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The few ounces of dry matter which the human body requires daily will hardly be missed from the vast stores of the earth, if fertility is conserved agreeable with nature's laws. If the rocks do not give up their stores fast enough to keep up the slight necessary drain on the fertility, then we will dig in the bowels of the earth for the lacking minerals, and set the microbes round about the clover roots, and make for them a fit dwelling place in the mellow soil, so that they may seize upon and combine the nitrogen of the air, thereby saving the land from barrenness.
There is not time to go into all the details of the better methods by which advancement is to be made, but some of the more common ones might be enumerated. Labor and fertility should be concentrated on the better lands, and those which cannot be cultivated at a profit under present conditions should be left for pasturage and forestry. It is certainly the part of wisdom to give back to the forests their own, and it is no reproach to agriculture to acknowledge that we have made mistakes. Starting, then, from the new basis, we are to do those things which are difficult, and produce those things which are high priced, and which require the maximum of skill and the minimum of toil. More clear money can be realized from a rod of mushrooms than from five acres of corn, provided the requisite knowledge is applied to their production. Mushrooms are seventy-five cents, corn one cent, per pound. Butter at five cents weighs sixteen ounces to the pound, at thirty cents it weighs no more. Quality, not quantity, is what is now lacking. Better quality means better skill, fuller knowledge, more and better food for plant and animal. As no nation has ever become highly refined without a varied and appetizing diet, so no animal or plant has ever been improved without improving its food and environment.
The food supply with which we have to do lies, primarily, mainly in the soil ; the problem is, how to get it out so that it may rotate around the circle of plant, animal and soil. If this be so, then our first study must be how to make the elements in the soil available, and, I may say, palatable as well. The plant asks for food, and we too often give it clods and stones; it asks for a fine, fairly compact soil, and we give hard-pan or ashy looseness. Water cannot rise and fall in the one, because of the few capillary channels; nor in the other, because the channels are too large. It asks for a full ration, and is given but half.
Suppose we go to some primitive fertile forest, where the axe and firebrand have not made havoc, and where halfcivilized man“ with gun and dog impatient at the shot," has not desolated the field, and study the evidences of Nature's obedience to law, written in soil and plant. Countless plants both great and small furnish food for birds and beasts innumerable. The rich, fine, compact soil, filled with decayed and decaying vegetable matter, covered during the winter, furnishes the ideal conditions for plant growth. Here all refuse material is husbanded and used for production the succeeding year, and is as unlike the liquid streams of manure which escape from flooded barnyards and neglected manure heaps as the practices of husbandry are unlike the laws of agriculture.
With plough and cultivator and right to dominion, with God-given and God-like powers, knowledge and skill, we are to begin the work of improvement. We are to select the best and destroy the poorest; this is the law. to do more: we are to make that which was best, better; we are to assist, accelerate and direct the laws of evolution. We are to command with understanding, in order that we may be obeyed with alacrity. We are here to make things more comfortable for plant, animal and man, to prepare the way
for that which is to follow; we are to waste nothing, but are to enter into our usufruct right to all the earth, in order that all that is worthy may have abundant opportunity to arrive at its best estate. How are plants and animals to be improved, if not by destroying the poorer and by making it more comfortable for the better? This is nature's mode in forest and on prairie.
Have we reached the limit of profitable improvement? Is eleven and one-tenth bushels of wheat per acre, in the United States, in 1889, the most profitable yield ? Is twenty-seven bushels of corn per acre the limit of the law of production of the most common cereal in the country? On 78,019,651 acres, 2,112,892,000 bushels of corn! It must strike a
student of political economy that there could not have been much economy of that American boy's legs, when he traveled in many cases thirty miles for each acre of corn, of which the fathers are so proud.
How many farmers of this State have made an intelligent effort in the last five years to improve the seeds of their leading crops? Are we not prone to employ some one else to do this high-class labor for us, and to be content to pay them one thousand per cent more than ordinary prices, for the little sack of seed which may or may not be better than the “ scrub” variety we already possess? You will perceive that I am striking out many lands; if the stakes have not been set straight, we shall have to go back and line them up later.
It appears to me that, as a people, we have made but little effort to discover the laws which govern our profession. Our conditions until recently have been peculiar, and abnormally favorable, so that we have naturally gone on practicing imitative agriculture. Too many of us have
. milked the cows as long as they chose to give milk, instead of commanding them to give milk as long as we chose. The manure of the animals, which is worth half the cost of the food fed to them, we still continue to baptize under the eaves, because our ancestors did. We wait each succeeding spring for opportunity to thrust in the plough, when we should have made opportunity by thrusting in drain tile.
If we get on well in the future, we will be compelled to go according to law; which is, in agriculture, “Science practically applied within the sphere of the law which governs it.” The locomotive engineer runs his engine and train according to the law of railways; if he proceeds according to the law of steamboats, and attempts to cross a river without a bridge, he will come to grief. How many farmers are practicing better methods, or are planting better varieties of corn, than did Capt. John Smith ? Some are, but many are doing hardly as well as he did. He imitated the Indians, we feebly imitate Smith. Our occupation is to produce growth and advanced development, and this is but change in forms of matter according to the laws of life. The change from dead earthy matter to living plant forms is most perfect where fine, compact, rich soil is found. If one or more of these factors are wanting, nature requires that a second or third rate plant be grown; but the farmer can only afford to raise the highest class of plants. How nicely nature selects and adapts herself to the prevailing conditions: the cat-tail for the marsh, the oak for the hillside, the mullein and daisy for the old worn-out sheep pasture! All these hints should lead us to study more closely nature's modes of action ; having learned these, we are to make them more useful and more effective, by removing or arresting antagonistic forces, in order that the operation of the law may expend its full energy in producing the most liseful results.
We hurl maledictions at the poor cows, which constitute more than one-half of the whole number; this is all wrong, for they are just as good as they can be; the leopard cannot change its spots, nor the dairy cow its udder. Man, who was given dominion over every living thing, must make the changes, if they are made. All plants and animals are simply the living registers of the average knowledge and skill of those who have propagated them. Nothing can grow better without improving the conditions under which it exists. If better animals are purchased with which to improve the poorer, and the conditions of the offspring are not made better than were the conditions of the poorer variety, they will take the first opportunity to adjust themselves to their environment; or, in other words, they will sink to the level of their poorer ancestors, and the grade will become a " scrub." Just here is found the cause of so many failures. The attempt is made to breed better animals according to the law of the poorer ones.
Our best animals are the progeny of those which served in a very imperfect manner the wants of civilized man; they were made better by food, comfort and habit. If the dairyman feeds his cows on timothy hay and a small quantity of dry old grain, limits their drink, and exercises them vigorously for two or three hours per day, in a few generations he can have cows, steers and heifers which at short distance will rival the speed of well-bred horses. Is it wise to conduct the dairy according to the laws of the trotting stable? Suppose
the law of the dairy is applied to the breeding of thoroughbreds, – the animals given all the clover hay they will eat, supplemented with a goodly allowance of green silage, pumpkins, mangolds, malt sprouts, brewers' grains, cotton, linseed and Buffalo meal, and sixty to eighty pounds of warm water per day, and are given little or no exercise, but coaxed to spend most of their time on comfortable beds, which would run the faster, the thoroughbred reared according to the law of the dairy, or the steer reared according to the law of the thoroughbred ?
It has been proven, time and again, that comfort or congenial conditions, as well as food, play an important not only in the direction of the growth, but in the character of the living tissues. Tough or tender celery or asparagus, beef and mutton, according to condition and nutrients, can be produced at pleasure.
No less potent are the laws of habit; the brain and the hand trained to work in one direction adapt themselves with difficulty to unaccustomed lines of work; the type-setter makes but an indifferent carpenter, and the book-keeper a poor farmer. The dairy cow is an unprofitable beefer, and the beefer an unprofitable milker; the thoroughbred is restive at slow, hard work, while the draft horse is a failure when used according to the law of roadsters.
We fird, then, that, while size and proportion have much to do with the economical direction of energy, habit has
The cells of which the living tissues are composed, having been long accustomed to using their energies in a few well-defined directions, do not respond quickly when directed into new and unaccustomed channels. The breeds which have been bred for long periods for special purposes have made a law unto themselves, and that, the very best, consistent with the food, conditions and habits of themselves and their ancestors ; that is to say, they have grown just as good as they could. How may they be improved ? By improving all that goes to make up their lives, and by taking advantage of the results of the knowledge of the wise and successful who have preceded us. Let us not be deceived into the belief that all we have to do is to seek, in some far-off country, one or more superior animals to accomplish our purposes.