The Animal As Our Farming Partner
By Sir Albert Howard

From Organic Gardening, Vol. II, No. 3, September, 1947.

In Nature animals and plants lead an interlocked existence. The connection could not be closer, more permanent, or more crucial. We can observe this partnership in operation in the forest, in the prairie, in marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

If we watch what is taking place in our wayside hedges throughout the year, we at once realize the consequences of this plant-animal relationship. The mixed wastes of the two populations fall on the surface of a soil already rich in organic matter and are automatically converted into still more high-quality humus which is then absorbed and used to feed first the soil population and then the vegetation. Every spring the wildings come into leaf, then into flower, and. die down in the autumn before the winter rest. There is practically no disease: no crop failures occur: the services of the plant breeder for raising new varieties are not needed: there are no openings either for the veterinarian or for the plant pathologist. Nature's arrangements obviously succeed for they have passed the supreme trial -- the test of time.

In the Far East, in particular, farming and gardening have followed the lead given to us by Mother Earth. Great stress has always been laid on the preservation of live stock and on the fullest use of the waste products of the animal. In India, for example, the cow is looked upon as sacred and its preservation is welded into one of the great religions of this continent. In this way the slaughter of the cattle (maintained for work, for milk, and for manure) in times of scarcity has been prevented: the cow-dung essential for the rice nurseries has been safeguarded: the manure needed for such vital crops as vegetables, fruit, sugar-cane, and vine has been provided. The operations of Nature have thus helped in the make-up of the population, of their religion, and their agriculture. Some, of the results obtained recall those of our hedgerows. The indigenous varieties of sugar-cane which still bear their Sanskrit names have always been raised with cattle manure and have maintained themselves for at least twenty centuries without any loss of quality, of disease resistance, or of the power of vegetative reproduction. The vines so widely cultivated on the western frontier tell the same story.

A somewhat similar partnership between crops and live stock began to be firmly established in Great Britain when the defects of the manorial farming of the Middle Ages were made good by enclosure and the laying down of the exhausted open arable fields to grass. This was consumed by great flocks of sheep which furnished the wool needed by the looms of Europe. Mixed farming developed: the Norfolk four-course system was devised and adopted all over the island. It was in full and successful operation on our farm in Shropshire in my early years.

Then a change for the worse began. Our growing industries demanded cheaper food for the workers and cheaper raw materials for the factories. These came in an ever-increasing flood from the virgin lands of the New World. The well farmed fields of Great Britain had to face cheap produce subsidized by the unconscious transfer of the capital of the soils of America to current account. It soon became impossible to farm on the old Norfolk pattern: the place of the animal as our farming partner had reluctantly to be given up in favour first of the machine and the manure bag, then of various types of monoculture in which live stock had little or even no place. Another development was to concentrate on animals at the expense of the crop, the live stock being fed very largely on feeding stuffs imported from overseas. In such ways the balance between the crop and the animal was destroyed: the self-supporting farms of the nineteenth century became a memory.

Great Britain does not stand alone in her abandonment of the animal as our farming partner or in animal husbandry without locally grown crops to support it. Examples abound all over the world.

Let us first consider some examples of monoculture in which the animal has been banished almost completely. Perhaps the best are furnished by the plantation industries overseas such as tea, coffee, cacao, sugar-cane, rubber, coconuts, bananas, maize, and cotton. A history of ever-advancing disease and the need for a constant stream of new varieties is Nature's reply to this attempt to flout one of her laws. The plantation industries, as at present conducted, are entering into their twilight. They flourished as long as the capital of the virgin soils lasted. There were no animals to help in providing the high-quality humus needed to make good the drain on soil fertility. The result is to be seen in their present sorry plight. But in fairness to these industries, the pioneers have already indicated the road by which present failure can be transformed into future success. Some of the tea, cacao, and coffee estates have already begun to take the animal back into partnership to restore both the fertility of the soil and their own prosperity. One such example is described in Appendix A of Soil and Health. An account of some others -- coffee in Central America and citrus in Southern Rhodesia -- has already appeared.

Great Britain has been much slower than her possessions overseas in the removal of the worst consequences of mono-culture. To maintain production in the potato crop, for example, reliance is still being placed on the manure bag, on the poison spray, and on frequent changes of seed. As will be evident from Professor Newcomb's results; a fertile soil will make the manure bag and the poison spray unnecessary. The experience of the islanders of Tristan da Cunha proves that with organic manuring any variety of potato will last at least a century and the seed need not be changed.

Failure also follows any attempt to concentrate on live stock at the expense of the crop. The periodical disasters of the sheep farming of Australia due to shortage of food in times of drought are notorious. In this country the development of milk production based first on imported feeding stuffs and now on produce largely raised by artificial manures has lowered the power of reproduction of the cow from the normal twelve lactations to round about three. Moreover, many of the animals which yield the nation's milk are rotten with diseases like tuberculosis, contagious abortion, mastitis, and troubles of the alimentary tract.

In all these cases we see the way Nature hits back when her rule about the correct relation between the plant and the animal is disregarded. She is trying to tell us that we shall have to retrace our steps and restore the natural partnership.

But the official advisers of our farmers are doing their utmost to sidetrack Nature's warnings by bolstering up the findings of experiment stations like Rothamsted and those dealing with fruit production where hardly any live stock are to be seen. Animals are still being replaced by artificials and spraying devices. These substitutes are now excused by statements that it is impossible to replace them by high-quality compost because of the absence of the raw materials needed and of the cost of their conversion into humus. These advisers forget that the residues of over forty million people are running to waste, that the correct utilization of sewage sludge has begun, and that the compost age in Great Britain is already dawning. As the small trickle of results grows into an avalanche -- as is now happening overseas -- it will soon be realized that 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.


A review of the work of the founder of the organic farming movement, Sir Albert Howard, by Keith Addison.

Introduction to "An Agricultural Testament" -- full text online at Journey to Forever.

The Manufacture of Humus from the Wastes of the Town and the Village -- "An Agricultural Testament", by Sir Albert Howard, 1940, Oxford University Press, Appendix C, full text online at Journey to Forever.

An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard, Oxford University Press, 1940.
This is the book that started the organic farming and gardening revolution, the result of Howard's 25 years of research at Indore in India. The essence of organics is brilliantly encapsulated in the Introduction, which begins: "The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture." Read on! Full explanation of the Indore composting process and its application. Excellent on the relationship between soil, food and health. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

The Waste Products of Agriculture -- Their Utilization as Humus by Albert Howard and Yeshwant D. Wad, Oxford University Press, London, 1931
Where Howard's An Agricultural Testament charts a new path for sustainable agriculture, this previous book describes how the Indore composting system which was the foundation of the new movement was developed, and why. Howard's most important scientific publication. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease (The Soil and Health) by Sir Albert Howard, Faber and Faber, London, 1945, Devin-Adair 1947, Schocken 1972
This is Howard's follow-up to An Agricultural Testament, extending its themes and serving as a guide to the new organic farming movement as it unfolded -- and encountered opposition from the chemical farming lobby and the type of agricultural scientists Howard referred to as "laboratory hermits". Together, the two books provide a clear understanding of what health is and how it works. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

Sir Albert Howard in India by Louise E. Howard, Faber & Faber, London, 1953, Rodale 1954
Albert and Gabrielle Howard worked as fellow plant scientists and fellow Imperial Economic Botanists to the Government of India for 25 years, and this is a study of their work by Sir Albert's second wife Louise (sister of Gabrielle, who died in 1930). It's a classic study of effective Third World development work. Initially involved with improving crop varieties, the pair soon concluded it was futile to fiddle with seeds unless the work took full account of the system and circumstances as a whole. Thus developed a sustained interest in putting agricultural research into its right relation with the needs of the people, and a fundamental belief in peasant wisdom. Results were useful only if they could be translated into peasant practice. This led to the development of the famous Indore system of composting organic wastes: improved seeds were no use in impoverished soils. It's a great story. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

The Earth's Green Carpet by Louise E. Howard, 1947, Faber & Faber, London
In this unusually clear book, Lady Howard (Sir Albert Howard's wife), has written a "layman's introduction" which is also a work of literary distinction. Her subject is nothing less than the life cycle studied as a whole, and this leads inevitably to the importance of a reformed agriculture for the health of the community. She saw the need for a popular introduction to her husband's revolutionary ideas and principles, and her book draws a vivid picture of what lies behind the appearance of the Earth's green carpet. "Nature is not concerned to give us simple lessons," Lady Howard says -- and yet she transmits them here with admirable simplicity and clarity, a delight to read. More than an introduction, the book is a survey of the whole body of work of the pioneers of organic farming and growing. Full text online at at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

Sir Albert Howard Memorial Issue, Organic Gardening Magazine (Vol. 13, No. 8), September, 1948. Howard died in England in October 1947 at the age of 74. Most of this issue of J.I. Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine was devoted to his memorial. Five of the 15 papers in the issue are here presented in full (with thanks to Steve Solomon of the Soil and Health Library), including papers by Louise Howard, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Yeshwant D. Wad.

Howard on Earthworms -- Howard's Introduction to "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits" by Charles Darwin, Faber and Faber edition, London, 1945 -- 4,500-word article on worms and why they matter, also covers George Sheffield Oliver's work with earthworms in agriculture.
"The Formation of Vegetable Mould", full text online at the Soil and Health Library:
"Friend Earthworm: Practical Application of a Lifetime Study of Habits of the Most Important Animal in the World" by George Sheffield Oliver, 1941, full text online at Journey to Forever.

Howard on wholism -- Howard's Introduction to J.I. Rodale's "Pay Dirt -- Farming & Gardening with Composts" (Devin-Adair, 1946): "Everywhere knowledge increases at the expense of understanding. The remedy is to look at the whole field covered by crop production, animal husbandry, food, nutrition, and health as one related subject and then to realize the great principle that the birthright of every crop, every animal, and every human being is health."

Nutrition & Soil Fertility -- Howard's speech in support of the Cheshire doctors' "Medical Testament" when it was presented in 1939. From Supplement to "The New English Weekly," April 6th, 1939. Full text online.

Soil Fertility and Health by Sir Albert Howard -- From "Feeding the Family in War-time, Based on the New Knowledge of Nutrition" by Doris Grant, Harrap, London, 1942. A short and elegant exposition of the core concern of the Cheshire doctors' "Medical Testament".

Correspondence in the British Medical Journal -- Publication of the "Medical Testament" in the British Medical Journal drew some heated debate among readers in subsequent issues. This is a letter from Howard.

Soil Fertility: the Farm's Capital -- comments by Howard in discussion on a paper presented to the Farmers' Club by Sir Bernard Greenwell, "Journal of Farmers' Club," February, 1939, p. 9.

Quality of plant and animal products -- Sir Albert Howard: "Manufacture of Humus from the Wastes of the Town and Village": Lect. London Sch. Hygiene and Trop. Med. 17 June, 1937. Extract.

Humus and Disease Resistance -- Sir Albert Howard: "Insects and Fungi in Agriculture." Vol XV. No. 3. "Empire Cotton Growing Review." July, 1938. Extract -- 1,600 words.

Soil maintenance in the forest -- Sir Albert Howard: "A Note on the Problem of Soil Erosion." J. of Royal Society of Arts No. 4471, 29 July, 1938. p. 926. Extract.

How to Avoid a Famine of Quality -- Sir Albert Howard, Editor of Soil and Health, from Organic Gardening, Vol. II, No. 5, November, 1947: "Western civilisation is suffering from a subtle form of famine -- a famine of quality."

Articles by Sir Albert Howard from Organic Gardening Magazine, 1945-47: Nutrition and Health, Health Building for the Future, Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, The Real Basis of Public Health, The Purpose of Disease, Life and Health Restored to a Dead Farm, Dried Activated and Digested Sewage Sludge for the Compost Heap, The Leguminous Crop.

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