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Laying Off A Farm Pasturing

Whoever finds himself the newly installed owner and occupant of a farm,

should, before doing much beyond growing a crop in the ordinary way,

study well its character, determine its capacities, make himself well

acquainted with its peculiarities of soil and surface, with intent to

make the most of it in his future operations. I would devote at least a

year to this thoughtful observation and study.

To one r
ared amid the rugged scenery of New-England; or on either slope

of the Allegheny ridge, all prairie farms look alike, just as a European

supposes this to be the case with all negroes. A better acquaintance

will show the average prairie quarter-section by no means an unbroken

meadow, "level as a house-floor," but diversified by water-courses,

"sloughs," and gentle acclivities--sometimes by considerable ravines and

"barrens" or elevated "swales," thinly covered with timber, or brush, or

both. But I will contemplate more especially a Northern farm, made up of

hill and vale or glade, rocky ridge and skirting bog or other low land,

with a wood-lot on the rear or not far distant, and clumps or belts of

timber irregularly lining brook and ravine, or lurking in the angles and

sinuosities of walls and wooden fences, and a ragged, mossy orchard

sheltered in some quiet nook, or sprawling over some gravelly hill-side.

A brook, nearly dry in August, gurgles down the hill-side or winds

through the swamp; while fields, moderately sloping here and nearly

level there, interposed as they can be, have severally been devoted, for

a generation or more, alternately to Grain and Grass--the latter largely

preponderating. We will suppose this farm to measure from 50 to 150


Now, the young man who has bought or inherited this farm may be wholly

and consciously unable to enter upon any expensive system of improvement

for the next ten years--may fully realize that four or five days of each

week must meantime be given to the growing or earning of present

bread--yet he should none the less study well the capacities and

adaptations of each acre, and mature a comprehensive plan for the

ultimate bringing of each field into the best and most useful condition

whereof it is susceptible, before he cuts a living tree or digs a

solitary drain. He is morally certain of doing something--perhaps many

things--that he will sadly wish undone, if he fails to study

peculiarities and mature a plan before he begins to improve or to fit

his several fields for profitable cultivation.

And the first selection to be made is that of a pasture, since I am

compelled to use an old, familiar name for what should be essentially a

new thing. This pasture should be as near the center of the farm as may

be, and convenient to the barns and barn-yard that are to be. It should

have some shade, but no very young trees; should be dry and rolling,

with an abundance of the purest living water. The smaller this

pasture-lot may be, the better I shall like it, provided you fence it

very stoutly, connect it with the barn-yard by a lane if they are not in

close proximity, and firmly resolve that, outside of this lot, this

lane, this yard and the adjacent stable, your cattle shall never be

seen, unless on the road to market. Very possibly, the day may come

wherein you will decide to dispense with pasturing altogether; but that

is, for the present, improbable. One pasture you will have; if you

live in the broad West, and purpose to graze extensively, it will

doubtless be a large one; but permitting your stock to ramble in Spring

and Fall all over your own fields--(and perhaps your neighbors'

also)--in quest of their needful food, biting off the tops of the finer

young trees, trampling down or breaking off some that are older, rubbing

the bark off of your growing fruit-trees, and doing damage that years

will be required to repair, I most vehemently protest against.

The one great error that misleads and corrupts mankind is the

presumption that something may be had for nothing. The average farmer

imagines that whatever of flesh or of milk may accrue to him from the

food his cattle obtain by browsing over his fields or through his

woods, is so much clear gain--that they do the needful work, while he

pockets the net proceeds. But the universe was framed on a plan which

requires so much for so much; and this law will not submit to defiance

or evasion. Under the unnatural, exceptional conditions which environ

the lone squatter on a vast prairie, something may be made by turning

cattle loose and letting them shift for themselves; but this is at best

transitory, and at war with the exigencies of civilization. Whoever

lives within sight of a school-house, or within hearing of a

church-bell, is under the dominion of a law alike inexorable and

beneficent--the law that requires each to pay for all he gets, and reap

only where he has sown.

You can hardly have a pasture so small that it will not afford

hospitality to weeds and prove a source of multiform infestations. The

plants that should mature and be diffused will be kept down to the

earth; those which should be warred upon and eradicated will flourish

untouched, ripen their seed, and diffuse it far and wide. Thistles,

White Daisy, and every plant that impedes tillage and diminishes crops,

are nourished and diffused by means of pastures.

I hold, therefore, that the good farmer will run a mowing-machine over

his pasture twice each Summer--say early in June, and then late in

July--or, if his lot be too rough for this, will have it clipped at

least once with a scythe. Cutting all manner of worthless if not noxious

plants in the blossom, will benefit the soil which their seeding would

tax; it will render the eradication of weeds from your tillage a far

easier task; and it will prevent your being a nuisance to your

neighbors. I am confident that no one who has formed the habit of

keeping down the weeds in his pasture will ever abandon it.

I think each pasture should have (though mine, as yet, has not) a rude

shed or other shelter whereto the cattle may resort in case of storm or

other inclemency. How much they shrink as well as suffer from one cold,

pelting rain, few fully realize; but I am sure that "the merciful man"

who (as the Scripture says) "is merciful to his beast," finds his

humanity a good paying investment. I doubt that the rule would fail,

even in Texas; but I am contemplating civilized husbandry, not the rude

conditions of tropical semi-barbarism. If only by means of stakes and

straw, give cattle a chance to keep dry and warm when they must

otherwise shiver through a rainy, windy day and night on the cold, wet

ground, and I am sure they will pay for it.

In confining a herd of cattle to such narrow limits, I do not intend

that they shall be stinted to what grows there. On the contrary, I

expect them to be fed on Winter Rye, on Cut Grass, on Sowed Corn,

Sorghum, Stalks, Roots, etc., etc., as each shall be in season. With a

good mower, it is a light hour's work before breakfast to cut and cart

to a dozen or twenty head as much grass or corn as they will eat during

the day. But let that point stand over for the present.