1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Grasses, etc.

(Part 62)


Grasses, etc.

Under this general heading we propose to include what we have to say concerning the grasses, whether natural or cultivated, and those other crops which are grown expressly for the sake of the cattle food yielded by their leaves and stems. This kind of farm produce is either consumed where it grows by depasturing with live stock, or mown and given to them in a green state under cover, or dried and stored for after use. It thus embraces the cultivation of these crops, and their disposal, whether by grazing, soiling, or haymaking. Following this method, we shall first of all briefly describe the cultivation of those pasture and forage crops which are of best repute in British husbandry.

Tillage lands are now everywhere cropped according to some settled rotation, in which the well-recognised principles of the alternate husbandry are carried out according to the actual circumstances of each locality. With rare exceptions, such lands at stated intervals bear a crop of the clovers or cultivated grasses. As these are usually sown in mixture, especially when intended for pasturage, the resulting crop is technically called "seeds." As it is of importance to have the land clean and in good heart when such crops are sown, they usually follow the grain crop which immediately succeeds the fallowing process. Being for the most part of a lower habit of growth, these can be sown and grown along with white corn crops without injury to either. When the latter are harvested, the former, being already established in the soil, at once occupy it, and grow apace. By this arrangement there is therefore secured an important saving both of time and tillage. Barley being the crop amongst which the seeds of the clovers and grasses are most frequently sown, and amongst which, upon the whole, they thrive best, it is customary to sow these small seeds at the same time as the barley, and to cover them in with a single stroke of the common harrows. This is erroneous practice, both as regards the time and manner of sowing these small seeds. We have already mentioned, in the proper place, that barley should be sown as early in March as possible. Now, if the clovers, &c., are sown as early as this, they are almost certain to get so forward as both to rob the barley of its due share of nourishment, and, when it is reaped, to bulk so largely in the sheaves as to retard their drying, and aggravate the risk of their being ill harvested. It is found, too, that if there be plants enough, the clovers stand the winter better, and ultimately yield a better cop, when, at the reaping of the grain crop, they are puny-looking than when they are very strong. It is better, therefore, to delay the sowing of the small seeds till the end of April or beginning of May. As to the manner of covering them in, we have to remark that the smallness of these seeds and their mode of germinating alike require that they receive only the very slightest covering of soil. This important fact is so well illustrated in the following table, which exhibits the results of some carefully-conducted experiments, reported to the Highland Society by Mr Stirling of Glenbervie, that we shall here quote it:-

"Column I. contains the scientific names.
Column II. contains the average weight of the seeds per bushel in pounds.
Column III. contains the average number of seeds in one ounce.
Column IV. shows, in inches, the depth of cover at which the greatest number of seeds brairded.
Column V. shows, in inches, the depth of cover at which only about half the number of seeds brairded.
Column VI. shows, in inches, the least depth of cover at which none of the seeds brairded.

== TABLE ==

"The results in the three last columns of the preceding table were obtained by sowing the seed in finely-sifted dark loam, which was kept moist throughout the process of germination, to which is attributable the circumstance of so many of the sorts vegetating best(as shown in Column IV.) without covering, and under full exposure to the light. The combination of such favourable circumstances of soil and moisture can, however, seldom be calculated upon in field sowing, therefore a covering of mould for the seeds, however slight, is always advisable. But it will be seen, by the results in Column VI., that a great number of seeds must be inevitably lost from over-depth of covering, unless the ground be in all cases carefully prepared and pulverized before sowing either the natural or artificial grasses." [Footnote 371-1]

From this is evident that to scatter these tiny seeds over a cloddy surface, and then to harrow it, may more aptly be called burying than sowing them. The following is a more rational mode of proceeding:-When these seeds are to be sown among winter wheat, it is expedient to begin by using the horse-hoe (supposing the wheat to have been drilled), as well to loosen the surface and produce a kindly bed for the seeds as to destroy weeds. In the case of broadcasted wheat, a turn of thee harrows secures the same end. In the case of the more recently sown barley all that is needed is to smooth the surface with the one-horse roller. Over the ground thus prepared the small seed are distributed by a broadcast sowing-machine which covers at once a space of 15 or 18 feet in width. The covering is then effected by simply rolling with the smooth roller, or by dragging over the surface the chain-harrow, which may either be attached to the sowing-machine or to a separate frame; or by using Cambridge’s or Crosskill’s roller, with a very light chain harrow attached to it. On clay soils the chain-web is to be preferred; but on loose soils Crosskill’s roller imparts a beneficial firmness, and, with its tail-piece of chain-web to fill up the indentations, gives an accuracy of finish which rivals the neatness of a newly-raked garden plot. We have long regarded this covering in of grass seeds as thee most important use to which Crosskill’s valuable implement is put. The only drawback to it is, that it makes a heavy demand on the horse-power of the farm at a pressing season. As it can only be worked in dry weather, it is advisable, when the land is in trim, to work it double tides by means of a relay of horses. This mode of procedure is alike applicable to the sowing of mixed clovers and grasses, and to that of the clovers alone, and is the course usually pursued in sowing for one or two years’ "seeds."

When it is intended to lay down arable land to grass for several years, or to restore it to permanent pasture or meadow, it is always advisable to sow the seeds without a corn crop. This doubtless involves and additional cost at the outset, but it is usually more than repaid by the enhanced value of the pasture thus obtained. To grow the grasses well, the soil should be pulverized to the depth of 3 or 4 inches only, and be full of manure near the surface. There is no better way of securing these conditions than by first consuming a crop of turnips on the ground by sheep folding, and then pulverizing the surface by means of the grubber, harrow, and roller, without ploughing it.

Much diversity of practice exists in regard to the kinds and quantities of seeds used in sowing down with a grain crop. In Scotland from 2 to 4 pecks of ryegrass seeds, with from 10 to 14 lb of those of red, white, alsike, and yellow clovers, in about equal proportions, is a common allowance for an acre. A pound or two of field parsley is occasionally added, or rather is substituted for an equal weight of clover seeds. The natural grasses are seldom sown, and only when the land is to be laid to permanent pasture. In England ryegrass is in much less repute than in Scotland, the clovers being there very generally sown unmixed, and always in larger quantities than we have just named-20 lb per acre being a common allowance. There can be little doubt that both these plans are faulty.

When a good natural pasture is carefully examined, it is found to consist of an amazing number of different grasses and other plants. Not only does a natural pasture contain a great variety of herbage at any one time, but it has its plants which replace each other at different seasons; and some also which are prominent only in wet years and others in dry ones. The provision thus made for affording at all times such a variety of food as is at once grateful and wholesome to the animals which browse on it, and for keeping the ground fully occupied under every diversity of seasons and weather, is truly admirable, and the study of it well fitted to interest and instruct the husbandman. The importance of this subject is beginning to be appreciated by agriculturists; as one proof of which we now see our leading seedsmen regularly advertising for sale an extensive list of grasses and other pasture plants. Most of them also, for the guidance of their customers, point out the kinds and quantities per acre which are appropriate forr diversity of soils and other circumstances. We refer, as an example of this, to the manual of Messrs Lawson of Edinburgh, who have devoted much attention to this subject.:-

The following Tables will be found useful:-


== TABLE ==

"For sheep pastures it will often be found advantageous to add from 2 to 4 lb per acre of parsley seed to the above mixtures; and for pastures in certain upland districts established practice will justify the introduction of an additional pound or two of yellow clover (Medicago lupulina), together with from 2 to 3 lb of ribgrass (Plantago lanceolata). And for very heavy as well as for peaty soils, 1 to 1 _ lb of Phleum pretense may be added advantageously, both for hay and pasture.


== TABLE ==

"In certain cases the following additions to Table II. May be made-namely, 1 to 2 lb each of Festuca rubra and Poa pratensis on dry sandy soils; 1 lb of Achillea Millefolium, and 1 to 2 lb of Petrosalinum sativum in sheep pastures; 2 lb chicory (Cichorium Intybus) in cattle pastures, 6 or 10 lb of Onobrychis sativa and 4 to 6 lb of Poterium Sanguisorba (burnet) in dry calcareous soils. When a crop of hay is taken the first year, both the ryegrasses (Lolium) may be increased by a third; and 2 lb of Trifolium pretense added. Also _ to 1 lb perr acre of Anthoxanthum odoratum when occasional crops of hay are to be taken." [Footnote 372-1]

When land has been thus sown for a permanent pasture, care should be taken not to allow a sheep to se foot upon it for the first two years, for if these industrious nibblers are allowed to crop the tender clover seedlings before they are fully established in the soil, they are certain to remove the crown from most of them, and thus ruin the pasture at the very outset. Innumerable instances of failure in the attempt to obtain good permanent pastures are entirely owing to this premature grazing by sheep. The first growth should therefore be mown, care being taken to do so before any of the grasses have flowered. Then roll repeatedly, and stock with young cattle only until the second season is over.

Having described the means to be used for obtaining good pastures, let us now consider how to use them profitably. The art of grazing embraces the practical solution of two important problems, viz., 1st, How to obtain the greatest amount and best quality of herbage from any given pasture; and 2d, How to consume this herbage by live stock so as to make the most of it. The grazier has even to keep in view what is best for his land and what is best for his stock; and must take his measures throughout the entire season with an eye to both these objects. As regards the first of them, experience yields the following maxims for his guidance:-

Never to stock his pastures in spring until genial weather is fairly established.

Never to allow the grasses to run to seed, nor parts of a field to be eaten bare, and others to get rank and coarse.

Duly to spread about the droppings of the cattle, to remove stagnant water, and to extirpate tall weeds.

Some time about midsummer to make a point of having the pasture eaten so close that no dead herbage or "fog-gage" shall be left on any part of it.

In what more immediately concerns the welfare of the live stock he is in like manner taught in stocking his pastures-

To adapt the stock, as regards breed, size, condition, and numbers, to the actual capabilities of the pasturage.

To secure to the stock at all times a full bite of clean, fresh-grown, succulent herbage.

In moving stock from field to field to take care that it be a change tto better fare-not to worse.

Pasturage consists either of natural herbage or of "seeds." In the south-eastern counties of Scotland there is little good old grass; all the really fertile soils being employed in arable husbandry, with the exception of small portions around the mansions of landowners. The pasturage consists, therefore, for the most part of the cultivated clovers and grasses. Comparatively few cattle are there fattened on grass; the object of graziers being rather to stock their pastures with young and growing animals, and to get them into forward condition for being afterwards fattened upon turnips. The grazing season is there also much shorter than in England, old grass seldom affording full bite for a well-conditioned bullock before the middle of May, or later than the middle of September. It is quite otherwise in England, various parts of which abound with old grass lands of the very richest description, on which oxen of the largest size can be fattened rapidly. These, in many cases, admit of being stocked towards the end of April, and under judicious management continue to yield excellent pasturage for half the year. When stocked with cattle in fresh condition, two sets or "runs" are not unfrequently fattened in such pastures in the same season. These grass-fed cattle begin to come to market early in July, and for four or five months thereafter constitute the chief supplies of beef in our markets.

Cattle already well-fleshed are alone suitable for turning into these rich old pastures. When this is attended to, and care taken not to over-stock the pastures until they yield a full bite, the progress of the oxen will usually be very rapid. It is now customary to hasten this progress by giving about 4 lb of oilcake to each beast daily. The dust and crumbs being sifted out, the bits of cake are strewn upon the clean sward, from whence they are quickly and carefully gleaned by the cattle. This is usually a profitable practice. It brings the beasts forward rapidly, improves their appearance and handling, and, besides enriching the land, admits of about twelve per cent., more numbers being fed upon a given acreage. These choice old pastures are usually occupied in combination with others of inferior quality. The most forward lot of cattle having been fattened and sold off from the former, they are ready to receive a fresh stock. If it is contemplated to get them also fattened before the expiry of the season, they are not put on the best land instantly on the first lot being sold; but a crowd of sheep or store-beasts being turned upon it for a few days, the existing herbage is cleared off, and the pasture (Anglice) "laid in" or (Scottice) "hained," until a fresh clean growth fits it for receiving a suitable number of the best cattle from the other pastures. It is inexpedient to graze sheep promiscuously with cattle on these best lands, as they pick out the sweetest of the herbage, and so retard the fattening of the oxen. Neither do we approve of horses among such cattle; not so much from their interfering with their pasturage as from the disturbance which they usually cause by galloping about. This does not apply to the draught-horses of a farm, which are usually too tired and hungry when turned out from the yoke to mind anything but food and rest, but it is better thrift to soil them; and frolicsome, mischievous colts are unsuitable companions for sedate, portly oxen. In favourable seasons, the grass often grows more rapidly than an ordinary stocking of cattle can consume it, in which case they select the best places, and allow the herbage on some parts to get rank and coarse. If these rank places are neglected until the herbage gets dry and withered, the finer plants die out, the coarser-growing grasses usurp the ground, and the pasturage is injured for future years. To check this evil in time, these neglected places should be mown, and the grass either brought to the homestead for soiling, or left to dry where it grew; in which state the cattle will eat up most of it, and be the better for it, especially if their bowels are unduly relaxed by the succulence of the growing herbage. The remarks now made apply equally to all old pastures employed for the fattening of cattle, although not of the first quality. All that is required is, to observe a due proportion between the capabilities of the pasturage and the breed and size of the cattle. A pasture that will fatten a fifty-stone ox may be quite inadequate for one of seventy, and the hardy Galloway or West Highlander will thrive apace where the heavier and daintier shorthorn could barely subsist.

With the exception of the best class of rich old pastures, grass is usually consumed to greater profit by a mixed stock of sheep and store cattle than by one kind of animals only. This holds true both as regards the natural herbage of pastures or water meadows, and cultivated grasser, clovers, or sainfoin. When old pastures and mixed "seeds" are grazed chiefly by sheep, the same rules apply that have already been noticed in connection with cattle. The herbage should if possible be fully established in a growing state, and so far advanced as to afford a full bite, before the pasture is stocked in spring. If the sheep are turned into it prematurely, their close nibbling hinders the plants from ever getting into a state of rapid growth and productiveness, and necessity imposed upon the stock of roaming over the whole field, and keeping long afoot before they can glean enough to appease their appetite, is prejudicial alike to them and to their pasture. The prudent grazier endeavours to avoid these evils by having stores of Swedes or mangolds to last until the full time at which he may reckon on having good pasturage. In distributing the flocks to different fields, the best pasturage is allotted to those that are in most forward condition. It is advantageous to have the pastures so subdivided that one portion may be double stocked while another is rested. By frequently removing the stock from the one portion to the other the herbage of each by turns gets time to grow and freshen, and is more relished by the sheep, and more wholesome than when the whole is tainted by their uninterrupted occupation of it. In the case of clover, trefoil, sainfoin, and water-meadows, this principle is yet more fully carried out by folding the flock and giving them a fresh piece daily. The crop is thus eaten close off at once in daily portions, and the plants being immediately thereafter left undisturbed, and receiving over the whole area their due share of the excrements of the flock, grow again more rapidly than when subjected to constant browsing under a system of promiscuous grazing. This plan of folding sheep upon such crops has the same advantages to recommend it as soiling, only that it is cheaper to shift the fold daily than to mow and cart home the forage and carry back the manure. In the case of water-meadows it is the practice to irrigate them afresh as each crop of grass is fed off. This is attended with considerable risk of the sheep getting tainted with rot, which must be guarded against as much as possible. In the first place, it is well to give them a daily allowance of bran, beans, or cake, and salt; and besides this, to put on this land only such sheep as are nearly ready for the butcher. They will thus fatten very rapidly and be slaughtered before there is time for harm to ensue.

The modes of grazing which we have now described are appropriate for sheep in forward condition. The poorer pastures are usually stocked with nursing ewes and lean sheep bought in from higher grazings. Lambs, both before and after weaning, require clean pastures, and of course frequent changes. If kept on tainted pastures, and of course frequent changes. If kept on tainted pastures, they are certain to become subject to diarrhea, to be stinted in their growth, and to have their constitution so weakened that many of them will die when afterwards put upon turnips. To avoid these evils, they must be frequently moved from field to field. A sufficient number of store cattle must be grazed along with them, to eat up the tall herbage and rank patches avoided by the sheep. After the lambs are weaned, the ewes require to fare rather poorly for a time, and can thus be made use of to eat up the worst pasturage, and the leavings of the young and fattening sheep. When the latter, with the approach of autumn, are put upon aftermath, clover stubbles, rape, cabbages, or turnips, their previous pastures should in succession be thickly stocked by the ewes and other store stock, so as to be eaten bare and then left to freshen and get ready for the ewes by rutting-time, when they require better food. In depasturing sheep on poor soils it is usually highly advantageous to give them a daily allowance of grain or cake in troughs, which must be shifted daily, so as to distribute the manure regularly over the land. By means of this auxiliary food sheep can be fattened on land the herbage of which would not alone suffice for the purpose. It admits also of a larger number of sheep being kept per acre, and of the pasturage being fed off more closely than could otherwise be done. The produce of poor siliceous soils, both in grass and after crops, is much increased by the additional manuring and treading which the consumption of such extraneous food upon them occasions.

It is always advantageous to have pastures provided with a shed, under which the stock can find shelter from sudden storms, or from the attacks of insects and the scorching rays of the summer’s sun. When such sheds are regularly strewed with dried peat or burnt clay, much valuable compost for top-dressing the pasture can be obtained. The dung of the cattle, thus secured and applied, benefits the pastures more than that which is dropped upon it by the animals. Such clots require to be spread about from time to time.

The temperate climate of Britain is so peculiarly favourable to the growth of the grasses and other pasture plants, and to the keeping of live stock with safety in the open fields for a large part of the year, that the practice of consuming these crops by depasturing, as already described, has hitherto been decidedly preferred to soiling. One consequence of this is, that forage crops have been comparatively neglected. There is now, however, a growing conviction among agriculturists that it is more convenient to keep neat cattle and horses, during summer, in yards or loose boxes, and to feed them with succulent forage, mown and brought to them daily as it is needed, than to turn them adrift to browse in the fields. The pasturing plan is preferred by many because it involves the least labour, and is alleged to be more healthful to the animals. In behalf of the soiling plan it is urged that a given space of ground under green crop keeps nearly twice as much stock, when its produce is mown and consumed elsewhere, than when it is constantly nibbled and trodden upon; that housed cattle being exempted from the vicissitudes of the weather, the attacks of insects, mutual disturbance, and the labour of gathering their food, eat less and yet fatten more rapidly than they do at pasture; that more good is gotten of their excrements when mixed with litter and trodden down under cover, than when dropped about in the open fields; and that land from which a green crop has been mown, when ploughed up, is freer of weeds and (other things being equal) bears a better corn-crop than that which has been pastured. It is a further recommendation to the soiling plan that it admits of oilcake or meals being administered along with green food with a precision and economy that is unattainable in the pasture fields. There being so many and such cogent reasons in favour of the practice of soiling, we may warrantably anticipate that it will in future be much more generally adopted. It is proper, however, to notice that the success of this system is absolutely dependent on the following conditions:_ The green food must be mown and brought home at least twice a-day, owing to the rapidity with which it ferments when put together; it must be given to the stock not less than four times daily, and only in such quantity at each feed as they can eat clean up in the interval betwixt meals; they must have constant and ample supplies of pure water and of fresh litter; and, in particular, matters must be so arranged that there shall be an unfailing supply of green forage of the best quality through the entire season. This is accomplished either by successive cuttings of one kind of crop from the same ground _as of irrigated meadow or Italian ryegrass_or by a combination of such crops as naturally come to maturity in succession, or are made to do so by a sequence of sowings. From what has been said it is obvious that soiling can only be carried out successfully with a moderately good soil and climate, a liberal use of manure, and skill and foresight on the part of the farmer. With these, however, its results will usually be highly satisfactory. It is peculiarly adapted for clay soils, on which the culture of root crops is attended with much difficulty, and where there is, therefore, abundance of litter for use in summer, and much need for the soiling system to get it converted into good manure.


371-1 Morton's Cyclopaedia of Agriculture -- article "Grasses," vol.i, p. 999.

372-1 Morton's Cyclopaedia of Agriculture -- article "Grasses," vol.i, p. 1000.

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