Page containing images of the original booklet.
This Essay has already been published in the pages of the Farmers Gazette. Many who read it in that paper, and in other journals that copied it from the Gazette, solicited me to publish it in its present form, conceiving that it was calculated to do good to that class of small farmers holding from five to twenty acres each ; and when those who wished me to publish backed their wishes and opinions by orders for several hundred copies beforehand, I could not refuse to comply with their wishes. To each and all of them I tender my most grateful thanks. Others there were who entertained a different opinion—whose experience has been such as to induce them to regard any effort, having for its object the amelioration of the condition of the Irish tenant of the peasant class as so much time or money wasted ; who despair of ever seeing their country, or rather their countrymen, prosperous ; who, because they have met with disappointments (and who has not, in all times and countries ?), set down the Irish peasant farmer as totally irreclaimable. Others see no hope but in large farms ; but, alas, the returns of the Registrar-General show us that the decrease of small farms has been attended with a decrease not only of the cereal crops, but also of sheep, cattle, and horses ; and, what is more significant, a decrease in artificial green cropping, without which live stock can never be brought to perfection. There are also other and higher motives that will not fail to occur to most men’s minds in connection with this subject, but which I need not now further advert to. I will only say that eleven years experience in Connaught has convinced me (an English agriculturist) that the Irish peasantry, paying a fair rent for their small farms, properly looked after and instructed—above all, having confidence (a plant of slow growth) in their landlord—will pay as high a rent for the land they occupy as any class of farmers whatever, whether native or imported, and at the same time maintain themselves and their families with as little pauperism and as little crime as the working population of any country in Europe.
I wish to observe that this Essay is intended to apply more particularly to the Province of Connaught.
February 10th, 1865.
ON THE MANAGEMENT AND CULTIVATION OF SMALL FARMS.
When I reflect on the immense importance of any step taken for the purpose of arresting the downward course of the small occupiers of our country on the road to ruin, I cannot but feel that the time has arrived when it becomes the duty of every man, directly or indirectly interested in the welfare of this most important class, to consider earnestly whether it be in his power to do anything that shall have even the slightest tendency to mitigate a great and admitted evil. I am not at all ambitious of being considered an authority, and am well aware that the subject is not one to be undertaken lightly, or without a due knowledge of the subject treated of. I have, however, determined to venture, and if but one single useful idea is hereby disseminated and acted upon; if but one industrious man derives a useful hint to assist him in keeping the wolf from the door, I shall not have laboured in vain.
It is hard to approach the subject of the cultivation of the soil without running foul of the vexed question of the relative duties of the owners and occupiers thereof. I shall, however, endeavour to steer clear of this rock-a-head, by presuming that the tenant is in possession of his five, ten, or twenty acres, as the case may be ; that he has a decent house over his head ; a barn for his grain, and a shed for his cattle; that his land is drained, and has at least an outside fence capable of protecting it. To advise a proper rotation of crops, the application of lime, the growth of roots, and other essentials of good farming, on wet, undrained, unfenced land, is simple mockery. To attempt to carry out what is here recommended under such circumstances would be to court failure and ensure defeat. Whose duty it is to put the land into proper order in the first place is not the subject to be here treated of ; I merely wish to guard against misapprehension, by stating that the course of tillage and management herein recommended presupposes that these essential preliminaries have been attended to and provided for. That a proper rotation of crops is the foundation of all good farming is a truth as applicable to the management of a first-class farm in Norfolk or the Lothians as it is to the Irish or Highland cottier, with his four or five acres of reclaimed waste. I have not the slightest doubt but that to the neglect of this fundamental rule such of the distress among the small occupiers of our western counties is to be attributed. What has been the rotation commonly practised, if, indeed, the word be not quite misapplied is reference to the common practice? Oats, oats again, potatoes, oats, potatoes, oats, weeds for four or five years, and then the same process over again. Put the question to the wealthiest farmers in the three kingdoms, and they will tel you that if they practised such a course of cropping it would soon reduce their farms to a desert, and themselves to beggary. How, then, can the poor Irish tenant survive? Is it not high time that a helping hand was held out to him ? that the information he so much needs should be at once systematically, judiously, and perseveringly imparted to him ? Let not any one who attempts the task of instructing the ignorant be discouraged by the failure of the first effort. Perseverance alone can succeed in such an undertaking ; and where the good work is abandoned in despair, it will inevitably be found that the fault is not all on one side.
Hitherto the great bane of the small farmer has been too great a dependence on one crop, or at the most on two ; failure of one or both of these brings the occupier who is without capital to fall back on to the very verge of ruin in one season. Now, this is an evil that must be guarded against ; it will not do to wean the tenant, as it were, from his dependence on one precarious crop —the potato, for instance— and induce him to place his entire dependence on another. All crops are liable to failure, even under the best of management ; every article of commerce is liable to great and sudden fluctuations in price : we all know these things to our cost, if we have been long or extensively engaged in agricultural pursuits. Considerations such as these should induce as to recommend a rotation as varied and extensive as possible; and by a wise provision of nature, the longer the interval between the repetition of the same crop on the same land, the greater the chance of success in obtaining a good return.
But there is, unfortunately, a crop that grows without, any cultivation, and consisting of the numberless varieties of indigenous plants known as weeds; these must be got rid of ; war to the knife must be waged against these pilferers of the food of useful plants. I am aware that this is a work of time; and where they have taken possession of the soil, it will take years of constant application to root them out ; but it must be done, or success can at best be only partial. All useless fences, unfilled corners, and bits of waste are nurseries of weeds whence their seeds are scattered over the land; therefore, the sooner all these are got rid of the better, and the land they occupy devoted to the growth of something adding to the useful produce of the farm.
Supposing, then, that the farm of five or six acres (I will take the case of the smallest area first) is in a fair way to begin growing a fit and proper rotation of crops : let as just inquire for a moment what are the crops suitable to our western sea board, to our humid climate, and to the markets in which the produce must be disposed of.
The cereal or white crops may be limited to oats and barley on three-fourths of our cultivated land. Rye may be grown on reclaimed bogs and blowing sands’ and in favourable situations it may be advisable to grow wheat. But but these are exceptional cases, and must be left oat of a rotation intended for general adoption.
One chief dependence, however —our sheet anchor— lies in our root crops. Without these we cannot feed our animals that are to pay the rent, nor make manure to grow future crops, and save us from losing too much of our money in running to often to the guano store. These are our turnips, potatoes, mangels, carrots, and parsnips ; and of equal importance is the indispensable cabbage in its different varieties: also the rape plant. If we have not the sunshine to ripen our cereals with which other lands are blessed, we have the frequent and fertilising shower, the absence of drought and scorching heat, and the mild
autumn, so essential to the growth and full development of the root crops. Let us, then, instead of complaining of the climate and soil which the All-wise has bestowed on us, endeavour to assist and work with, not disregard and counteract, nature in bringing all our faculties to bear upon that pursuit whereby we hope to gain an honest and comfortable living, by that most ancient, as well as most honourable, occupation, the culture of the soil.
Here, then, is the list we have to choose from : oats, barley, potatoes, turnips, mangels, flax, clover, cabbage, rape, and grass ; and when we add to these the animals that constitute the most valuable of the effects of farmers, large or small, who can say that our resources are too limited ? that we are of necessity limited to, or dependant on, this or that particular crop? or that our soil and climate do not afford every means of supporting a numerous and well-to-do population ?
Let us, then, suppose a holding of six acres. I say six for convenience, as the rotation I shall first describe and which I most recommend for the district is a six-course one ; of course, it is equally applicable to any greater or less number of acres. In order to show more fully the working of this rotation, I here introduce a simple diagram, showing this course of cropping in full working order :
This rotation is designed for an occupier who, with his family, performs all his own work without the assistance of a horse. In my opinion by far too many useless ponies are kept, whose occupation for the most part consists inroaming over and damaging the crops of their owners and their neighbours. Where a small farmer depends on his farm for a livelihood (and it is of such I am treating), a horse should not be kept unless the farm extends to nearly or quite twenty acres. I am often told, ” We cannot get home the turf. We cannot draw the seaweed,” and many such excuses are put forward for keeping the pony that consumes so much of the produce of the farm and returns nothing, when the horse and cart of some neighbour might be hired for as many shillings as the keep of the horse through the year costs pounds.
To commence, then, with the new year, and No. 1 of our rotation : every day of fine, open weather should be employed in turning the lea land for oats ; as the spring advances there are so many things that will require doing, that it will be well to get the lea land all dug in January ; frost will help to pulverise the soil and ensure a fine seed-bed; then when the first fine weather in March comes, the sowing of the lea oats will be a very easy matter. In most instances it will be advisable to provide open furrows for carrying away surplus water, even on well-drained land. You can sow almost as early as you like without any fear of the seed perishing, and recollect early sowing means early harvesting, and the best sample. Weed carefully in May, and again the beginning of June ; and if your land is in good heart you may expect an early harvest—I mean early compared with crops sown a month later, and as is generally the case with late sown crops, put.in in a hurry, without due preparation.
And here let me put in a word of warning against allowing the grain to become over-ripe before cutting. Not only is great risk incurred of losing the best part of the crop by a high wind, but the straw is much lessened in value as fodder ; and never forget that it is to the live stock we must look for the cash that is to pay the rent and other liabilities that must be met by every occupier of land ; it is, therefore, no loss whatever that a few oats remain in the straw when thrashed. Not a bit of straw should be used for litter without having been first gone over by the cow, who is too good a judge to leave the best part, and the samples of early cut oats are always heavier and brighter than those allowed to get over-ripe. It is my intention to follow the acre of land through the whole rotation, describing each crop in succession, with the mode of preparation of the soil, sowing, cleaning, and harvesting of each.
After harvest the farmer’s time will most likely be so fully engaged with lifting and storing his potatoes and other roots, that he will not be able to attend to digging his oat stubble before the middle of November ; but as he will only have one acre of stubble to dig he should do this deeply and thoroughly, and make it a point to have this completed before Christmas. If the land has hitherto been worked in a shallow, superficial manner, now is the time to deepen it. If the subsoil is poor gravel or stiff clay, it will not do to bring too much of this to the surface at once; still, the small occupier should never rest satisfied until by gradually going deeper and deeper he has got fully eighteen inches of workable soil. When digging throw the soil into ridges ; it will be drier during the winter, derive more benefit from the frost, and, consequently, work much easier in the spring.
We now come to the second year of our rotation, when one-half is to be sown with flax, and the other half planted with potatoes. The potatoes will require manure, and this should not be allowed to lie about the doors of the cow•house, the pigsty, and cabin, a source of discomfort and ill-health to both the stock and the owner, while the good of it is washed away by the rain-water. It should be removed as near as possible to the land where it will be required, and put into proper heaps, covered with soil, or mixed with bogstuff where this is to be got. This, besides taking care of the manure, and keeping things clean and tidy about the house, will be a great help when the busy time comes in the spring. Some advocate very early planting, but I have generally found the month of March the best for the general crop. Cut the sets a week or more before you use them, and give them a slight dusting of lime ; they are less liable to rot or to be eaten by worms. Do not use the small potatoes for seed, but sets cut from the largest, and do not cut these too small. It is totally against nature to plant small potatoes and expect to dig large on ; it is by selecting the largest and most perfect for the purpose of propagation that any improvement is brought about, either in the vegetable and animal world. If your land is of a dry, porous nature, and well drained, by all means drill from 24 to 27 inches apart. It greatly denotes cleaning the crop of the annual weeds that will be sure to come up, and working between the drills with the hoe and the fork will be of the greatest service. But if your land is heavy, or not well drained, the old-fashioned potato ridge is, perhaps, as good a method of planting as any. Peat charcoal, strewed over the sets when spread, is said to assist in preventing the disease. If seaweed can be got this is the crop to which it can be most profitably applied. Seaweed and dung mixed are much better than applying all seaweed to one portion of the crop and all dung to the remainder. When the potatoes are just appearing above ground they are often attacked by slugs ; a little newly-slaked lime dusted over them when the dew is on will be useful, and may be repeated as often as required. Never allow the weeds to get ahead. I have often seen the chickweed allowed to grow until the potatoes were nearly smothered, for the purpose of then pulling it to feed the cow; this is very bad management, and very dear feeding in the end.
It is not my intention to describe in detail those every day operations that every labourer in husbandry is acquainted with. I shall, therefore, proceed to offer some observations on the remaining half of No. 2 of our rotation, which, by reference to the diagram, will be seen is devoted to the flax crop.
If the lea land was in good heart and clean when sown off, and fairly treated when under clover and grass, you will have good clean stubble, which, as before stated, should be deeply dug before Christmas. As soon in March as weather permits, and not sooner than the land is dry enough (for recollect that digging in wet weather does more harm
than good), dig the land intended for flax, and if weeds or large stones are present remove them. This should be done with the steel digging fork, not the loy. In or about the middle of April another light digging, also with the fork, will be required, and then the land should be in perfect order to receive the flax seed. Be very particular to purchase your flaxseed from a respectable tradesman ; country people are often very good judges of flaxseed ; but seed good in itself is very often rendered of no value by containing the seed of a climbing plant of the woodbine species. It is a very small whitish seed, not half as large as white clover seed. It destroys the crop of flax by twining around the stalks, no as to make it impossible to remove this weed by pulling it out when growing. Nothing but experience can teach any one to distinguish the qualities of flaxseed ; so if you are not experienced it is best to get the assistance of a neighbour who is. Landlords or their agents would do well to purchase unmistakably good Riga seed for their tenants.
Do not sow too thick ; it is not only waste of seed, and consequently of money, but also injurious to the crop. I have grown excellent flax from 80 quarts, 2 1/2 bushels, of seed per acre, when my neighbours were sowing twice that quantity ; and if you sow only half an acre there is no reason in the world why- you should not have the land in proper order, the seed sown the last week in April or the first in May, and any weeds that make their appearance carefully removed, no as to ensure an early and good crop both of seed and fibre. Perhaps there is nothing that a stranger in coming to this country would regard with greater astonishment than the annual destruction of large quantities of flaxseed. Many thousands of pounds are thus annually lost to the country. Our farmers who are largely engaged in stall-feeding cattle send thousands of pounds to the manufacturers of oil-cake, who derive their supplies of the raw material, inferior flaxseed, from America, Belgium, and Russia, while our unfortunate peasantry throw their valuable seed into the streams and bog holes. If flax was cultivated as it ought to be, and the seed carefully saved, not for sowing, but for crushing, linseed oil and oil-cake would become articles of export (not import) with us. I have now lying before me the account of the produce of an acre of flax grown in Mayo, in which the seed makes an item of £4 13s. 4d., sold at 10s. per bushel, and the fibre none the worse for allowing the seed to get sufficiently ripe for saving. Flaxseed thus saved can be most advantageously used in feeding cattle. Many a poor man’s cow has died of starvation in a severe winter, while its owner ignorantly threw away the best and most nutritious cattle food he could possess. As soon as the flax is pulled, remove the seed by rippling, and water the flax. The bolls containing the seed will require to be spread thinly on a dry floor; or, if taken out and spread in the sun on sheets, it will be the sooner dry enough to clean and sell. Of course, all this is attended with some little trouble ; but the man who will not take some trouble to make himself comfortable and independent will most likely die a beggar, and deserves nothing better. Ask any man who has been successful in his business, and has become rich, and he will tell you that there is nothing to be had without hard work. Those American dollars we hear so much about are not to be got without hard work—not work in our own green fields and healthy climate, but hard work under a burning sun one half the year, and frost and snow the other half—work among the unhealthy swamps and forests of western states, or competing with the blacks for the drudgery of the quays and streets of the cities on the seaboard. Try what steady, persevering work will do at home, not forgetting that knowledge is power, and, therefore, bringing as much knowledge as possible to the work ; and you will soon find that your labour will not be unrewarded.
To treat of all the different processes incident to the preparation of flax for the market would far exceed the limits of this essay. Happily, although the cultivation has of late years languished among us, it has never died out ; and there is scarcely a village in the district where the preparation of flax by hand labour is not understood. And now that the cultivation of this valuable crop is again revived, let us hope that nothing will be wanting to make that revival permanent, and to hand down to posterity the linen trade as the great staple manufacture of the country ; not only as it now is of one province, but of the whole of Ireland. Having last spring distributed a quantity of flax-seed among a few tenants near Westport, it was a cheering sight to me, a few days ago, when going from cabin to cabin, on a day when the weather was such that nothing could be done out of doors, to find the men and their families busily engaged in preparing flax for market: some were beetling, some scutching, some hackling ; and several assured me that they should not have been able to pay their way but for the flax.
But what is required is not a great quantity of flax one year, and little or none the next. We have had enough, and by far too much, of this kind of spasmodic effort. If this branch of industry is to flourish among us, this useful crop must form part of the regular system on every holding : there will then be a continuous supply. Mills for scutching may then be erected with some view of the investment proving a profitable one. Cheapness of labour, abundance of water-power running to waste on every stream, with a certain supply of the raw material, will soon attract the attention of the manufacturer and capitalist ; and a career of industry and its attendant prosperity will open before us, such as we have hitherto been strangers to.
Let us now proceed to consider No. 3 in our rotation, in which the flax and potatoes of last year are followed by turnips, mangel, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, and a small quantity of early potatoes. This I consider the most important crop of the six ; not only with regard to its own intrinsic value, but also to the fact that in this, the third year of the rotation, the bulk of the manure must be applied that will restore to the soil those essential ingredients that the crops which precede and which follow take from it. A farm or a field can be starved as well as a man or a horse ; it takes a longer time to do it ; but we need not travel far to see plenty of instances of the starvation of the soil. Manure, then, must be liberally applied to the root crop, which is now under consideration. That portion which was under potatoes in No. 2 will, however, be in good heart, and it is here the artificial manure that is required should be used. The flax ground also may be put into a forward state of preparation by being dug well and deeply after the removal of that crop, and planted with rape : for this purpose, the first or second week in June sow in a garden plot or in some odd corner half a pound of rape seed, just in the same manner as cabbage seed is sown. Immediately after pulling the flax dig the ground, draw your rape plants, and plant them in lines two feet apart, and one foot apart in the row. If the drills are raised so much the better ; two cwt. of guano covered up in the drill before planting will give the plants a good start, and make them strong before winter ; these will come into use in April, which is often the most trying month in the whole year for cattle. They should be finished off when the flower begins to appear, and the land will then be in as forward a state for preparing for Swedish turnip as if it had lain idle all winter : this is what is called a stolen or extra crop. As the half acre of potatoes in No. 2 will be all required for winter use, I have here set apart twenty perches for early potatoes to be planted early, and liberally manured ; of course, this portion of the flax land cannot remain under rape until the spring; it must, therefore, be left vacant, or the rape cut and used before Christmas, or consumed on the land by sheep where they are kept.. Having already said so much respecting the potato crop, I need not enlarge on it here. The half acre of swedes, partly swedes and partly yellow turnips, is a most important crop to the small farmer : the land cannot be too well worked for the turnip crop. I remember hearing an eminent turnip grower in South Wiltshire asked how many ploughings turnip land required. His answer was—” Plough it as many times as it requires, and then plough once more.” There is no difficulty in sowing turnips on the ridge by hand labour ; drill up with the shovel, spread the manure evenly in the drills, then cover by drilling back again. If you have not dung enough—and after the potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and cabbage have all had their share you scarcely will—you must have recourse to some kind of artificial manure ; but, if possible, spread the dung you have evenly over the whole of the drills, and then sow the guano, super-phosphate, or whatever artificial manure you use on the dung, covering up as fast as spread, to prevent its losing its good qualities by evaporation, which all ammoniacal manures do very readily. Manuring in this way will not only give you a more even crop of roots, but the land will be in a much better state for the succeeding crop of corn than if all dung had been used on one portion, and all guano on another. Beware of sowing too thick : five lbs. of seed to an acre is ample, and dibbling will be the best method of putting in the seed. I have found mixing flour of sulphur with the seed when sowing useful in keeping off the fly.
Make your drills not less than two feet apart, and thin out the plants as soon as possible after they are well in rough leaf to fully one foot apart in the drill ; no crop suffers more than turnips from being left too thick ; but it will be little use to thin the turnips properly if you allow the intervals to be occupied with weeds. Whatever excuse there may be for weeds among other crops, there is none for having them among turnips. This is the cleansing crop of the rotation, and the hoe must be kept going ; the more the land is stirred the faster the roots will grow. If it were possible to grow an acre of swedes without blanks, and every root to weigh 5 lbs., the produce would amount to 80 tons per acre. (I may as well observe here that it is the Irish acre that is referred to throughout this essay, being equal to 1a. 2r. 18 1/2p. English or statute measure.) Where blanks occur Swedish turnips transplant readily in moist weather ; or you may have a supply of cabbage plants ready for this purpose. There is no use in allowing the land to be half idle ; there is exactly the same rent, the same taxes, and nearly the same labour whether the land be fully occupied or not. Having two roods of turnips and twenty perches of early potatoes in No. 3 leaves us 60 perches to dispose of. Of these, 20 are set apart for cabbage, 20 for mangel, and 10 each for carrots and parsnips. As to cabbage, little need be said ; our peasantry grow it in perfection, and are no strangers to its use as food, both for themselves and their cattle. Mangel wurzel is seldom grown by the small farmer ; it is, however, a most valuable root, chiefly from its keeping properties, as it will, if stored properly, keep good until June, and also from the fact that it imparts no ill taste to the milk or butter of the cows fed on it, which turnips to some extent always do. The proper time for planting it is the last week in April or the first week in May. There are several varieties; but I have found none so good as the yellow globe in this country. The preparation of the soil and the after culture are exactly the same as for turnips, except that being a more tender plant they are sooner injured by weeds or overcrowding. As food for milch cows or breeding ewes they are superior to turnips. They require to be lifted early in November and secured from frost. Parsnips and carrots ought to be universally grown by the occupiers of small farms. The potato should never make its appearance at the poor man’s table alone ; less dependence should be placed on it. Carrots and parsnips are both nutritious and agreeable food, and both grow to perfection here. The land intended for these must be deeply dug and heavily manured : the seed costs only a few pence. Each year two or three of the largest and best shaped roots should be carefully set by, and replanted for, seed : a penny saved is as good as earned. It is carelessness about the loss of small things that causes one-half the misery there is in the world. Parsnips and carrots should be drilled 18 inches between the drills, but may be allowed to stand pretty thick in the drill. They should be lifted in November and put in a safe place. They keep best if mixed with dry earth, dry bog stuff, or sand.
I have often had to remonstrate with tenants for neglect in securing roots after they have succeeded in growing a good crop ; sometimes they cut off the tops of the turnips, and allow them to remain for weeks before pulling them — liable to injury from the slightest frost; sometimes the fence being down, the roots are all nibbled by stray sheep, or the cow or the pig has been paying them a visit ; or they are used indiscriminately and before they are wanted. If the turnip tops, the outside leaves of the cabbages, and the unsound potatoes are taken care of, and used as they ought to be, scarcely any turnips will be required until after Christmas.
The soil on which the root crop has been grown requires to be taken care of during the winter ; water must not be allowed to lie on or run over it ; neither should cattle be allowed to roam over and poach it with their feet ; it contains the manure that is to grow future crops. If wheat is grown this is its proper place in the rotation ; but there is a great deal of land in the district quite unsuited to this grain, and our climate cannot be depended on for maturing it. Occasionally fine samples are grown ; but my experience in farming in the west of Ireland does not induce me to recommend the small farmer to place much dependence on wheat.
We are now arrived at No. 4 of our rotation. Barley in the lighter and drier soils, and oats generally must be our staple. The land being rich, early and thin sowing is requisite, more especially as it is with this crop that the grass and clover seeds must be sown, upon which the hay and pasture of the two following years depend. Change your seed often, and when buying seed corn be very careful you don’t give yourself future trouble by buying foul seed, and stocking your land with weeds over again. Sowing grain well and evenly is an art that cannot be taught on paper—nothing but practice can do it ; every man who has to get his living out of the land should acquire a knowledge of this as well as every other practical operation in agriculture. If he does not require to work himself he will be able to teach others, or be able to form a correct opinion of how the work that comes under his observation has been performed. The grass and clover seeds must now be ready. I recommend sowing three roods with mixed clovers and grasses, reserving one rood for Italian ray-grass alone. The three roods will require about 8 lbs. red clover, 2 lbs. white clover, 2 lbs. of yellow clover or trefoil, and 2 1/2 bushels of perennial ray-grass seed. Beware of the sweepings of hay lofts and other rubbish, sold under the name of hay seed ; better give five shillings per bushel for good perennial ray-grass than have such refuse in a gift. It would be well for landlords or their agents to take the trouble of procuring good grass and clover seeds for the smaller tenants. A bushel of good Italian ray-grass will sow the remaining rood. Do not cover those small seeds too deep or they will not germinate. One stroke of a bushed harrow is sufficient. Make water furrows where required, even although your land be drained. This is a wet climate, and you never need fear your land will be too dry. If the root crop of the preceding year was kept as clean as it ought to be, you will not be greatly troubled with weeds in the oats and barley. After harvesting the grain do not allow the cows to run on the young clover and grasses. Large farmers feed young grasses after harvest with sheep sometimes ; but it is not a good practice—the clover will stand the winter much better if left alone.
We now come to No. 5 in the rotation, which is the hay crop ; but the rood sown with Italian ray-grass is intended to furnish a supply of forage for the milch cow or cows, to be used in the house ; if not required for this purpose, it makes good hay, When cut green it should be manured with liquid manure from the tank (of which we shall speak by-and-by) every day, immediately after the cut grass is removed ; a continuous succession may thus be kept up, and the increased milk from the cow will more than pay the extra labour. Cut the mixed grasses as soon as the red clover shows flower. Putting hay into tramp cocks is in our variable climate necessary, perhaps ; but allowing it to remain so until top and bottom are half rotten is a very bad, although a very prevailing, practice. The hay stack of the occupier of a small farm is not large enough to incur the danger of heating, and the sooner it is safely secured where it is to remain the better. After removing the hay crop is an excellent time to top-dress the land, and there are few better modes of applying lime to the soil than at this time, having been previously mixed with ditch parings, road scrapings, bog-stuff, or other refuse. In England the privilege of removing the scrapings of the roads is sold to farmers at so much per mile for this purpose. The aftergrowth may either be eaten on the ground, or when sufficiently grown, cut and used in the house by the cattle.
No. 6 of the rotation being pasture, I need not dwell on it. I will, however, remark that in fine weather or in sheltered situations, tethering the milch cows, where only one or two are kept, is a good practice. When the sun shines hot, and flies are troublesome, they should be supplied with cut grass in the house from the rood of Italian ray-grass. We are now come to the end of our six-course shift. Let us now look at what may be fairly expected as the results for one year of such a course of cropping in full work. I venture on an estimate of this kind, quite aware how easy it is to pick holes in any and everything of the kind. I am quite willing, however, to submit both quantities and prices to the judgment of practical men : the criticism of those who are not practical need not be regarded. I may further observe that the prices are calculated on a seven years’ average.
Now, it must not be supposed that I intend the whole produce of the farm to be sold. Far from it. The farmer is his own good customer for the greater portion ; he will consume the most part himself, or convert it into other and more valuable commodities. The estimate is merely for the purpose of showing the amount of remuneration the tenant may expect for his industry. This being the case, it matters very little what value is laid on what is consumed in the house. The grain, the flax (seed and fibre), a good, well-fed yearling calf, and one fat pig (the other to be eaten at home) may be expected to yield from £30 to £32 ; the butter and milk from the well-fed cow (even if one only is kept), with all the little odds and ends, will be wanted at home ; and if economy and discretion, with sobriety, prevails, that house will bear comparison with many in wealthier and more highly-favoured parts of her Majesty’s dominions.
I have now dwelt long enough on this six-course rotation, which is a favourite one with me ; and will merely observe that it can be applied to a ten, twelve, or twenty-acre farm as easily as to one of five or six acres, the only difference being that in a farm of fifteen or twenty acres horse labour can be usefully employed to a small extent. If two neighbours combine, each having a horse, and buy a strong, but light, iron plough and a pair of harrows between them, all the work on the two adjacent farms of fifteen to twenty acres each can be executed in good time, and without any undue expenditure.
Another, and a very good rotation, is a five-course one, worked thus on a farm of ten acres:
- 1st. 1 acre oats & 1 acre flax.
- 2nd. 1 acre potatoes & 1 acre turnips.
- 3rd. 2 acres barley or oats.
- 4th. 2 acres clover and grass for hay.
- 5th. 2 acres pasture.
The flax is here sown on lea land, which is not so suitable as a stubble in good heart for that crop, although good flax is often grown after lea. The results in a financial point of view will be pretty much the same as those of the system previously recommended.
It may be objected that flax forms too large an item in both of the above systems ; that its cultivation may not always be so profitable as at present ; or that it is not every tenant who has a family able to render the assistance its management requires.
The following system will meet the requirements of those who are disinclined to embark in flax culture. It is equally applicable to any number of acres a tillage farm may consist of—from five to one thousand :
- 2nd—Turnips, potatoes, mangels, &c,, &c.
- 3rd—Barley, wheat, or oats.
- 4th—Clover and grass.
- 5th— Do. do. , 2nd year.
This is a very good rotation for twenty acres or upwards where flax is dispensed with, and the tenant provided with a large garden, where a supply of table roots and vegetables can be grown without occupying any part of the regular system. Tens of thousands of acres are under this rotation in Scotland and the northern English counties, and it is also practised with success on many of the best managed tillage farms in Ireland. Having referred to the value of liquid manure, and advised its use, I beg to offer a few observations on the mode a small farmer may adopt of preventing the waste of this essential part of his resources. He cannot build an expensive tank, but he can pave the floors of his cow-house and pig-sty so as to make them water-tight, and prevent the liquid manure from soaking into them. If plenty of sedge, bog stuff, fern, or other absorbent can be got; then by all means use it liberally ; soak up all the liquid, and make the dung-heap as large as possible ; no liquid tank will then be required. But as few are thus ,circumstanced, some contrivance is necessary. Just outside the wall a the cow-house, at the lowest end of the drain therefrom, and also connected in like manner with the pigsty, dig a round hole of sufficient size to contain an empty treacle hogshead : this may be got at a small price from a grocer. Tar the hogshead well inside and out, then sink it in the hole and make all firm about it, placing it so that the drains’ will discharge into it. Protect it ,from rain water, and It will save a considerable portion of the money that must otherwise be spent in guano. A bucket and dish kept for the purpose is all that is needed in distributing the contents.
With a prospect of low prices for grain and high prices for live stock, the latter should be an object of the greatest interest to the small farmers and those interested in their welfare. Providing a good bull for the use of tenants is of the greatest service. Where a landlord does not reside, one of the principal tenants in each locality might be induced to keep a good animal for hire at a low price. If possible, rear every calf. A little of the home-saved flaxseed, boiled into jelly, is of great service in feeding calves. I once reared forty calves on the milk of six cows in the one season, using linseed jelly and bean meal (Indian meal will do as well), and giving them cut mangels and good hay when they were able to eat it. Not one died. They were sold by auction at two years old, and averaged over £10 each, and this at a time when cattle were very low in price, March, 1849.
The old Irish cow is hardy and good for milk, but something more valuable is required in the young stock if a high price is to be got for them. The produce of these cows, crossed by a pure-bred short-horn, are valuable, and sell readily ; and on the better class of soils half, or even three parts, bred cows may be kept. The better the breed the better must be the keep. After all, the difference between good keep and indifferent is not a great deal ; but the difference in price when the animal comes to market is considerable. On poor land, and especially where mountain grazing is to be had, the West Highland Kyloe is a most valuable breed. This breed is gaining ground in the west of Ireland fast, and I am confident that in years to come our fair greens will be ,black with them. An impression prevails that they are bad milkers : this is not the case, if well fed and attended. If the milk is somewhat deficient in quantity, it is very superior in quality, as the excellent calves they rear on the bleak mountain side proves. Another objection to them as milkers is their wildness, but when reared by hand they are as quiet as any other breed. I had a heifer of this breed some time ago so wild that I never could handle her. Being in calf one of the herds wished to buy her for a milker ; he knew her wildness, but was confident he could tame her. Six months after she would walk in and out of his cabin as tame as his sheep-dog. The first cross between these Kyloes and a short-horn bull is a superb animal, feeds exceedingly well, and makes the best of beef when fat. A calf of a bad kind will cost as much to rear as of a good one ; and whether sold as a yearling or two-year-old, or kept for use, is worth nearly or quite double the money when disposed of. It is not only important that the occupier of five, ten, or twenty acres should turn his limited resources to good account, by rearing calves of a kind that will pay him; but it is of the greatest possible consequence, even in a national point of view,: to establish those breeds of domestic animals that by their value and usefulness add to the wealth of the country in so great a degree. But it is not only necessary that the breed introduced should be valuable in itself, it must also be adapted to the district, to the soil and climate; then, when once established, it will be certain to maintain its ground.
The occupier of ten or twenty acres may keep a few good sheep, and homespun clothing is by no means a thing to be despised ; and certainly the whirr of the woollen spinning wheel, the scratching of the cards, or the clack of the loom in the corner of the cabin on a winter’s evening, busy in the production of one of life’s great essentials, is a more pleasing picture to contemplate than the ” vast pasture” to which we are said to be fast hastening, and which is confidently predicted as the future of Ireland by those who, I trust, will be found false prophets. The long-woolled Roscommon sheep is a most valuable breed both for wool and mutton, and admirably suited to the climate. Like all large animals, they require good keep, and they will pay for it ; for the occupier of a small farm, who is not able to exceed from half a dozen to a score of ewes, there is no better breed on land of fair average quality. Where mountain land is held in conjunction with a small tillage farm, Cheviots or black-faced horns are the breeds ; the latter are the hardiest of all the varieties of sheep, and will live where other breeds would starve. The occupier of five or six acres of tillage, without any outlet, will not find keeping sheep at all desirable. They are not easily kept within such narrow bounds. They will damage his own crops and most likely those of his neighbours also, leading to quarrelling and the petty sessions court, where our peasantry are but too often seen.
The pig, though last, is by no means least among the resources of the cottager. Great improvement has taken place in the breed of pigs in the west of Ireland during the last twenty years. The old coarse, lob-eared kind is rare to be seen in our markets now ; still, there is room for further improvement, and the locating of a few good boars in each district at a low rate of service would soon have the desired effect. It is very discreditable to any owner of a pig to see it turning up the surface of his farm, or injuring the roadside, for the want of a ring in its nose. A straw shows the direction of the wind; and I have often ob-served that where the pig runs unrung, the sheep are scabbed, the cabin thatch leaky, the tenant at variance with his neighbour, and discomfort and consequent discontent prevailing throughout. But where thrift and economy, with sobriety, and a desire to live and learn, are the order of the day, what a different scene presents itself: the crops, put in properly, seldom fail ; the well-fed cattle are sleek and contented; the cabin is tidy, clean, and comfortable ; the fire burns bright and cheery, for the turf was cut and saved in good time. There is no fear of want to cloud the future ; the children go decently clad to the school. The man goes willingly, ay, happily, to his work ; he is not in dread of a visit from the process-server, or speculating how to get into the good graces of the gombeen-man ; nor is he counting how much it will cost to transport himself and his family across the Atlantic. Would to God that every poor man’s cabin in Ireland presented such a scene. Is not the end worthy of the means ? Is not the object worth a trial ? Even if only partially successful, shall we not be amply rewarded ? And may we not reasonably expect and hope for the blessing of Him who has promised that “while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease,” and ” whose mercy is over all His works.”
Note -” Ireland will become a vast pasture, studded with towns.”—The Times. Now, if the first part of that prophecy should unfortunately ever come to pass, the second part will require the addition of one word ; it will then read thus—Ireland will become a vast pasture, studded with ruined towns-.—J. O.
Printed at the Farmers’ Gazette Office 23, Bachelor’s-walk, Dublin.
Page containing images of the original booklet.