1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Farm Management of Cattle

(Part 83)


Farm Management of Cattle

We shall now endeavor to describe the farm management of this valuable class of animals, under the heads of breeding, rearing, fattening, and dairy management. The proceedings of those engaged in the breeding and rearing of cattle for the production of beef are, however, largely determined by the character of the soil and climate of particular districts and farms. The occupiers of all comparatively fertile soils carry forward to maturity such animals as they breed, and dispose of them directly to the butcher. Those who are less fortunately circumstanced in this respect advance their young cattle to such a stage as to capabilities of their farms admit of, and then transfer them to others, by whom the fattening process is conducted. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon those who engage in this business that it can never can be profitable to breed inferior cattle; or (however good their quality) to suffer their growth to be arrested by cold of hunger; or to sell them in a lean state. In selecting a breeding stock of cattle, the qualities to be aimed at are a sound constitution and a symmetrical form, aptitude to fatten, quiet temper, and large milk-yielding power in the cows. As all these qualities are hereditary, cattle are valuable for breeding purposes not merely in proportion as they are developed in the individuals, but according to the measures in which they are known to have been possessed by their progenitors. A really good pedigree adds therefore greatly to the value of breeding-stock. It is doubtless important to have both parents good; but in the case of ruminants, the predominating influence of the male in determining the qualities of the progeny is so well ascertained, that the selection of the bull is a matter of prime importance. We are able to state, from ample personal experience, that by using a bull that is at once good himself and of good descent, a level and valuable lot of calves can be obtained from very indifferent cows. It is indeed miserable economy to grudge the price of a good bull. Coarse, mis-shapen, unthrifty cattle cost just as much for rearing and fattening as those of the best quality, and yet may not be worth so much by £3 or £4 a –head when they come ultimately to market. The loss which is annually sustained from breeding inferior cattle is far greater than those concerned seem to be aware of. It is impossible to estimate this loss accurately, but from careful observation and inquiry we are confident that it amounts to not less than 50s. a-head on one half of the fat cattle annually slaughtered in Great Britain. If this be so it follows that without expending a farthing more than is done at present on food, housing and attendance the profit which would accrue from using only the best class of bulls would be equivalent to an advance of 1s. per stone in the price of beef as regards half of the fats bullocks brought to market. This profit could, moreover, be secured by a very moderate outlay; for if properly gone about the best class of bulls might be employed without adding more than 3s. or 4s. a-head to the price of each calf reared. We may surely anticipate that such a palpable source of profit will not continue to be neglected by the breeders of cattle. There are many instances in which landlords would find it much for their interest to aid their tenantry in at once procuring really good bulls. Cattle shows and prizes are useful in their way as a means of improving the cattle of a district, but the introduction of an adequate number of bulls from herds already highly improved is the way to accomplished the desired end cheaply, certainly, and speedily. We must here protest against a practice by which short-horn bull are very often prematurely unfitted for breeding. Their tendency to obesity is so remarkable that unless they are kept on short commons they become unwieldy and serviceable by their third and fourth year. Instead, however, of counteracting this tendency, the best animals are usually "made up," as it is called, for exhibition at cattle shows or for ostentatious display to visitors at home, and the consequences is, that they are ruined for breeding purposes. We rejoice to see that the directors of our national agricultural societies are resolutely setting their faces against the pernicious practice. It is needful certainly stock should be well fed, for without this they cannot attain to their full size and development of form. But when this is secured, care should be taken, in the case of all breeding animals, never to exceed that the degree of flesh which is indispensable to perfect health and vigour. The frequent occurrence of abortion of barreness in high pedigreed herds seemed chiefly attributable to overfeeding. The farmer who engages in cattle-breeding with the view of turning out a profitable lot of fat beast annually, will take pain first of all to provide a useful lot of cows, such as produce good calves, and if well fed while giving milk will yield enough of it to keep two or three calves a-piece. That he may be able to obtain a sufficient supply of good calves he will keep a really good bull, and allow a cottagers residing on the farm or in its neighborhood to send their cows to him free of charge, stipulating only that when they have a calf for sale he shall have the first offer of it.

Cows are an expensive stock to keep, and it is therefore of importance to turn their milk to the best account. It is poor economy, however to attempt to rear a greater number of calves than can be done justice to. Seeing that they are to be reared for the production of beef, the only profitable course is to feed them well from birth to maturity. During the first week of calf-hood the only suitable diet is unadulterated milk, warm from the cow, given three times a-day, and not less than two quarts of it at each meal. By three weeks old they may be taught to eat good hay, linseed cake, and sliced Swedes. As the latter item of diets are relished and freely eaten, the allowance of milk is gradually diminished until the twelfth week, when it may be finally withdrawn. The linseed cake is then given more freely, and water put within their reach. For the first six weeks calves should be kept each in a separate crib; but after this they are better of having a room to frisk about. Their quarters, however, should be well sheltered, as a comfortable degree of warmth greatly promotes their growth. During their first summer they do best to be soiled on vetches, clover, or Italian ryegrass, with from 1 lb to 2 lb of cake to each calf daily. When the green forge fails, white or yellow turnips are substituted for it. A full allowance of these with abundance of oat straw, and not less than 2 lb of cake daily, is the appropriate fare for them during their first winter. Swedes will substitute for turnips during the month of spring, and those again will give place in due time to green forage or the best pasturagel. The daily ration of cake should never be withdrawn. It greatly promotes growth, fattening and general good health, and in particular is a specific against the disease called blackleg, which often proves so fatal to young cattle. Young cattle had been skillfully managed upon the system which we have now sketched, are at 18 months old already of great size, with open horn, mellows hide, and all those other features which indicate the experienced grazier that they will grow and fatten rapidly. The style of management is not only the best for those who fatten as well as rear, but is also the most profitable for those who rear only.

We have already stated that in Scotland comparatively few cattle are fattened on pasturage. An increasing of fat beast are now prepared for market during the summer months by soiling on green forage; but it is by means of the turnip crop, during the winter months that this branch of husbandry is all but exclusively conducted in the northern half of Great Britain. But a few years ago the fattening of cattle on Tweedside and in the Lothians was conducted almost exclusively in open courts with shed on one or more sides, in which from two to twenty animals were confined together, and fed on turnips and straw alone. Important changes have now been introduced , both as regards housing and feeding, by means of which a great saving of food has been effected. Under the former practice the cattle receives as many turnips as they could eat, which, for an averaged-sized two-year-old bullock was not less than 220 lb daily. The consequences of this enormous consumption of watery food was, that for the first month or two after being thus fed the animals were kept in the state of habitual diarrhea. Dry fodder was indeed, always placed within their reach; but as long as they had the opportunity of taking their fill of turnips the dry straw was all but neglected. By stinting them to about 100 lb of turnips daily, they can be compelled to eat a large quantity of straw, and on this diet they thrive faster than on turnips at will. A better plan, however, is to render the fodder so palatable so as to induce them to eat it of choice. This can be done by granting down the turnips by one or other of the pulping-machine now getting into common use, and then mixing the grated turnips with an equal quantity, by measure, of cut straw. Some persons allow the food after being thus mixed to lie in a heap for two-days, so that the fermentation may ensue before it is given to the cattle. There is, however, a preponderance of evidence in favour of using it fresh. To this mess can conveniently added an allowance of ground cake, whether of linseed, rape, or cotton seed, and of meal of any kind of grain which the farmer finds it most economical at the time to use. The ground cake and meal are, in this case to be thoroughly mixed with the pulped turnip and cut straw. The same end can be accomplished by giving a moderate feed (say 50 lb) of sliced roots twice a –day and four hours after each of these meals, another consisting of cut straw, cake and meal. In this case the chaff and farinaceous ingredients should be mixed and cooked by steam in close vessel; or the meal can be boiled in an open kettle, with water enough to make it of the consistency of gruel, and poured over the chaff, mixed thoroughly with it and allow to lie in a heap for two or three hours before it is served out to the cattle. From 2 to 4 lb of meal, &c., a-head per diem is enough to begin with. But as the fattening process goes on it is gradually increased and may rise to 7 or 8 lb during the last month before sending to market. It is advisable to mix with the cooked mess about 2 ounces of salt per diem for each bullock. An important recommendation to this mode of preparing cattle food is, that it enables the farmer to use rape-cake freely; for which when this article is reduced to a course powder, and heated to the boiling point, it not only losses its acrid qualities, but acquires a smell and favour which induce cattle to eat greedily. Moreover, if the rape-seed should have been adulterated with those of wild mustard before going to the crushing-mill (as not frequently happens) and a cake in thus produced which in its raw state is poisonous to cattle, it has been ascertained that boiling deprived such spurious cake of its hurtful qualities and renders it safe and wholesome. As rape-cake possesses fattening elements equal to those of linseed-cake, and can usually be bought at half the price, it is well worth while to have recourse to a process by which it can so easily be rendered a palatable and nourishing food for cattle.

Fattening cattle are usually allowed to remain in the pastures to a later date in autumn than is profitable. The pressure of harvest work, or the immature state of his turnip crop, often induces the farmer to delay housing his bullocks until long after they had ceased to make progress on grass. They may still have a long bite on their pastures; but the lengthening nights and lowering temperature lessen the nutritive quality of herbage, and arrest the further accumulation of fat and flesh. The hair of the cattle begins also to grow rapidly as the nights get chilly, and causes them to be housed with rougher coats than are then expedient. To avoid this evils the farmers should early in August begin to spread on the pasture a daily feed of green forage, consisting of vetches, peas, and beans grown in mixture in about equal proportions, which is well podded and full of soft pulse, supplies exactly the kind of food required to compensate for the deteriorating pasturage. Early in September cabbages and white globe turnips should be given on the pastures in lieu of the green forage. After ten days or so of this treatment, they should be transferred to their winter quarters. For the first two months after they go into winter quarters they make as good progress on yellow turnips as on any kind of roots; for the three following months well stored Swedes are the best food for them; and for beginning of March until the end of the season, mangolds and potatoes, in the proportion of four parts of the farmer to one of the latter. The chaff of wheat, oats or beans, if tolerably free from dust is quite as suitable as cut straw for mixing with the pulped roots and cooked food. In addition of a small quantity of chopped hay, or the husks of a kiln-dried oats, to the other food, usually induces cattle to feed more eagerly. In short, the animals must be closely watched, and occasional variations made in the quantity and quality of the food given to particular individuals or the general lot as their circumstances may require. Beside the food given in the manger is desirable that each animal should received a daily allowance of fresh oats straw in a rock to which he has access at pleasure.

A better appreciation of the effects of temperature on the animal economy has of late years exerted a beneficial influence upon the treatment of fattening cattle. Observant farmers have long been aware that their cattle, when kept dry and moderately warm, eat less and thrive faster than under opposite conditions. They accounted for this in a vague way by attributing it to their greater comfort in such circumstances. Scientific man have now, however, showed us that a considerable portion of the food consumed by warm-blooded animals is expended in maintaining the natural heat of their bodies, and that the portion food thus disposed of is dissipated by a process so closely analogous to combustion that it may fitly be regarded as so much fuel. The fat which is favourable circumstances, is accumulated in their bodies, may in like manner be regarded as a store of this fuel laid up for future emergencies. The knowledge of this fact enables to understand how largely the profit to be derived from the fattening of cattle is dependent upon the manner in which they are housed, and necessarily forms of an important element in determining the questions whether yards, stalls, or boxes are best adopted for this purpose. A really good system of housing combine the following conditions:-

1st, Facilities for supplying food and litter, and for removing dung with the utmost economy of time and labour;

2d, Complete freedom from disturbance;

3d, A moderate and unvarying degree of warmth;

4th, A constant supply of pure air;

5th, Opportunity for the for the cattle having a slight degree of exercise; and

6th, The production of manure of the best quality.

We have no hesitation in expressing our opinion that the whole of these conditions are attained most fully by means of well-arranged and well-ventilated boxes. Stalls are to be preferred where the saving of litter is an object, and yards for the rearing of young cattle, which require more exercise than is suitable for fattening stock. These yards are now, however, in the most improved modern homesteads, wholly roofed over, and thus combine the good qualities of both yard and box.

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