Why Fertility Farming?
Getting Goosegreen Back to Life
When I came to Goosegreen Farm the first calf born was dead. Disease was already master of the farm. Was I to be man enough to face such a master and turn his efforts to my own advantage? I thought I was, but disease drained the resources of the farm for nearly five years, ruining nearly two herds of cattle in the process, before I reached a position of stability in the health and production of the farm.
In February 1941, with an agricultural training at university, and the experience gained from working in agriculture all my life, I took on the management of the farm. (Subsequently I rented it, then I bought it.) My training had been orthodox, and although my ideas had been modified by contact with, and experience of, the value of natural methods of farming and livestock management, policy was controlled by the owners of the farm, so the methods of the man who had farmed the place for the twenty-five years previous to 1941 were more or less continued.
The cattle had lived and produced milk on the same pastures for generations. The hay that the mowing pastures produced could better have served the purpose of wire, for all its nutritional value. Arable crops were heavy enough, as crops grown with ample artificial manures at first are, but a variety of crop diseases were evident and showing signs of increase. The cattle were good milkers as commercial herds go, as well they should have been, for their main article of diet was purchased imported concentrated high-protein feeding stuffs, upon which the cows were forced to the limit of their capacity to produce milk and calves. The more milk the cows gave, the less natural bulky food they were allowed to eat, and what home-grown food they had was raised with artificial manures.
Governed by the instructions of the committee representing the owners, I farmed on orthodox lines. We purchased all the artificials that could be got, and by placing orders with several firms got rather more than our share, much to my subsequent regret. We tried to be good farmers according to orthodox standards, and our reward was a trading loss of £2,000 for two years during the piping days of war, abortion in 75 per cent of our cows, 50 per cent of our total stock reactors to the tuberculin test and a large acreage of corn ruined with smut and take-all diseases, with chocolate spot making bean growing impossible.
When at the beginning of 1943 I had the opportunity to take the farm over on my own, I knew that half the cattle were barren and that I had a long history of disease to tackle. But I had faith in nature. The fact that not all the cattle had succumbed to contagious abortion and tuberculosis led me to believe that disease was not primarily caused by bacteria, but that it was the result of deficiency or excess of wrong feeding and wrong management, with bacteria only a secondary factor. Nature provides the means of combating all the disease that any living thing is likely to encounter, and I have discovered that bacteria are the main means of combating disease and not the cause of it as we had formerly believed.
So I decided to get my farm and its livestock back to nature. I would manure the fields as nature intended; I would stop exhausting the fertility of my fields and give them the recuperative benefit of variety. My cows would no longer have to act as machines, with compound cakes going in at one end and milk and calves coming out at the other. I would return them as nearly as possible to their natural lives. The more natural parts of their diet -- leys, green fodder, other bulky foods and herbs -- would be assured and adequate quantities insisted upon before any concentrates were fed. All the food the cows and other livestock received would be home grown, on land filled with farmyard manure, compost and green crop manure.
Artificial fertilizers, which had left my soil solid and impossible to live in, for almost any form of soil life, were dispensed with entirely. Not only because I was at last convinced of the disaster they had brought upon me, but because I could no longer afford to buy them.
There was not enough ordinary muck to go round. But with the rapid ploughing up programme that the poor grass made necessary, and the consequent increase of arable acreage, straw was accumulating. Instead of tying up the cows in the winter they were given freedom and turned loose in yards, being milked in a milking parlour. Quickly the straw stacks diminished, not in smoke as so often happens on so-called progressive farms these days, but, by way of the cattle yards, they grew into tons and tons of compost which went to produce whole-wheat to grind into flour for bread, whole oats and beans to be ground for cattle food, and fresh greenstuff for all living things on the farm -- soil, cattle and men.
This kind of farming restored life to a dying farm. Everything on the farm, from the soil teeming with life and fertility, to the cows all pregnant or in full milk, and to the farmer and his family full of energy and good health, acclaim the rightness of this policy.
My neighbours have, of course, questioned the financial wisdom of such a system of farming. They said that labour for composting would be higher than the cost of buying and spreading artificial fertilizers, and yields could not possibly compare. Costs certainly did appear to increase, for it seemed that we spent more time about the muck heap, and spreading the compost, than ever we did about handling artificial manures. But when it came to be worked out, the extra cost was nothing; for the men were engaged on the muck during wet weather, and at times when there was no other productive work for them to do. Previously we must have wasted a good deal of time on worthless jobs, when now all our spare time was building up fertility at no extra cost. I shall show in this book how it is possible for the average medium-sized farm to be self-supporting in fertility, and consequently free of disease, with less capital outlay, a reduction in labour costs, and an immense saving in the cost of manures and veterinary and medicine bills.
But though there was a reduction in costs, there was a marked increase in yields. My threshing contractor tells me that my yields are not equalled in the district. Yet all my neighbours boast that they use all the artificial fertilizers they can lay hands on.
But it is not in increased yields, or in costs, that I measure the success of this organic fertility farming, though these things are important in times of economic stress. It is the health of all living things on the farm that proclaims nature's answer to our problems. From a herd riddled with abortion and tuberculosis, in which eight years ago few calves were born to full time, and those few that reached due date were dead, I can now walk around sheds full of healthy calves, and cows formerly sterile, now heavy in calf or in milk. I have advertised in the farming press for sterile cows and cows suffering from mastitis and have bought many pedigree animals, declared useless by vets, given them a naturally grown diet, and a period of fasting, herbal and dietary treatment which I have discovered to be effective in restoring natural functions, and they have subsequently borne calves and come to full and profitable production or had their udders restored to perfect health. Cows that have been sterile for two and three years have given birth to healthy calves. On the orthodox farm there is no hope for these cases, and the animals are slaughtered as 'barreners'. But nature intended the cow to continue breeding into old age, and if treated as nature intended there is every chance that her breeding capacity can be restored. I considered my pedigree Jersey cattle worth keeping and bringing back to production, and if I could buy similar animals with which others had failed, it was also doing good to myself as well as the condemned cows; and it has paid me both financially and in moral satisfaction. I have cows aged fourteen to twenty years which, after being sterile for years, have given birth to strong calves and milked well afterwards.
In the process of all this work I have experimented with the use of herbs, in the treatment of animal disease, and discovered ways in which this science can be of use to the farmer in a fix with disease. I shall say something about such treatment in a part of this book, but I should stress at the outset that the main purpose of my book is to demonstrate the simplicity and effectiveness of farming by the laws of nature; and above all to show that it can be done on the poorest of farms, by the poorest of men.
Such restoration of a dead farm is an achievement worth any man's efforts, and success within the reach of any farmer who will turn back to fertility farming, and eschew the 'get-rich-quick' methods of commercialized science, which are in fact a snare.
Next: 2. Cash Comparisons
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