XIII. CULTIVATED CROPS - HERBAGE AND FORAGE CROPS (cont.)
Gorse or Whin. Tussac Grass.
Gorse or Whin
Notwithstanding its formidable spines, the young shoots of this hardy evergreen yield a palatable and nutritious winter forage for horses and cattle. To fit it for this purpose it must be chopped and bruised to destroy the spines. This is sometimes done in a primitive and laborious way by laying the gorse upon a block of wood and beating it with a mallet, flat at one end and armed with crossed knife-edges at the other, by the alternate use of which it is bruised and chopped. There are now a variety of machines by which this is done rapidly and efficiently, and which are in use where this kind of forage is used to any extent. The agricultural value of this plant has often been over-rated by theoretical writers. In the case of very poor, dry soils, it does, however, yield much valuable food at a season when green forage is not otherwise to be had. It is on this account of importance to dairymen; and to them it has this further recommendation, that cows fed upon it give much rich milk, which is free from any unpleasant flavour. To turn it to good account, it must be sown in drills, kept clean by hoeing, and treated as a regular green crop. If sown in March, on land fitly prepared and afterwards duly cared for, it is ready for use in the autumn of the following year. A succession of cuttings of proper age is obtained for several years from the same field. It is cut by a short stout scythe, and must be brought from the field daily; for when put in a heap after being chopped and bruised it heats rapidly. It is given to horses and cows in combination with chopped hay or straw. An acre will produce about 2000 faggots of green two-year-old gorse, weighing 20 lb each.
This plant is invaluable in mountain sheep-walks. The rounded form of the furze bushes that are met with in such situations shows how diligently the annual growth, as far as it is accessible, is nibbled by the sheep. The food and shelter afforded to them in snow-storms by clusters of such bushes is of such importance that the wonder is our sheep farmers do not bestow more pains to have it in adequate quantity. Young plants of whin are so kept down by the sheep that they can seldom attain to a profitable size unless protected by a fence for a few years.
The tussac grass of the Falkland Islands has of late years attracted considerable attention as a forage plant. From its gigantic growth, even in those ungenial regions and the extraordinary relish manifested for it by horses and cattle, sanguine hopes were entertained that it was to prove a truly valuable addition to our present list of forage plants; but the attempts hitherto made to introduce it in Britain have not been of a very encouraging kind. The only successful cases have been in the Orkneys and in Lewis. Messrs Lawson of Edinburgh, who have given much attention to it, say- " Our own experience leads to leads to the conclusion, that localities within influence of the sea spray, the soil being of a peaty nature, are without doubt, the best adaped for the growth of the tussac; and in such places it is likely to be of great service, as few other nutritive grasses will exist there. In our own experimental grounds it does not thrive well; which may perhaps be accounted for by the nature of the soil, which is light and dry. Regarding its value as a forage plant, we have before us an analysis made, at our request, by Professor Johnston, the results of which show that the tussac grass ought to be very nutritive. Propagation, in the absence of seed, is easily effected, under favourable circumstances, by subdivision off the roots."
We have thus noticed all the more important of our forage crops of ascertained value. Additions will probably be made to them from time to time, especially from the increased attention now bestowed on green crops of all kinds. It has lately been suggested that maize and also lupins, although unfit for our climate as grain crops, might with advantage be tried as forage plants. Both are successfully grown for this purpose in Germany. Being unable to withstand frost, they should be sown not earlier than May. The maize requires a deep rich soil; the lupins again are said to do best on light siliceous soils. Both should be sown in rows 15 to 18 inches apart, and seeded at the rate of 2 bushels per acre. A trial which we made with lupins (both the blue and the yellow sorts) in 1858, on a light moorland, proved a total failure.
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