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What I Know Of Farming

Hay And Hay-making

The Grass-crop of this, as of many, if not most, other countries, is
undoubtedly the most important of its annual products; requiring by far
the largest area of its soil, and furnishing the principal food of its
Cattle, and thus contributing essentially to the subsistence of its
working animals and to the production of those Meats which form a large
and constantly increasing proportion of the food of every civilized
people. But I propose to speak in this essay of that proportion of the
Grass-crop--say 25 to 35 per cent. of the whole--which is cut, cured and
housed (or stacked) for Hay, and which is mainly fed out to animals in
Winter and Spring, when frost and snow have divested the earth of
herbage or rendered it inaccessible.

The Seventh Census (1850) returned the Hay-crop of the preceding year at
13,838,642 tuns, which the Eighth Census increased to 19,129,128 tuns as
the product of 1859. Confident that most farmers underestimate their
Hay-crops, and that hundreds of thousands who do not consider themselves
farmers, but who own or rent little homesteads of two to ten acres
each, keeping thereon a cow or two and often a horse, fail to make
returns of the two to five tuns of Hay they annually produce,
considering them too trivial, I estimate the actual Hay-crop of all our
States and Territories for the current year at 40,000,000 tuns, or about
a tun to each inhabitant, although I do not expect the new Census to
place it much, if any, above 25,000,000 tuns. The estimated average
value of this crop is $10 (gold) per tun, making its aggregate value, at
my estimate of its amount, $400,000,000--and the quantity is constantly
and rapidly increasing.

That quantity should be larger from the area devoted to meadows, and the
quality a great deal better. I estimate that 30,000,000 acres are
annually mowed to obtain these 40,000,000 tuns of Hay, giving an average
yield of 1-1/3 tuns per acre, while the average should certainly not
fall below two tuns per acre. My upland has a gravelly, rocky soil, not
natural to grass, and had been pastured to death for at least a century
before I bought it; yet it has yielded me an average of not less than
2-1/2 tuns to the acre for the last sixteen years, and will not yield
less while I am allowed to farm it. My lowland (bog when I bought it) is
bound henceforth to yield more; but, while imperfectly or not at all
drained, it was of course a poor reliance--yielding bounteously in
spots, in others, little or nothing.

In nothing else is shiftless, slovenly farming so apt to betray itself
as in the culture of Grass and the management of grass lands. Pastures
overgrown with bushes and chequered by quaking, miry bogs; meadows foul
with every weed, from white daisy up to the rankest brakes, with
hill-sides that may once have been productive, but from which crop after
crop has been taken and nothing returned to them, until their yield has
shrunk to half or three-fourths of a tun of poor hay, these are the
average indications of a farm nearly run out by the poorest sort of
farming. Such farms were common in the New England of my boyhood; I
trust they are less so to-day; yet I seldom travel ten miles in any
region north or east of the Delaware without seeing one or more of them.

Fifty years ago, I judge that the greater part of the hay made in
New-England was cut from sour, boggy land, that was devoted to grass
simply because nothing else could be done with it. I have helped to
carry the crop off on poles from considerable tracts on which oxen could
not venture without miring. It were superfluous to add that no well-bred
animal would eat such stuff, unless the choice were between it and
absolute starvation. In many cases, a very little work done in opening
the rudest surface-drains would have transformed these bogs into decent
meadows, and the product, by the help of plowing or seeding, into
unexceptionable hay.

There are not many farmers, apart from our wise and skillful dairymen,
who use half enough grass-seed; men otherwise thrifty often fail in this
respect. If half our ordinary farmers would thoroughly seed down a full
third of the area they usually cultivate, and devote to the residue the
time and efforts they now give to the whole, they would grow more grain
and vegetables, while the additional grass would be so much clear again.

We sow almost exclusively Timothy and Clover, when there are at least 20
different grasses required by our great diversity of soils, and of these
three or four might often be sown together with profit; especially in
seeding down fields intended for pasture, we might advantageously use a
greater variety and abundance of seed. I believe that there are grasses
not yet adopted and hardly recognized by the great body of our
farmers--the buffalo-grass of the prairies for one--that will yet be
grown and prized over a great part of our country.

As for Hay-Making, my conviction is strong that our grass is cut in the
average from two to three weeks too late, and that not only is our hay
greatly damaged thereby, but our meadows needlessly impoverished and
exhausted. The formation and perfection of seed always draw heavily upon
the soil. A crop of grass cut when the earliest blossoms begin to
drop--which, in my judgment, is the only right time--will not impoverish
the soil half so much as will the same crop cut three weeks later; while
the roots of the earlier cut grass will retain their vitality at least
thrice as long as though half the seed had ripened before the crop was
harvested. Grass that was fully ripe when cut has lost at least half its
nutriment, which no chemistry can ever restore. Hay alone is dry fodder
for a long Winter, especially for young stock; but hay cut after it was
dead ripe, is proper nutriment for no animal whatever--not even for old
horses, who are popularly supposed to like and thrive upon it.

The fact that our farmers are too generally short-handed throughout the
season of the Summer harvest, while it seems to explain the error I
combat, renders it none the less disastrous and deplorable. I estimate
the depreciation in the value of our hay-crop, by reason of late
cutting, as not less than one-fifth; and, when we consider that a full
half of our farmers turn out their cattle to ravage and poach up their
fields in quest of fodder a full month earlier than they should, because
their hay is nearly or quite exhausted, the consequences of this error
are seen to diffuse themselves over the whole economy of the farm.

* * * * *

From the hour in which grass falls under the Mower, it ought to be kept
in motion until laid at rest in the stack or the barn; keep stirring it
with the tedder until it is ready to be raked into light winrows, and
turn these over and over until they will answer to go upon the cart. In
any bright, hot day, the grass mowed in the morning should be stacked
before the dew falls at night; while, if any is mowed after noon, it
should be cocked and capped by sunset, even though it be necessary to
open it out the next fair morning.

I have a dream of hay-making, especially with regard to clover, without
allowing it to be scalded by fierce sunshine. In my dream, the grass is
raked and loaded nearly as fast as cut, drawn to the barn-yard, and
there pitched upon an endless apron, on which it is carried slowly
through a drying-house, heated to some 200 deg. Fahrenheit by steam or by
charcoal in a furnace below, somewhat after the manner of a hop-kiln.
While passing slowly through this heated atmosphere, the grass is
continually forked up and shaken so as to expose every lock of it to the
drying heat, until it passes off thereby deprived of its moisture and is
precipitated into a mow or upon a stack-bottom at the opposite side;
load after load being pitched upon the apron continuously, and the
drying process going steadily forward by night as well as by day, and
without regard to the weather outside. I do not assert that this vision
will ever be realized; but I have known dreams as wild as this
transformed by time and thought into beneficent realities.

I ask no one to share my dreams or sympathise with their drift and
purpose. I only insist that Hay-making, as it is managed all around me,
is ruder in its processes and more uncertain in its results than it
should or need be. We cut our grass rapidly and well; we gather and
house it with tolerable efficiency; but we cure much of it imperfectly
and wastefully. The fact that most of it is over-ripe when cut
aggravates the pernicious effects of its subsequent exposure to dew and
rain; and the net result is damaged fodder which is at once unpalatable
and innutritious.

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