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Under the general designation of Grass Lands is included land of every kind— from the richest grazing ground, marshes, meadows and uplands, down to the improved and unimproved wastes and moorlands. A preliminary glance at the cultivated grass lands may enable us the better to ascertain their relative condition and determine as to their future management. In doing so we first turn to lands of the best class.
Grazing Ground.—This is known as " The Old Grass Land," by which term it is properly designated. It bounds in the Midland Counties, in some parts of the Eastern and Northern Counties, as also in the Western CouniieB, and the marshy districts of the whole island. It is on these lands we must depend for our first supplies of animal food in the early summer months. But even these lands are frequently of two distinct sorts, viz: (1) the really strong Ox Land resting upon cool subsoils; and (2) the second-class lands resting upon porous subsoils, or placed within southern aspects; the latter are frequently used for mixed grazing, either for the second stage of fattening cattle, growing steers, dairy farming, or fattening early lambs—the choice being governed by the holding.
The Ox Land consists of that portion of the farm which has been under natural grass form time immemorial. Those plots are the most luxuriant which have the greatest depth of soil — the period of production varying according to aspect, and the character of the subsoil on which they rest. For instance, upon gravelly subsoils the grasses are exceedingly early in their spiing shoot, and they retain their vigor until impeded by the increased warmth of the summer's sun • they then lie dormant for a while, but rally as the autumn advances, when they again become exceedingly valuable to succeed other pastures situated upon a different description of soil. Pastures resting upon a clay or cold subsoil vary materially in their period of productiveness; they are more backward in the spring, bat progress with the warmth of the summer, and are thus "in season" during the hottest months. We rarely, if ever, find this class of land assisted by top-dressings of artificial or other manures; in fact, the great value usually placed upon them arises, firstly, from their natural productive powers, and, secondly, from their cheap maintenance, as regards both labor and manures.
The grasses upon the best rich Marsh Lands are really indigenous productions, formed upon an accumulated mass of vegetable mould, and are of themselves sufficiently rich without the aid of manures; still they require to be kept in proper bounds by close feeding, so that every blade may be allowed to see the sun at least once a year. Where this is not attended to, an accumulation of rough grass takes place, and the herbage becomes changed in character and less nutritive in quality. The importance of assisting Nature, rather than marring her works, is thus most forcibly shown.
The Shebp or Middle Class Lands, whioh are usually stocked with both sheep and cat'le, are of two classes, arising from a difference of soil; indeed, it will be found that the herbage upon dry soils, as compared with that on moist soils, is more rapid in its growth, especially in the spring, though it does not " hold out" equally long. These lands are both simply and cheaply managed; but no grassland pays better for attention than the early lands, as their produce comes to hand at a time whe.i most required, after a long and tedious winter.
Pastures which rest upon flat land, of moderate quality, upon cold bottoms, which are frequently undrained.or upon " worn out" fields, are much more backward; they are therefore used as Summering pastures, and in most instances relieve the earlier fields of a part of their stock about Midsummer-day, when the two best months are gone. The retention of these lands may be considered a useful arrangement upon a farm, but will be found to cause disappointment if estimated by their rent-paying qualities; for though their management is simple and uncostly, yet no improvement is going on. It is this class of grass-land that requires mosc outlay and prompt attention. Many of our marsh-land districts contained the best thick-bottomed sheep pastures, such as have at some former period been rescued from the sea, or are found within reach of the salt-water spray, upon which sheep are found to be exceedingly healthy—a fact indicating the importance of salt, both as a fertilizer for pasture-lands and a promoter of health in cattle and sheep.
Meadow-cround varies with the soil, situation, and climate of the district wherein it is found. The character of the herbage also differs, as it is closely governed by the mode of treatment pursued. Even the aspect of a meadow has much to do with early productiveness and the quality of produce. This portion of the farm is usually under " the scythe," and, as the winter supply of fodder greatly depends on it, it receives a degree of attention seldom paid to other grasslands, but nevertheless necessary to the carrying on of certain fixed plans in the farm-yard. There is, however, such a thing as disproportionate attention or neglect, for in nearly every district we find the greater part of the perennial grasses to be the spontaneous yield of Nature, and it is a very important question in what way the generous productiveness of Nature may be most advantageously stimulated.
As the selection of meadow-lands is governed by the size and character of the farm, care should be taken that they are so placed as to be favorable to early growth; that they are conveniently situated for harvesting and manuring; and that they do not touch on the later lands—usually situated in the valleys, and along the lower slopes of the farm—which succeed the upland early meadows, and produce an abundance of hay, usually carried to the homestead: a convenient practice, and not costly, as this class of land rarely, if ever, gets any return in the shape of manure.
The Real Marshes.—Some of these have been brought to a surprising pitch of excellence, by judicious outlays of capital, in draining, in improved outfalls, and in the judicious management of the surface; while others are yet lying as useless swamps for wild fowl, and continuous pests to the surrounding neighborhood.
Moorlands.—There are certain moorlands which are exceedingly useful during the summer months, for depasturing cattle and sheep from certain arable and small farms. When situated in low and comparatively mild districts, they form useful append ig'.s to adjoining farm-. These are usually wihin the reach of common cultivation, but much depends upon their geological formation, on the nature of the subsuil, nnd on the proximity of manure and markets.
In diluting upon the comparative acreage of our grass, arable, and unimproved lands, au accurate statistical account, brought down to the present day, would be exceedingly useful ; for though the importance of grass lands in our humid climate, as also to our national agriculture, is known to many, it is not to all. The prejudices in favor of the " barn-door" are yet great, and in the corn districts almost unsurmountable.
As it is the practice in many parts of England to apply the whole of the manure made upon the farm to the arable lands, enormous advantages are derived from the meadow-lands,'equal in many districts to six loads of manure to every acre of corn. The grass-lands are thus regarded as legitimate sources of plunder to be lavished on the petted tillage fields; yet such a practice greatly lessens the value of the fee-simple of the grass lands, and only serves to illustrate the adage of "robbing Peter to pay Paul." On the face of things, it appears that a reduction of the arable lands, by their conversicn into pasture, would meet the case before us, while every improvement of the present pastures might a;so be made, and should most certainly be carried on. For instance, if we consider the grass-land subject Locallt, we have, in a majoiity of cases, every-day evidence of its " paying better than corn;" that is, where the climate is favorable, end grass can be grown to advantage. If Politically, we have the evidence of the past year before us, that the foreigner can, and will, supply whatever corn or bieadstu&s we require, and not only so, but will take advantage of placing it under "lock" until an advantageous time arrives for bringing it in cottip. tition with home-grown corn in our own market! On the other hand, in the market for produce arising from the grass-lands, we have less competition from the importation of live stock and other perishable commodi ies, which must go at once into consumption. Again, if regarded as a Landlord's Question, there can be no doubt as to the increased and increasing value of grass-land; and if this lemark app'ies generally, it is more particularly applicable to those distiicts where, owing to humidity or other local causes, stock-farming is carried on as a rule.
Pr .cli'Mlly speaking, no occupation can excel that of & grazier; for, though it may not be over profitable, jet his animals perform their own labor, by collecting their fuol; the sheep pays his own shepherd, whilst the hay-crop manures its own land, and, when allowed to do so, affords food for the winter months, only asking fer fine weather, and to be laid up early in the spring! Not so with the arable farmer He must rise early, enter upon all the toils and uncertainties of a farmer's life, and then leave the chances of profit upon his crops to the everchanging elements; for as the wind rules the weather, so the weather rules the harvest Indeed experience tells us that, while supply and demand regulate prices, the coit and uncertainty of production regulate profits. It is therefore worth consideration, even by corn farmers, how far they can change their present course of husbandry so as to have a larger percentage of the farm under artificial grasses. That it would prove a ct rtain rehef to the pocket, the plow, and the land, no doubt can be entertained; for as much good corn would be grown—the pile of wool and quantity of mutton would be increased—and a few young steers mi^ht be run on for wintering.
Whole nations of cultivators have applied themselves to the growth of corn—a task apparently insignificant, but of immense influence on the well-being of the human race; but how far they have succeeded in " growing two blades of grass where but one grew before," is a question not easily determined. Some sixty years ago Arthur Young estimated the best meadow-land to produce from 4 to 6 tons of hay per acre, per annum, at two mowings; and the b t grazing-land in Lincolnshire to feed an ox of 80 stone (14 lbs.), and one large Lincolnshire sheep per acre! In 1861, who has done more? Few only have done as much; for, although most men aim at keeping their grass-land " about up to the mark" of former years, and no more, it is not all who even accomphsh that. Thousands of acres have been reclaimed, drained, and sown with grass, during the last fifty years; but taking the great body of the grass-lands of the kingdom, it is notorious that farmers, for the most part, look at their grass-land as a kind of "fixture," not to be improved. Indeed, whilst every possible exerti in is put forth in favor of corn-farming, and the steam-grubber is tearing its way through the arable clays, not even a roller is used on the permanent grass! Tuere must be a cause for this, and we believe it to arise from the fact, that as the returns from capital laid out in the improvement of pasture-land do not come, back eo directly to the farmer's pocket as those arising from corn, the farmer is doubtful whether it will find its way b.-ick at all! This occurs more particularly under short holdings; for, as the time will not admit of a proper return to a passing tenant, the grass land has to linger on, and be content with what the half-starved ca'tle leave behind them. And yet the rapid increase in our population, the altered state of our labor-market, and the vicissitudes of a fitful climate, all point to the importance of increasing the acreage and making permanent improvements upon the present grass lands, and thus increasing the supplies of animal food during the summer months.
This subject has recently been discussed by the Central Farmers' Club in London, and Mr Owen Wallis, in introducing the question, " By what m. ans can the feeding of stock on pasture land in spring, summer, and autumn, be so increased as to supply the demand of an increasing population?" thus expressed himself: «' With a population rapidly increasing in numbers, and happily also in material
prosperity, the demand for meat has increased to a wonderful extent It is
necessiry, therefore, to see in what way, and to what extent, the quantity of
meat can be increased It is, however, by the extension of our artificial
grasses, the improvement of our permanent pastures, and by calling to our aid the use of oil-cake, meal, and other food (to be consumed upon them), in conjunction with the grasses, that we must look for the chief increase in the supply during the summer months. That the productive powers of our pastures have not kept pace with that of our arable land, is only too apparent. Indeed, the latter has been very commonly manured at the expense of the former! .... I am acquainted with a good deal of land that has the reputation of having been, many years since, much better than it is at the present time. This is caused by the deterioration and waste that is going on, by the yearly abstraction from the soil of phosphates and other substances. Where land is used for dairy purposes, this is unquestionably the case. Hence the marked benefits which accrue from the use of bones in the Cheshire and other dairy districts."
The above remarks, by an eminently practical man, are not only important in themselves, but the discussion which afterwards took place amongst the members (men from all counties), went to the one grand point—that it is high time the grass-lands of England should receive their legitimate attention, and thus not only augment the standard beauties of English agriculture, by correcting those yet neglected nooks, corners, and marshes, which are so offensive to the eye, but also increase the animal food of the people by increasing the natural supplies of young growing animals for the grazing districts.
The hitherto neglected state of so large a portion of the grass-lands of England is certainly a blot which disfigures the face of British agriculture. But, now that so many arable farms are brought to a condition " above par," we may yet see a fashion set in, in favor of the grass-lands. This might speedily be done if the same energy, perseverance, and capital were brought to bear upon it as are bestowed upon the improvement of stock, the dairy, or the arable farming of this country: in other words, were farmers to deal with grass as they have dealt, and are dealing, with corn. Nor would the return be found inferior, although, at the outset, the profit might appear to arrive by a much slower process than in the case of corn-growing. But the term "permanent grass" (not to be plowed) has much to do with this matter; for, in fact, every dressing such land receives ought to enhance the fee simple of the estate.
Practical Deddctions.—In entering upon some details of the effective management or extension of grass lands, it is advisable to treat each subject under its own head, viz., 1, the work of improvement upon our present pastures; and 2, the extension of grass and meadow lands upon the farm. But it may be asked, "Where shall be our starting-point?" Can we advantageously improve our grass-land, and also extend its acreage upon estates situated in different districts? If so, in what way can it be done? To this we answer :—Firstly, The improvement of the present lands may be effected by draining, leveling, top-dressing, and better grazing. Secondly, The extension of pasture-land may be effected by remodeling farms, making equitable arrangements with the tenants, and by the landlord giving a substantially helping hand, with a view to their remaining as permanent pastures upon the estate.
THE IMPROVEMENT OF GRASS-LANDS.
We have already glanced at the varied descriptions of grazing and meadow landB—viz, the best, second best, dry inferior, wet inferior, and moor-lands.