Farmers Progress Chapter 8: The Management of Livestock

This is the continuation of a series as I read through Farmers Progress. The goal here is to jot down my initial reflections of Mr. Henderson’s works, not to republish his work. I do include a few quotes but I try to keep them short. I highly encourage the reader to find a copy of this book. It has changed the way we are approaching things…and how we filter incoming data. Just keep in mind, the focus of these books is entirely on efficient production of the highest quality products, not on marketing. I fear what I could produce if I followed Mr. Henderson’s advice to the letter. Not only would I have to quit my job, I would have to hire a marketing team.

FarmersProgress

Mr. Henderson begins this chapter telling us that, of all the things he does, looking at livestock is his chief interest and pleasure. Then he starts in about his own animals.

Poultry is the most important stock on our farm, from the point of view both of finance and the maintenance of fertility, though it makes possible heavy stock with pigs, cattle and sheep, to such an extent that most farms carrying as many animals in one or other class might regard themselves as a pig, cattle, or sheep-breeding farm.

It is important to note these aren’t simply egg flocks. These are parent flocks for hatching eggs and for raising cockerels for meat and pullets for replacements and for other producers. He next reflects that he can pick birds from their own lines out of other farmer’s flocks because of the familiarity they have with their own chickens. Not only has he bred a closed flock successfully for decades, he has reared them successfully as well. Then he offers a few tips for raising birds:

…we never saw any virtue in running chickens out in a biting wind and a few inches of mud early in the year. They will survive but it confers no lasting benefit when compared with the conditions of those reared in the more genial climate of a large brooder house, with plenty of fresh air and controlled humidity, and of course in equally small units.

and later

With laying stock, large, well-littered houses seem to provide the best conditions for winter production, especially if the eggs are required for incubation. The so-called deep-litter system works well in a dry winter, but when the weather is mild and damp there seems little virtue in leaving the litter in…

I enjoy our chickens. I really do. Most of the time. But I can’t begin to imagine the kind of work Mr. Henderson describes…a 1,700 bird breeding flock, raising pullets, raising cockerels for meat, culling breeding stock and maintaining separate breeding lines, collecting eggs, feeding, watering, moving portable houses and hatching 1,000 chicks each week on top of everything else. I just can’t imagine it. How did he market all of that? How did he sell cull hens, day-old chicks and 650 dozen eggs each week?!?!? But I agree that poultry are a solid foundation on which to build fertility.

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Stop watching! I can’t do this when you’re watching me!

I totally agree with him that the birds are more healthy when sheltered from the wind, rain and cold and Oxfordshire doesn’t get nearly as windy and cold as it gets here. We move our birds to a deep-littered greenhouse for the winter, collecting the litter for later fertility. This year the birds were indoors from January through March. Next year we will probably move them in a little sooner. I have a lot to learn about providing for the needs of our birds. We went through a short spell where our whites were very runny. Apparently this is caused by a build-up of ammonia. Maybe, as Henderson suggests, I would be better off removing and replacing bedding instead of just adding more and more. We used sawdust this year because that’s what we had. Next year I would like something a little more course…something that will not clump and mat easily.

Beyond fertility and bedding, Henderson gives insight into how to feed the flocks and lists how to modify the ration to use substitutions. The man fed a lot of potatoes during war rationing.

Up to 50 per cent can be fed in the rations, although it will take 4 oz. of potatoes, 1 of meal and 2 of grain as a minimum to keep a bird in full production and the meal will need to be up to 20 per cent protein, unless the birds have access to short grass and insect life on free range.

See? I told you. Buy the book.

From here Henderson offers a few notable quotes on British dairy practices of the time. We have two Jerseys of our own, Flora and May. Flora is beautiful, light colored and fattens easily. She gives a lesser quantity of creamy milk than does May and she can be a real pain in the rear. But she’ll mostly tolerate handling well. May, on the other hand, is dark, tends to be thin and gives a large quantity of thin milk. She has stated clearly that she is not a pet and she only comes in to milk because we offer her a snack. And she can be a pain in the rear. But they are our cows and they calve every year. The calves are much more important to us than is the milk…the milk is close to worthless actually when you account for labor and facility usage.

You can force a cow to give a high yield for a few lactations, or you can be content with a moderate yield over a period of years and of course many more calves.

And that’s the goal. We share milk with the calves, feed some to the pigs and cats and bring home around 2 gallons each day. They bred easily as heifers and calf without difficulty each time. Hopefully we’ll get 8 or 10 more years with them.

jerseys

That’s really all there is to say. But then Henderson calls the whole thing into question with this beauty:

The greater part of British dairy farming requires 5 acres to a cow, and even [then] a lot of concentrates, to produce an average of something under 500 gallons. If half that land were devoted to growing corn for pigs and poultry we should be self-supporting not only in potatoes and milk, as at present, but in bacon and eggs.

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And so the chapter goes. Pigs and sheep are next on his list. Pigs are a source of valuable manure, sheep are essentially without monetary value but do a good job adding manure and cleaning up behind other stock. Both sections offer the reader numerous tips and feed suggestions and are worth reading…if for no other reason to encourage the reader to grow fodder beets. He closes the chapter with this:

…it does sadden me a lot to see all the wonderful opportunities which are being lost to make our country once more the stockyard of the world. It could be done by each individual farmer making just one little effort to do a little better…

And there it is. We, in the US, could easily be the stockyard of the world. Also the forest of the world. Also the fishery of the world. This is the day I will make an effort to do better…even if just a little. I hope you will pledge to do the same and will encourage me with your success stories.

Updated: Changed my phrasing about sheep near the end. In the original post I reported Henderson saying “sheep are essentially without value”. That’s not what I meant to say. Mr. Henderson clearly cherished being a shepherd, treasured the contribution the stock made to the farm but acknowledged that the whole crop of lambs brought less money than one heifer.

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7 thoughts on “Farmers Progress Chapter 8: The Management of Livestock

  1. I know. The whole line breeding section in Farming Ladder was an eye opener. They spent a lot of time and effort on that flock of theirs. I got the impression he was like that with cattle as well, less so with hogs.

    I was just re-reading Salatin this morning (Field of Farmers) and was struck by a paragraph about interns needing to contribute to both short and long term profitability. In other words, they should be directing their energy and efforts toward helping their mentor achieve his immediate profits – market hogs, broilers, vegetables for market, etc. But they should also be remembering they are part of his long term profitability plan as well – in Salatin’s case, a Polyface intern is practically a trademarked product – and that can work two ways. I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say interns are like livestock – they are most definitely not – but the investment of time and effort on the part of the mentor, the care taken in choosing who comes to be an intern – it adds up to the kind of thing Henderson is talking about with his poultry. There are short term gains to be made from the by products of his breeding efforts – eggs, meat, point of lays, but his long term goal is to sell breeding stock, and to have his name for that so well known, that the birds are practically trademarked.

    You’ve applied that thinking to your beautiful Jersey girls, but I’m thinking about my own meager farming efforts, and their seasonality and how this thinking fits for me, and I believe it has to do with attitude. I am looking at building a reputation for reliable, top quality, ethically produced, pasture raised meat. Every year seems to include a learning curve even in enterprises I’ve been engaged in for a few years. But the last two years, I’ve heard excellent things about our broilers from happy customers – and had referrals. The referrals are my sign that I’m starting to get it right in that enterprise. Now to keep it going. And to get it going with the pigs, and then…

    Simon Fairlie has similar things to say in a lot more ( a LOT) detail in “Meat: A Benign Extravagance” regarding dairy, beef, pork, poultry, and fodder. Don’t tackle that book now, wait for winter. It’s way too dense. We all want to continue with Farmer’s Progress first.

    • I put that book down a while back meaning to get back to it. It’s on the shelf. Winter doesn’t really slow down around here. In fact, I seem to get a fair amount of reading done in July while I’m hiding from the sun. Not only did I get a good tan last week, my arm hair bleached back to blonde. (Should I not talk about arm hair on the blog? Should I not mention that I was literally knitted together in my mother’s womb?)

      So…line breeding interns? No? Maybe line-training interns? We are beginning to move toward our own flock of survivor New Hampshire birds. Right now we have the offspring of NH hens that lasted 4 years on the farm and were still laying well. I need to cull and separate them and start hatching their eggs soon. Work gets in the way of work, know what I mean?

  2. unrelated, but have you any awareness of symptom in cattle of cloudy eye progressing to almost like a cataract. looked a little and almost looks like ‘pink eye for cattle’ in some of the google image results. we don’t have a steady vet. but i’m going to start calling around to see what they think and maybe bring one out to our place to have a look. our oldest cow has got it worse in one eye than the other but there too. and the next oldest cow as well… and maybe our yearling bull is starting to show symptoms too. face flies bad this year.
    let me know if you if you can….

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