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THE PROPER OFF1CE OF STRAW ON A FARM.
BY IlEKBT EVER8HED.
PRIZ E ESSAY.
Straw is used on most farms, both as food for stock, and as a bed for them to lie on; I shall therefore endeavor to assign to each of these uses its proper value. The requirements of the farm-yard necessitate, as I believe, certain modifications in the use of straw; acd the system of letting the cattle " eat their liking" from the crib, and tread the rest under foot, though still finding favor in some secluded districts, may be amended.
The present high price and growing demand for meat will make us all look inquiringly at our straw-stacks, anxious to know whether all their value departed with the grain, or whether there be not beef or mutton'latent in straw as well as in turnips.
It is a common remark on many of the best managed and most profitable farms, " How shall I manage to tread all this straw into good dung V And on other farms differently situated, "How shall I get straw for all this stock?"
It is, however, a mistake in any case to be too anxious to " tread in" straw. Straw is not dung; it is, as litter, a medium for soaking up the liquids and solids of a farm yard, making a dry bed for cattle. Taking its market value at 11. per ton (in some neigborhoods it is twice as much), fifty tons will buy 50/. worth of guano, worth on any farm more than fifty tons of straw merely "trod into dung."*
The using of straw for the sake of getting rid of it, is a miscalculation, and
* The above conclusions are not strictly correct, or at least not applicable in all cases. 1st, although straw be not dung, yet the carbon as well as the minerals which it contains have a positive value as manure, and exert a special influence on light sandy soils. On such soils guano is a very inadequate substitute for farm yard manure. Moreover, in the case before us, 50 tons of straw must be taken to represent a large number of tons of inferior manure. On farms where a good head of stock is economically fed, it must be quite an exceptional case if there be any superfluity of straw ; because, where the land is strong and the climate moist, so that a great bulk of straw per acre will be grown, there will generally be a considerable admixture of pasture with the arable land . when the land is light and the climate dry, and the farm almost exclusively arable, the yield of straw will not be great, and a considerable portion of it will be required as a substitute for hay in feeding the stock. A good farmer does not generally find that he has more straw than he can turn to good account, although, under oertain circumstances he may think it better economy to sell a portion, and replace it by purchasing manure.—P. H. F. any covenants which necessitate this by withholding permission to sell it, are surely founded in error.
I shall now turn to a more common state of things, where straw is not in excess of the ordinary requirements of the farm: first examining what appears to be the most important, because the most indispensable, of the uses of straw, viz., as litter. All the larger animals require litter of some sort. A warm, dry, and soft bed is quite indispensable for their comfort. As an expedient for saving straw, I once put twelve three-year-old oxen on boards to fatten, and found it a very cruel experiment. The animals were always in a state of distress ; one of them refused to lie down, and remained standing four days, until the muscles of the thigh swelled from the unnatural tension. A comfortable layer of straw soon set all right again, and as the spaces between the boards allowed the moisture to pass into a drain, a great saving of litter was effected.*
A wish to save straw occasionally leads to a sparing use of it in the yards, always resulting, however, in the immediate discomfort of every head of stock. In fact, the best of food, and unremitting attention, will not compensate for the want of a comfortable bed. Frequent supol-es of dry litter in sheds and yards are absolutely necessary. Those who are accustomed to a well stocked farmyard are aware how entirely success depends on attention to details; the omission of any of these mars all. A comfortable bed is one of the most important.
It may be asked, " Is it the proper use of straw, to be spread over the wet surface of a yard, to be soaked by rain, acd then covered up by a fresh layer, and finally «trodden' into indifferent dung?"
This question brings me to the subject of covered yards. The desire to spare straw led to the erection on my own farm, and on another under my direction, of sheds coveripg a considerable space of yard, besides cattle-boxes. It would be quitting the present subject to expatiate on the various advantages derived from these arrangements; I may ob-erve, however, that one great advantage is the saving in straw which they effect.
With regard to live stock, I have seen them thrive as well in warm, sheltered yards, open to the sun, and well supplied with litter, as in the best appointed stalls, boxes, or covered yards. But the litter is wastefully used, the manure less valuable, and the amount of cartage greater.
The question of rain falling in a year, on a yard 50 ft. by 40 ft., at 25 inches per annum, amounts to 25,967 gallons, weighing nearly 116 tons. During heavy rain a large quantity runs off, c-irrying with it the soluble portions of the manure; but after making due allowance for evaporation, there will remain many tons absorbed by the straw, costing nearly Id. per ton if carted a quarter of a
• The cocoa-nut matting used by Mr. Horsfall in his cow s-alls may be found serviceable by ether farmers who, as in his ease, are situated in neighborhoods where straw is both dear and scarce. It would not, however, be used to the same advantage for steers as for cows.— P. H. F.
mile.* In covered yards the dung is concentrated ; it is never washed; and cartage—that costsy item—is reduced to a minimum.
The quantity of straw required to keep open yards in a comfortable state, depends of course on the weather; and also on the kinds of food given to the stock. Turnips and green food increase the secrttion of urine, and litter is needed in proportion. /
In ordinary years, and in open yards, with she ds, SO head of stock require, as litter, 300 tons of straw in nine months, from September 1st to June 1st. This reckoning supposes ten horses to be kept in the stable, whose litter is thrown daily into the yards; the rest being cows and fattening cattle. The amount of straw uted daily per head is 48 lbs., or twice as much as is required under shelter.
It is stated in an excellent paper on manure, in " Morton's Cyclopedia," that 20 lbs, of straw per day are required to litter an ox, in a box containing 100 square feet. This agrees with the quantity used in my own boxes, in each of which I find, after six months' fatting, 8 tons of dung, 6 tons 8 cwt. of which are derived from tho ox, and 1 ton 12 cwt from the litter f About 24 lbs. per head are used in the covered yards, which are occasionally treated to a dose from the stabe tank.
Fifty head of beast, fattened in covered yards, will produce in six months—
Voided by the animals s 325
Litter (24 lbs. per head daily) 100 nearly.
425 tons of dung, fit to plow into the ground at once.
* This cost of Id. per ion is thus estimated:
2 men to fill 36 tons 3 8
5 horses and 4 carts (a trace-horse being employe J to drag the load on to
the heap) at 2s. 6<f 12 6
2 lads to drive 1 8
1 man at the heap 3 2
t Mr. Lawes informs me that he takes from his horse boxes, of the same size, 6 tons in 6 months. The one statement corroborates the other, or rather Mr. Lawes shows quite as small a decrease as I should have anticipated from the horse being out at work during so many hours. As far as I could asoertain, the supply of straw given to the horse averaged quite as much as 20 lbs. per day ; and if this be the case, the horse would contribute about two thirds as much as the ox to make up 6 tons.—P. H. F.
525 tons of mixture, to be carted to a heap and fermented. This is exclusive of a great weight of water.*
In six months' fatting of 50 head of calte, in covered yards, the amount of straw saved is therefore 100 tons; worth, at Mr. Horsfall's estimate, 35s. per ton, to convert into butter and beef!
I conclude this part of the subject by observing, that the proper use of straw as litter is, to provide a comfortable bed, and to absorb the excrements of the stock. These conditions can only be fully secured when the bed on which the animals lie is covered.
STRAW AS AN ARTICLE OF FOOD.
All cattle will eat a certain quantity of straw if they can get it. The calf, who knows no stint, nevertheless, chews straw in his pen, and the pampered medal ist at Baker Street, or Bingley Hall, astonishes wondering citizens by condescending to eat a portion of his bed.
Nor is this an abnormal condition of things. Any one who will visit those beautiful southern counties, celebrated by Cobbett in his " Rural Rides," where picturesque little homesteads are dotted about the country, and the sound of the flail may yet be heard, will find the fatting cattle standing by turns at the barn door, disposing of each choice handful as it is put forth, and when duly satisfied retiring to the shed 'to chew the cud, showing every sign of content and enjoyment. |
The yards of the smaller farmers, as yet untouched by modern innovation, often display an interesting picture of neatness and economical contrivance. That look of comfort pervades them, which is of the first consequence to the well-being of stock, and without which the " Tables of Nutrition will be studied in vain.
* The exact weight of water left in the dung cannot easily be estimated, as a portion evaporates and some runs off; but if 116 tons per annum full on a yard 50 feet by 40 feet, and if eight such yards are needed for 50 head of stock, and if the dung be exposed during 6 months of average rain-fall, the 525 tons of dung will be soaked by 464 tons of water —H. E.
+ This picture belongs to the poetry of agriculture. No doubt the best-fed beast delights in an cccanional lock of straw, which doubtless is of great service, directly to digestion, and indirectly to nutrition; but he likes it as the citizen does bis plain boiled potato with hit ttcak, or the northern tourist his thin oatmeal cake, or single sauoerfull of porridge with cream. But our author shows plainly, further on, that he does not overrate straw as the mainstay of a dietary, nor does he seem to consider the natural form of straw to be the most available form for the general purposes of nutrition. The hint on "comfort" which follows is a word in season.— P.H. F.
The same stock in open yards will produce—
Voided by the animals
Litter (48 lbs. daily)
The analyses appended to this paper show that straw of various kinds contains rather more of the muscle 'and flesh producing substances, and considerably more of those which furnish heat and fat, than turnips. A ton of straw contains more food than a ton of roots. But if cattle are fed on the latter alone they will thrive,* and on the former store stock will barely, under any circumstances, retain their condition. Thin proves nothi g s to comparative value, but it proves that the elements of nutrition must not only exist, but they must exist in an available form.
An ox fed on oil-cake alone would shortly die, because the elements of nutritiun would not be presented to him in an available form. But it does not follow that oil-cake presented in some other form could not be digested. The same applies to straw; and, indeed, we should be led to conclude, from the fact of an ox requiring so much bulk in his food, that straw might be employed to supply that need.
Straw is a cheap article with which to distend the stomach, and we ought to use it in just such proportions as we find, by experience, it can be profitably used, as a substitute for other and more expensive food. There are two main elements in our calculation: cost of food, and value of beef produced. There is another: value of the manure. But although nitrog-i ous and other elements are worth something as manure, they are worth more in the shape of meat. Cattle should be fed, therefore, so that as little as possible goes into the manure. In other words, the food should be given in such a form that the animal can appropriate the maximum of its most valuable constituents.
There are few farmers who do not use straw to some extent as a substitute for some portion of the more costly articles of diet. Perhaps its more general use, in this way, is as food for store cattle in combination with roots. If 20 lbs. of straw and 1 cwt. of roots cause an ox to thrive as fast as 2 cwt. of roots, then there will be a gain to the feeder by using the former.
Cost of 2 cwt. of roots at 7s. 6d. per ton = 0 9
Cost of 1 cwt. of roots = 4£ )
And 20 lbs. of straw ot 11. per ton = nearly 2| ) »
Gain 0 2|
This is a saving of 26£ per cent, nearly.
It is a common plan in \ razing districts, where roots are scarce, to feed store cattle on about 20 lbs. of straw and 3 lbs. of bean meal. I have found them do better on straw, with roots instead of meal, even when the supply of roots did not exceed i cwt. per head per day. Cattle wintered on straw and meal only become "hide bound" with staring coats.
* Surely not alone 1 When was this ever put to the proof? Farmers, talking in a loose way, may have boasted of fatting beasts on turnips alone, but this was most probably effected in well littered yards ; so that they spoke taking no account of the straw consumed in addition the value of 'which, as an auxiliary, is sufficiently indicated in the previous page.—P. H. F.