many city stables. With the disappearance of the horse in favour of the motor, this is no longer so, and his position would be safer if some animal farming like the keeping of pigs were regularly conjoined to market gardening enterprises; this would mean a new effort for a very busy and very competitive industry and could not be brought about easily.
But it is when we come to such a practice as that of supporting a whole animal population from quantities of oil seed by-products imported from the tropics that we are face to face with something really questionable. This traffic assumes not only a huge total volume but crosses international frontiers which are of a very special category. The countries growing the oil seeds are undeveloped, the home of primitive and as yet uneducated peoples, the importing countries are old civilized countries. The accepted theory is that the older countries pay for what they get by sending back manufactured goods and that this is a fair exchange.
From the agricultural point of view the opposite is the case -- the so-called exchange is sheer robbery. What is happening? The age-old virgin fertility of these vast tropical regions is being exploited or mined, a process bad enough in itself, but a thousand times worse in view of the fact that the results of this exploitation are dispatched overseas; the worn-out lands of Europe are being propped up to maintain their rich animal population not by any reform in their own agricultural practices but by using up the natural wealth of distant parts of the earth . The return of manufactured goods is no compensation. The peoples who are thus being deprived of their greatest inheritance are not in a position to understand what is happening or to defend themselves. So far no public pronouncement has been castigating this specialized form of international banditry.
In what other ways can the animal enter as partner into our farming practices besides those of yielding it as products for our consumption, drawing our implements, and enriching our soil with its waste products? Of these three ways we saw that as to the first two we can exercise our choice, whereas in the case of the animal as an enriching agent we can only obey natural law and never lose sight of its importance for this purpose. There is yet one more direction, however, in which the animal can be asked to co-operate with us.
We can call on the animal to help us in passing judgment on the quality of what we grow, in other words, to help us in deciding on the success or failure of our farming. There are innumerable subjects on which we can ask the animal to give us an opinion. This questioning of the animal needs a certain skill. To do it we must first efface ourselves; we must then pose the question rightly, provide the correct conditions, and finally do nothing but watch. We must also have the understanding to read the answer, which can afterwards be tested and re-tested by any means which may seem appropriate.
Up to a point this device has long been a part of the farming tradition. In the plant we have the accepted inquisitor of the soil. The growing plant gives an account of the soil from which it derives in terms which none can dispute. Every farmer is guided by this advice. Indeed, an experienced cultivator has only to be able to read it like a book; so revealing is the vegetation that he scarcely needs, or only for confirmation, the services of the soil analyst. In any case, he will get his first and major inkling of the truth from this sort of observation, and will be extremely chary of accepting any opinion from his human advisers which might appear in contradiction to the testimony of the plants.
If the plant is the best judge of the soil in which it grows and is perfectly prepared to tell us every particular of what it has found out, so also is the animal the finest expert in the world. It will eat the plant and without payment, without complaint, without hesitation, and with absolute correctness will inform us of the continuation of the story, namely, the state and condition of the plant. In the ordinary exercise of animal appetite and in the resulting condition of the animal we have the most complete, final and decisive instrument we can need for judging our ideas and theories on crops.
The animal's choice of its own food is a certain test between different crops. Its satisfaction in what it, eats is another. Health, stamina, what is known to the farmer as bloom (good shape, good stance, alertness, brightness of eye, beauty of skin) and finally the maintenance of reproductive power will be its further replies to our queries as to whether our crops are good or only indifferent. The animal is even more useful to us as an indicator than the plant. It has the power of locomotion and therefore the power of obviously looking for its food and of choosing or rejecting. Its verdict is unmistakable and immediate. Perhaps also it has less ability than a plant to adapt itself to unpleasant circumstances, which means that the results of these are more quickly visible in its altered condition; a plant will survive the most extraordinary way and has a tenacity, which the higher organism rather lacks. Thus the use as guide and mentor of the animal, so close to ourselves in its habits, strength and weaknesses, is always illuminating.
One acute observer claims to have been more than once informed of lime shortage on his land by seeing his hens and ponies worry at the loose mortar in the old walls -- they had found the pasture lime-deficient; when, on the contrary, they merely picked up and dropped little pieces of plaster thrown to them he knew his grass was in good fettle. (Michael Graham: Soil and Sense, Faber & Faber, p. 149.) Nothing could exceed the simplicity of this small test, but could it be improved upon? The obvious way of getting an answer from the animal is in truth to watch it at its food. We have already referred to the grazing animal's preference for the grass near the hedgerows and deduced the probability that in these strips of pasture the animal had found the minerals it required. (See Chapter 4.) When pigs, poultry, dairy cattle and horses consistently take 15 per cent less food grown on a humus-fed soil than food bought in the open market, we may legitimately assume that the feed produced by the new method is more satisfying; when the animal's health obviously improves we can draw even more important inferences. (On the late Sir Bernard Greenwell's estate at Marden Park in Surrey. The results were described in a paper read by Sir Bernard to the Farmers' Club on 30 January 1939. Among other results infantile mortality among poultry fell from over 40 to less than 4 per cent. In both this and other cases the reform in farming practice was based on the use of compost.)
Use has lately been made of the animal's instinct in these matters to prove the difference between the effects of various manures. Recorded instances are of interest because they seem to be so definite. Thus out of six fields equally open to access a herd of cows consistently refused to graze the one which had received a dressing of artificials. (At Heversham in Westmorland; Compost News Letter, No. 3, pp. 18-20. There have been other instances.) Or again beasts once fed on swedes grown without artificials found those which had been grown with these fertilizers most unpalatable. (At Booton near Norwich; Compost News Letter, No. 3, p. 13.) The instinct is as unmistakable in the smaller animals as in the larger, in the domesticated animal as in the wild. cats refusing boiled potatoes grown with artificials will eat avidly those grown with compost (Balfour: The Living Soil, p. 127); rabbits show the same sort of preference (Compost News Letter, No. 3, p. 13) and even rats are stated in their depredations to prefer the corn-bin holding the superior grain. (Ibid., No. 10, p. 46. Supporting evidence on the points raised will be found in Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, and in the quarterly periodical Soil and Health.)
In the case of the rabbits we are told that when fed on the feed which they obviously preferred they changed from a state of listlessness and a condition of smelling unpleasantly to become vigorous and sweet-smelling. Not only an animal's appetite, but its bloom and condition -- those final tests of health -- are an answer to many questions. Can it be doubted that in this way the animal tells us most of what we want to know? It reads the earth's green carpet for us like a book, page by page, with the most minute care and with complete readiness, in a way which is utterly beyond our powers. We may be sure that a crop is good if our animals flourish on it; if they continue to do so then our farming system is reliable, our results may be accepted with confidence. Even the scientist may be satisfied with such a test. Nothing so conveyed to the director of one experiment station in the East the confidence that his system of soil management was correct as the outstanding condition of his work cattle, so splendid in appearance that they were the pride of the countryside. His flourishing green crops had told him much; they stood out from the surrounding countryside. But his cattle told him more; they enforced the lesson with dramatic lucidity; they finished the story which the crops began. (Sir Albert Howard's cattle at Indore in India; see Chapter 9.)
The use of animals for the purpose of revealing to us our success or, if need be, our failures could be much more widely undertaken. The tests which our farming partners can so well carry out for us will be tests in the open field under natural conditions. This will be an advantage over the ordinary laboratory nutrition experiment, for animals are so sensitive to environment we never quite know how much influence an unusual surrounding can have on what they do. In carrying them out a major part of the work might be done by pioneer landowners, who will be found only too glad to place their land and herds at the disposal of the scientist; that is proved by past experience, which should be sufficient to dispel the illusion that the farming world is unwilling to co-operate in research; the contrary is the case. It will be for the scientist to pose the questions to be put; this the greatest step in all research, is his business, and on his imagination and grasp of the subject everything will depend. The principle of asking the animal to co-operate should terminate the grossly exaggerated fragmentation into which agricultural research has allowed itself to fall; work on plants and animals should not be so rigidly demarcated as at present nor so formally allocated to different experiment stations. On the contrary, the breeder of wheats will make a point of keeping fowls to test his grain, the poultry expert will grow his own barley, or suitable exchanges of products from station to station will be arranged for the same end. For if Nature knows nothing of the divisions which we have set up, it behoves the scientist, as it behoves the farmer, not to ignore her teaching, never to flout her law. The animal is our farming partner, and no practice and no knowledge which ignores this fact will contribute anything to human welfare or, indeed, will have any chance either of usefulness or of survival.
Next: 6. Gains and Losses in Fertility
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