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What I Know Of Farming

Large And Small Farms

There is fascination for most minds in naked magnitude. The young
colonel, who can hardly handle a brigade effectively in battle, would
like of all things to command a great army; and the tiller of fifty
rugged acres has his ravishing dreams of the delights inherent in a
great Western farm, with its square miles of corn-fields, and its
thousands of cattle. Each of them is partly right and partly wrong.

There are generals capable of commanding 100,000 men, Napoleon says
there were two such in his day--himself and another: and these generally
find the work they are fit for, without special effort or aspiration. So
there are men, each of whom can really farm a township, not merely let a
herd of cattle roam over it unfed and unsheltered, living and dying as
may chance: the owners expecting to grow rich by their natural increase.
This ranching is not properly farming at all, but a very different and
far ruder art. I judge that the farmers who can really till--or even
graze--several thousand acres of land, so as to realize a fair interest
on its value, are even scarcer than the farms so capacious.

But there is such a thing as farming on a large scale; and it is a good
business for those who understand it, and have all the means it
requires. The farmer who annually grows a thousand acres of good Grain,
and takes reasonable care of a thousand head of Cattle, is to be held in
all honor. He will usually grow both his Grain and his Beef cheaper than
a small farmer could do it, and will generally find a good balance on
the right side when he makes up and squares his accounts of a year's
operations. I could recommend no man to run into debt for a great farm,
expecting that farm to work him out of it but he who inherited or has
acquired a large farm, well stocked, and knows how to make it pay, may
well cling to it, and count himself fortunate in its possession. But the
great farmer is already regarded with sufficient envy. Most boys would
gladly be such as he is; the difficulty in the case is that they lack
the energy, persistency, resolution, and self-denial, requisite for its

We will leave large farms and farming to recommend themselves, while we
consider more directly the opportunities and reasonable expectations of
the small farmer.

The impression widely current that money cannot be made on a small
farm--that, in farming, the great fish eat up the little ones--is
deduced from very imperfect data. I have admitted that Grain and Beef
can usually be produced at less cost on great than on small farms,
though the rule is not without exceptions. I only insist that there are
room and hope for the small farmer also, and that large farming can
never absorb nor enable us to dispense with small farms.

I. And first with regard to Fruit. Some Tree-Fruits, as well as Grapes,
are grown on a large scale in California--it is said, with profit. But
nearly all our Pears, Apples, Cherries, Plums, etc., are grown by small
farmers or gardeners, and are not likely to be grown otherwise. All of
them need at particular seasons a personal attention and a vigilance
which can seldom or never be accorded by the owners or renters of large
farms. Should small farms be generally absorbed into larger, our
Fruit-culture would thenceforth steadily decline.

II. The same is even more true of the production of Eggs and the rearing
of Fowls. I have had knowledge of several attempts at producing Eggs and
Fowls on a large scale in this country, but I have no trustworthy
account of a single decided success in such an enterprise. On the
contrary, many attempts to multiply Fowls by thousands have broken down,
just when their success seemed secure. Some contagious disease, some
unforeseen disaster, blasted the sanguine expectations of the
experimenter, and transmuted his gold into dross.

Yet, I judge that there is no industry more capable of indefinite
extension, with fair returns, than Fowl-breeding on a moderate scale.
Eggs and Chickens are in universal demand. They are luxuries appreciated
alike by rich and poor; and they might be doubled in quantity without
materially depressing, the market. Our thronged and fashionable
watering-places are never adequately supplied with them; our cities
habitually take all they can get and look around for more. I believe
that twice the largest number of Chickens ever yet produced in one year
might be reared in 1871, with profit to the breeders. Even if others
should fail, the home market found in each family would prove signally

This industry should especially commend itself to poor widows,
struggling to retain and rear their children in frugal independence. A
widow who, in the neighborhood of a city or of a manufacturing village,
can rent a cottage with half an acre of southward-sloping, sunny land,
which she may fence so tightly as to confine her Hens therein, whenever
their roaming abroad would injure or annoy her neighbors, and who can
incur the expense of constructing thereon a warm, commodious Hen-house,
may almost certainly make the production of Eggs and Fowls a source of
continuous profit. If she can obtain cheaply the refuse of a
slaughter-house for feed, giving with it meal or grain in moderate
quantities, and according that constant, personal, intelligent
supervision, without which Fowl-breeding rarely prospers, she may
reasonably expect it to pay, while affording her an occupation not
subject to the caprices of an employer, and not requiring her to spend
her days away from home.

III. Though the ordinary Market Vegetables may be grown on large farms,
the fact that they seldom are is significant. Cabbages, Peas, Poled
Beans, Tomatoes, and even Potatoes, are mainly grown on small farms, as
they always have been. There are sections wherein no cash market for
Vegetables exists or can be relied on; and here they will continue to be
grown to the extent only of the growers' respective needs; but wherever
the prevalence of manufactures or the neighborhood of a great city gives
reasonable assurance of a market, they are grown at a profit per acre
which is rarely realized from a Grain-crop. No less than $100 per acre
is often, if not generally, achieved by the growers of Cabbage around
this city; and this not from rich, deep garden-mold, but from fair
farming land, underdrained, subsoiled, and liberally manured.

The careless, slipshod farmer may do better--that is, he will not fail
so signally--in Grain cultivation; but there are few more decided or
brilliant successes than have been achieved within the last few years
within sight of this City, and wholly in the tillage of small farms.

I trust I have here said enough to show that there is a legitimate and
promising field for agricultural enterprise and effort, other than that
which contemplates the acquisition and rule of a township, and that,
while farming on a large area is to many attractive and inspiring, there
are scope and incitement also for tillage on a humbler scale--for
tillage that permits no weed to ripen seed, and no nest of caterpillars
to flourish a month undisturbed--for tillage that achieves large crops
and profits from small areas, and rejoices in that neatness and
perfection of culture attainable only in the management of small farms.

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Previous: Rural Depopulation

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