Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease
(The Soil and Health)
by Sir Albert Howard C.I.E., M.A.
Disease and Health in Livestock
About the year 1910, after five years' first-hand experience of crop production under Indian conditions, I became convinced that the birthright of every crop is health and that the correct method of dealing with disease at an experiment station is not to destroy the parasite, but to make use of it for tuning up agricultural practice.
If this holds for plants, why should it not apply to animals? But at this period I had no animals, my work cattle had to be obtained from the somewhat inefficient pool of oxen maintained on the Pusa Estate alongside, with the feeding and management of which I had nothing to do. I therefore put forward a request to have my own work cattle, so that my small farm of seventy-five acres could be a self-contained unit. I was anxious to select my own animals, to design their accommodation, and to arrange for their feeding, hygiene, and management. Then it would be possible to see: (1) what the effect of properly grown food would be on the well fed working animal; and (2) how such livestock would react to infectious diseases. This request was refused several times on the ground that a research institute like Pusa should set an example of co-operative work rather than of individualistic effort. I retorted that agricultural advances had always been made by individuals rather than by groups and that the history of science proved conclusively that no progress had ever taken place without freedom. I did not get my oxen. But when I placed the matter before the Member of the Viceroy's Council in charge of agriculture (the late Sir Robert Carlyle, K.C.S.I.), I immediately secured his powerful support and was allowed to have charge of six pairs of oxen.
I had little to learn in this matter, as I belong to an old agricultural family and was brought up on a farm which had made for itself a local reputation for the management of cattle. My animals were most carefully selected for the work they had to do and for the local climate. Everything was done to provide them with suitable housing and with fresh green fodder, silage, and grain, all produced from fertile soil. They soon got into good fettle and began to be in demand at the neighbouring agricultural shows, not as competitors for prizes, but as examples of what an Indian ox should look like. The stage was then set for the project I had in view, namely, to watch the reaction of these well chosen and well fed oxen to diseases like rinderpest, septicaemia, and foot-and-mouth disease, which frequently devastated the countryside and sometimes attacked the large herds of cattle maintained on the Pusa Estate. I always felt that the real cause of such epidemics was either starvation, due to the intense pressure of the bovine population on the limited food supply, or, when food was adequate, to mistakes in feeding and management. The working ox must always have not only good fodder and forage, but ample time for chewing the cud, for rest, and for digestion. The grain ration is also important, as well as a little fresh green food -- all produced by intensive methods of farming. Access to clean fresh water must also be provided. The coat of the working animal must also be kept clean and free from dung.
The next step was to discourage the official veterinary surgeons who often visited Pusa from inoculating these animals with various vaccines and sera to ward off the common diseases. I achieved this by firmly refusing to have anything to do with such measures, at the same time asking these specialists to inspect my animals and to suggest measures to improve their feeding, management, and housing, so that my experiment could have the best possible chance of success. This carried the day. The veterinarians retired from the unequal contest and took no steps to compel me to adopt their remedies.
My animals then had to be brought in contact with diseased stock. This was done by allowing them: (1) to use the common pastures at Pusa, on which diseased cattle sometimes grazed, and (2) to come in direct contact with foot-and-mouth disease. This latter was easy, as my small farmyard was only separated from one of the large cattle sheds of the Pusa Estate by a low hedge over which the animals could rub noses. I have often seen this occur between my oxen and foot-and-mouth cases. Nothing happened. The healthy, well-fed animals reacted to this disease exactly as suitable varieties of crops, when properly grown, did to insect and fungous pests -- no infection took place. Neither did any infection occur as the result of my oxen using the common pastures. This experiment was repeated year after year between 1910 and 1923, when I left Pusa for Indore. A somewhat similar experience was repeated at Quetta between the years 1910 and 1918, but here I had only three pairs of oxen. As at Pusa, the animals were carefully selected and great pains were taken to provide them with suitable housing, with protection from the intense cold of winter, and with the best possible food. Again no precautions were taken against disease and no infection took place.
The most complete demonstration of the principle that soil fertility is the basis of health in working animals took place at the Institute of Plant Industry at Indore, where twenty pairs of oxen were maintained. Again, the greatest care was taken to select sound animals to start with, to provide them with a good water supply, a comfortable, well-ventilated shed, and plenty of nutritious food, all raised on humus-filled soil. One detail of cattle-shed management was the provision of a floor of beaten earth, which is much more restful for the cloven hoof than a cement or brick floor. This was changed every three months, the dry, powdered, urine-impregnated soil afterwards being used as an activator in humus production, for which it proved most suitable. In this way it was possible to bank the spare urine under cover without loss by rain-wash or fermentation.
A special feature of the food supply of the oxen was the provision of ample silage for the months March to June, when little or no grazing was available on account of the dry, hot weather. The silage was made from the locally grown tall millet, cut up by means of a portable chaff cutter driven by a 5 h.p. portable oil engine. The cut silage was filled into pits about four feet deep with sloping sides and an earthen bottom for drainage. To prevent the infiltration of air into the mass from the surrounding earth the sides were leeped with a thick, moist, clay slurry just before filling. The cut silage was moistened by means of a sprinkler as it went into the pits, each of which was so designed that it could be filled with moist silage and covered in during one day's work. This is essential for the best results. It never pays to fill a silo bit by bit, as is so often the case in Great Britain. The centre of each filled silage pit was about eighteen inches above the ground level, the edges were flush with the undisturbed soil, a thin covering of dried grass was then applied, followed by a foot of earth. On the top of this earth covering were laid some heavy blocks of stone. All this consolidated the moist silage and allowed the proper fermentation to begin. No additions such as molasses were ever used. Proceeding in this manner, excellent silage was obtained with practically no loss. Indeed, damage by percolating air was impossible, while the small amount of liquid produced was absorbed by the earth below. The size of each pit was so designed that it contained the silage ration of forty oxen for fourteen days. Seven of these pits were in use and they contained sufficient for an ample daily ration on the 100 days between March 8th and June 15th.
Besides the design of an efficient pit silo -- than which nothing can be so cheap and effective -- two other details are important. The transport of the silage from field to silo, the machines used in its preparation, as well as the strength of the average labourer must all correspond, otherwise a great waste of capital and of labour is bound to occur. Two Canadian oxen- drawn fruit lorries were sufficient to feed the small engine-driven chaff cutter, which just suited the labour. This modest outfit produced enough silage in the working day for 40 x 14, i.e. 560 rations.
Besides this silage ration during the hot months a little fresh green lucerne, raised under irrigation from heavily composted land, was given to the oxen almost every day.
The result of all this was a complete absence of foot-and-mouth and other diseases for a period of six years.
But this is not the whole of the foot-and-mouth story. When the 300 acres of land at Indore were taken over in the autumn of 1924, the area carried no fodder crops, so the feeding of forty oxen was at first very difficult. During the hot weather of 1925 these difficulties became acute. A great deal of heavy work was falling on the animals, whose food consisted of wheat straw, dried grass, and millet stalks, with a small ration of crushed cotton seed. Such a ration might do for maintenance, but it was quite inadequate for heavy work. The animals soon lost condition and for the first and last time in my twenty-five years' Indian experience I had to deal with a few very mild cases of foot-and-mouth disease in the case of some dozen animals. The patients were rested for a fortnight and given better food, when the trouble disappeared never to return. But this warning stimulated everybody concerned to improve the hot-weather cattle ration and to secure a supply of properly made silage for 1926, by which time the oxen had recovered condition. From 1927 to 1931 these animals were often exhibited at agricultural shows as type specimens of what the local breed should be. They were also in great demand for the religious processions which took place in Indore city from time to time, a compliment which gave intense pleasure to the labour staff of the Institute.
This experience, covering a period of twenty-six years at three widely separated centres -- Pusa in Bihar and Orissa, Quetta on the Western Frontier, and Indore in Central India -- convinced me that foot-and-mouth disease is a consequence of malnutrition pure and simple, and that the remedies which have been devised in countries like Great Britain to deal with the trouble, namely, the slaughter of the affected animals, are both superficial and also inadmissible. Such attempts to control an outbreak should cease. Cases of foot-and-mouth disease should be utilized to tune up practice and to see to it that the animals are fed on the fresh produce of fertile soil. The trouble will then pass and will not spread to the surrounding areas, provided the animals there are also in good fettle. Foot- and-mouth outbreaks are a sure sign of bad farming.
How can such preventive methods of dealing with diseases like foot-and- mouth be set in motion? Only by a drastic reorganization of present-day veterinary research. Instead of the elaborate and expensive laboratory investigations now in progress on this disease, which are not leading to any practical result, a simple preventive trial on the following lines should be started. An area of suitable land should first be got into first class condition by means of subsoiling, the reform of the manure heap, and reformed leys containing deep-rooting plants like lucerne, sainfoin, burnet, and chicory, and the various herbs needed to keep livestock in condition. The animals should be carefully selected to suit the local conditions and should first of all be got into first-class fettle by proper feeding and management. Everything will then be ready for a simple experiment in disease prevention. A few foot-and-mouth cases should be let loose among the herds, the reaction of both healthy and diseased animals being carefully watched. The diseased animals will soon recover. There will most likely be no infection of the healthy stock. At the worst there will only be the mildest possible attack which will disappear in a fortnight or so.
Such an experiment could easily be undertaken on the Compton estate recently acquired by the State for the livestock investigations of the Agricultural Research Council. This Council is the most fitting agency for conducting such pioneering work, because the results would enable them to retrieve their present hopeless position with honour and with added prestige. The alternative is disaster. Sooner or later some pioneer in other parts of the Empire or in other countries is certain to try out the views set forth above and to confirm in much more spectacular fashion my own experience of this disease and of its simple prevention. Then the Agricultural Research Council will either have to capitulate or to attempt to sustain a hopeless position. Either course will lead to a considerable loss of face. It must never be forgotten that any state-aided research organization, if it is to survive, must, like dictators, always succeed.
Foot-and-mouth is considered to be a virus disease. It could perhaps be more correctly described as a simple consequence of malnutrition, due either to the fact that the proteins of the food have not been properly synthesized, or to some obvious error in management. One of the most likely aggravations of the trouble is certain to be traced to the use of artificial manures instead of good old-fashioned muck or compost.
This long experience of foot-and-mouth disease suggests that an important factor in the prevention of animal disease is food from humus-filled soil. Three further questions suggest themselves. Does any supporting evidence exist for this view? Can the animal help us in our inquiries on disease prevention? Is disease due to causes other than those arising from an infertile soil? That the answer to all these questions is most emphatically yes will be clear from what follows.
Soil Fertility and Disease
One of the first pieces of supporting evidence was supplied in 1939 by the late Sir Bernard Greenwell at his estate at Marden Park in Surrey, where large quantities of Indore compost were made and applied to the land. Sir Bernard was a successful breeder of livestock, and after seeing the very striking results of compost on the crop naturally began to wonder what would be the effect of grain raised on composted land on his pedigree animals. For this purpose the effect of a grain ration, raised from soil manured with Indore compost, was compared with a similar one purchased on the open market on poultry, pigs, horses, and dairy cows. In all cases the results were similar. The animals not only throve better on the grain from fertile soil, but they needed less -- a saving of about 15 per cent was obtained. The grain from fertile soil was found to contain a satisfying power not conferred by ordinary produce. But this was not all; resistance to disease markedly increased. In poultry, for example, infantile mortality fell from over 40 per cent to less than 4 per cent. In pigs, troubles like scour disappeared. Mares and cows showed none of the troubles which often occur at birth.
These Marden Park results are illuminating and should be carefully considered by investigators and particularly by statisticians. Hitherto in agricultural investigations special importance has always been paid to quantitative results -- to yield in particular. But is this sound? If quality is as important as the Marden Park results indicate, yield is only of real significance when it includes quality. Quality, of course, does not end with the particular experiment. The produce affects the health and wellbeing of the animals and men who consume it. Such crops are, as it were, the beginning of a long chain of circumstances which must be followed to the end. If we stop at the yield, our work is obviously superficial. It may also be very misleading. Suppose, for example, two manurial treatments give the same result as regards yield, but the one produces A.l quality, the other only C.3. The statistician will say the experiment yields no significant result, because the weights are the same. The animal, however, will plump for the A. l produce and the observant farmer will agree with the animal. The food of the animal is produce; the statistician feeds on numbers which can always be made to prove anything and everything.
Since 1939 a good deal of evidence in support of Sir Bernard Greenwell's results has been obtained. At Dry Clough Farm on the boulder clay near the town of Nelson in Lancashire, at an elevation of some 900 feet above the sea, the stock-carrying capacity of a hill farm has been raised from twenty cattle in 1910 to fifty-six in 1942, by means of sheet-composting with the help of liquid manure from the shippons spread systematically over the pasture. On this heavy clay land the formation of abundant humus under the turf has completely altered the botanical composition of the original herbage and has produced some first-class rye-grass pastures. The health of the cattle is now wonderful; milk fever has vanished; the animals are tuberculin tested and the herd is fully attested. The veterinary surgeon reports that it is the best T.T. herd he visits; there are no reactors. The financial results are equally satisfactory. Full details of this interesting case are to be found in the News-Letter on Compost (No. 4, October 1942, p. 4, and No. 6, June 1943, p. 32).
Lady Eve Balfour in The Living Soil (Faber and Faber, London, 1943) recounts some interesting results on her farm at Haughley in Suffolk with pigs. Pigs bred under modern housing conditions are very prone to the disease of white scour when they reach the age of about one month. If the attack is serious, it can cause considerable financial loss even if it does not actually kill the pigs. The text-books give the cause as lack of iron and recommend dosing with some iron preparation such as Parrish's Food, feeding such weeds as chickweed (which is rich in iron), or, as a third alternative, taking up pieces of turf and giving these to the young pigs. Lady Eve writes:
"I have made many experiments in connection with the curing and prevention of this trouble. From the turf remedy I tried experiments with ordinary soil from arable fields. It was not long before I found that soil gathered from a field rich in humus, where no chemicals had been applied, was quite as effective as turf, curing the pigs within forty-eight hours. Whereas soil from exhausted land, or land treated with chemicals, had no effect in curing the disease. I also noticed that young pigs running in the open on good pasture, provided it was not too hard for them to rootle (as, for instance, in hard frost, or very prolonged drought), never suffered from this disorder. It is never a menace to my herd now under any conditions, even in long spells of severe winter weather, when the ground is covered with snow, and the pigs have to be entirely housed up. Under such conditions I no longer wait for the first sign of scour, but regularly collect the soil of fresh mole hills, newly thrown up above the snow, on land I know to be fertile. Collected daily, this soil is friable in the hardest frost, and is equally good in very wet weather, for it is never sticky. The pigs eat it voraciously in incredible quantities, starting when about a week old. I sometimes add a little chalk to it, which the pigs seem to like."
As regards the housing of pigs, I often observed, while being shown over some of our modern piggeries, the obvious discomfort of the young pigs and their mothers condemned to lie on concrete floors with insufficient bedding. The sows always did their best to keep their family warm by Iying crossways to cut off the draught. This might keep the pigs warm, but it would interfere with their air supply. Very young pigs have little or no hair for warmth; as they are close to the floor, it is imperative to give them enough fresh air or lung disease is certain. How far disease in young pigs is due to Iying on cold concrete I cannot say, but I feel sure that, if the sows and their families could be consulted about concrete floors, the nature and amount of their bedding, and the general design of the piggeries, some of our agricultural experts would begin to learn a great deal about the real wants of this interesting animal.
Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence in support of the view that the best way of reducing the diseases of livestock to a minimum is proper care and feeding has been provided by Mr. Friend Sykes on his 750-acre farm at Chantry near Chute in Wiltshire. Chantry is situated on the escarpment of the South Downs overlooking Salisbury Plain; the general elevation is some 800 feet above the sea; the thin, poor soil, plentifully supplied with flints, overlies the chalk. Notwithstanding the fact that this area had been completely farmed out and was practically derelict, Mr. Sykes decided it could be transformed into an ideal area for breeding racehorses with the right type of bone and a dairy herd that could protect itself against disease. This has been accomplished in a few years by means of efficient cultivation, including subsoiling, the use of temporary leys containing deep-rooted plants as advocated by the late Mr. R. H. Elliot in his Clifton Park System of Farming, the use of the open-air system of milk production, the sheet-composting of the temporary ley by means of the droppings of livestock, and the reform of the manure heap, so that much more muck and much better muck can be produced. The result of all this on the livestock and on the land has been remarkable: diseases like tuberculosis, mastitis, and contagious abortion have practically disappeared; the livestock are fed solely on the produce of the farm; the stock-carrying capacity of this land is still on the up grade; no artificial manures are used; the yield of crops like wheat, barley, oats, hay, and so forth has increased by leaps and bounds.
A detailed account of these Chantry results will be found in Appendix D.
Concentrates and Contagious Abortion
On several occasions I have come across serious outbreaks of contagious abortion in some of our best dairy areas and on farms where much had been done for the livestock. On inquiring I always found that the diet of the milking animals included large quantities of feeding cakes obtained from various oil mills, the compound cakes being made up of the residues of imported oil seeds reinforced by other materials to produce a food which would stimulate milk production. The excessive use of these cakes seemed to me to be quite unsuitable for the ruminant stomach, which is designed for abundant roughage and not for such concentrates as compound cakes.
When asked my opinion as to the best method of treatment, I invariably replied that the organism associated with this disease is only a mild parasite and will only infect the vagina if the cow is malnourished, and that the cure will be found in getting the soil in good heart to begin with so that it can produce the cereals, pulses, and linseed needed to reinforce properly grown grass, silage, and hay. Even if, for financial reasons, this is not possible in the case of milking animals, it is obviously essential for the breeding animal, which produces the future generation of heifers.
Selective Feeding by Instinct
A growing volume of evidence is being obtained which indicates how very useful the animal can be in investigations on nutrition. In place of the present-day elaborate investigations, carried out in laboratories by teams of scientists, animal instinct, if rightly used, will provide us with much reliable information of the first importance. A few cases which have recently come to my notice may be cited.
In the course of the late Sir Bernard Greenwell's grass-drying experiments, carried out before the war, the question of analysing the product was discussed and I was asked to recommend a suitable man for the work. I pointed to his herd of pedigree Guernseys and said they would give real information as to the quality and nutritive value of any two sets of samples, if the animals were allowed a free choice. The findings of the animal could then, for purposes of academic rectitude only, be submitted to any competent analyst who would provide a set of conventional figures. This was done. The verdict of the Guernseys was duly confirmed.
In a set of trials of artificials on grassland in a park near Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland carried out some years ago there was no appreciable difference in the weight of produce, so the experiments were discontinued by the artificial manure interests which had sponsored them. But on the removal of the fencing the preference of the grazing animal for the dunged plots was most striking. These were eaten down to the roots, while the chemically treated areas were left alone.
I verified the above observations in the case of six pastures in front of my residence near Heversham. All are first-class rye-grass pastures with nothing to choose between them as regards soil, aspect, or drainage. Nevertheless, in 1941 the sheep and cattle which had access to all six fields at the same time consistently neglected one of them, the grass of which was allowed by the animals to grow at will. This particular field alone of the six had received a large dressing of artificials.
One of the best judges of quality in food is the domesticated cat, whose fastidious reaction to its rations is well known. In The Living Soil Lady Eve Balfour recounts an interesting experience:
"Last winter I noticed that the farm cats refused potatoes boiled for the pigs, when these had been purchased from a grower who uses artificials, but that later in the season, when I started to use the small potatoes from our own land, grown with humus, the cats ate them with avidity."
Another interesting example of selective feeding from Norfolk is recorded by the Rev. Willis Feast in the News-Letter on Compost (No. 3, June 1942, p. 13):
"One young farmer told me that he grew swedes, some with and some without artificials. He fed the 'withouts' first, and when they were finished had the greatest difficulty in persuading his beasts to start eating the 'withs'."
Two somewhat similar cases from Scotland have just been reported by Mr. James Insch: (1) After sampling a pasture once, in which artificials had been applied, a farmer failed to get the cows to enter the field again the next day, although assisted by a boy and a dog. (2) A Scotch farmer grew two samples of wheat, one with muck and the other with artificials, and was pondering how best he could have these two lots of grain tested. He got the results much more quickly than he expected. Rats broke into his granary and devoured the produce of the mucked field and left the other severely alone.
Examples such as these quoted do not, of course, conform with the standards deemed essential by the laboratory worker and by the statistician. Nevertheless, they are of the greatest value as indicators of results which are being obtained all over the world when organic farming is practiced on a large scale. Many of the pioneers have already accepted them and are busy creating examples without end of what a fertile soil can do for the health and well-being of the livestock nourished thereon. Everything will soon be ready for the advocates of artificials, or artificials and humus, to take up land alongside these examples of organic farming and show what they can accomplish. The decision as to which is the better of the two kinds of farming will be duly delivered by Mother Earth herself. It can never be given by the lawyers on either side, who are certain to indulge in infructuous disputations designed to postpone any verdict. In South Africa the pioneers have for some time been waiting for such a trial. But an unexpected difficulty has arisen. The protagonists of artificials have so far declined the contest. Is it because they fear the result and have no stomach for a battle of which there will be no tomorrow? If their position is a sound one, what better advertisement for artificials could be found than a clear-cut victory over these tiresome disciples of organic farming?
Herbs and Livestock
Besides the way the food of animals is grown, there is another important factor which urgently calls for investigation. This is the botanical composition of our meadows and pastures, and the part played by herbs in maintaining the health of the animal
During the summer immediately before the present war I came in contact in Provence with the famous meadows of La Crau, which produce the hay consumed in the racing stables of France and which is sometimes sent as far as Newmarket. These meadows are irrigated by silt-laden water containing a good deal of impure carbonate of lime, taken from the River Durance, and yield as many as three or four crops of hay a year I examined a number of these meadows in detail and took samples of the young active roots of the grasses, clovers, and herbs. All proved to be mycorrhiza formers. The texture of the soil was excellent with plenty of humus under the turf. I was very much impressed at the time by the high proportion of herbs in this hay. It often reached 30 per cent of the whole and I began to wonder how far the value of this hay was due to the herbs. Have we omitted an important factor in our investigations on grassland and on temporary leys in this country? What is the effect of the herbs on the health of the grazing animal? What herbs are found naturally in our most celebrated pastures in central and western England?
While pondering over these matters, I happened to read the following letter from Major Owen Croft, which appeared in The Times of 8th November 1943:
War Policy on the Farm -- Grassland under the Plough Gains and Losses
To the Editor of The Times
The recent correspondence in The Times tempts me to bring this question of permanent pastures into proper perspective.
It is my belief that experienced farmers are horrified at this destructive policy of the ploughing up of the fine permanent pastures -- which take forty to fifty years to establish. I speak with thirty-eight years' experience of farming my own land in a district which has (or had) permanent pastures of the highest quality. All will agree that there are districts in the British Isles where the land and climate are both unsuitable for the establishment of permanent pastures, and that in these districts, which include the higher sheep lands of Wales, farms have benefited enormously from the policy of ploughing and re-seeding with these improved grass seeds -- as temporary leys. But the same policy applied to the fine permanent pastures of, say, the western side of England and of the grazing pastures of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, etc., is nothing less than a tragedy.
One of the dangers of this re-seeding is the very purity of the seed, making such pastures dangerous for the grazing of cattle for years. Cattle get blown on them; and they can only be used for producing crops of hay in the first place, so far as cattle are concerned. Good permanent pastures, properly manured, regularly harrowed and rolled, heavily stocked and rested (an impossibility in these days of reduced pastures) give results which, as all experienced graziers and milk producers know, are amazing. Good permanent pastures have values which cannot be assessed: they contain what are known as weeds -- which are herbs, well known to cattle, who select them as required, and which are essential to their health; these are lacking in the new leys -- hence the danger to cattle of being blown. I have an Aberystwyth-seeded pasture (an expert classed it, two years ago, as 100 per cent perfect) seven years down. I actually had cows blown on this at the end of last March (these were put in for a few hours one day before it was put up for hay). It produced one and a half tons of hay per acre in June -- and the only possible way of grazing it at this age was to put cattle in it directly the hay was carried and to keep it closely grazed all the time. In my opinion it will take another twenty or thirty years before this pasture is the equal of permanent pastures of great age on each side of it.
Last winter my Jersey cows were given the hay off this pasture -- followed by the hay off one of my permanent pastures. My herdsman reported a definite increase of milk from the latter: he then fed hay (from a temporary ley) of excellent quality which I bought from a neighbour -- followed by some hay bought from another neighbour off a permanent pasture; this was full of thistles, but good sweet hay; the same result was apparent -- a marked increase of milk from the latter. The rough-looking permanent river meadow pastures of these parts have feeding values beyond assessment. Both milk and beef can be produced from grass more cheaply, and of far superior quality than from any other foodstuffs. I am getting quite good grazing now off permanent pastures which have been heavily grazed since early April.
In the odd farm agreements there was a clause stating that the tenant would have to pay a fine of £50 an acre for ploughing up permanent grass. In the opinion of many experienced farmers our ancestors were wiser men than those responsible for the present policy.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
O. G. S. Croft
Hephill, near Hereford.
The above letter and my own observations when I visited Major Croft's farm during the summer of 1944 confirm what I noticed many times in the meadows of La Crau and suggest four things: (1) that the current work on the improvement of grassland in Great Britain should be widened to include the botanical composition of the best meadows and pastures still left to us; (2) that all such future studies should deal with the quality of the produce from the point of view of the grazing animal and of the milk yield; (3) that the efficiency of the mycorrhizal association in our grassland should in all cases be determined, and (4) that as soon as war conditions permit a detailed study of the celebrated meadows of La Crau, including the composition of the irrigation water, should be undertaken and the results published all over the Empire.
Future grassland investigations might also include the effect of subsoiling on our permanent pastures, meadows, and temporary leys. There is a mass of evidence which points to a shortage of oxygen in the soil under the turf in most of our grass. This limiting factor can be very effectively removed by a subsoiler drawn by a caterpillar tractor. This matter of subsoiling is dealt with in greater detail later (Chapter 12, The Phosphate Problem and Its Solution). It is mentioned here to reinforce the suggestion that the current work on grassland in Great Britain, valuable and stimulating as it undoubtedly is, might be still more useful if it were more thorough and much more fundamental.
The Maintenance of Our Breeds of Poultry
One other problem in regard to the management of livestock must be briefly examined. Of recent years difficulty in maintaining our breeds of poultry has become acute. As is well known, the concentration of laying hens in batteries, although it may increase the supply of low-quality eggs, is useless for carrying on the line. The problem is how best to maintain the vigour of the breeds.
In the course of my European travels I came across examples of poultry keeping which might solve this problem. It is usual to maintain the vigour and martial spirit of game birds by keeping them out of doors in a wood. The adults and the chicks roost in the trees no matter the weather and this preserves their well-known characteristics intact. If they are kept in buildings, the cocks become "runners" instead of warriors.
If the fox difficulty could be solved, there seems no reason why this outdoor system should not be adopted for our breeding strains. But Mr. Thomas Turney pointed out in a recent paper to the Farmers' Club that we cannot keep poultry out of doors on free range and also preserve our foxes. One or other must give way. A solution might be found by breeding our foxes on some island for the various packs of hounds, releasing the males only when needed for the chase. Any which escaped the hounds could be shot at sight. Another method, which I saw in operation at the Co- operative Wholesale Society's bacon factory at Winsford in Cheshire, would be to house the poultry during the night in the open in suitable fox-proof wire-netting cages.
For the study of disease and its prevention poultry possess many obvious advantages. The life of these birds is a short one, they mature very quickly, their maintenance costs little, and definite results can be obtained in a few months.