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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

Chapter V. — Practical Farming in the North-West

Chapter V.

Practical Farming in the North-West.

The following questions and answers contain a report of the ! experience of Mr. Kenneth Mackenzie, a farmer, who emigrated: from the Province of Ontario and settled in Manitoba. Mr. Mackenzie wrote the answers in 1873, to questions sent to him to obtain the information he has given:—

Question.—How long have you been a resident of Manitoba?

Answer.—Four years.

Q. From what part of Ontario or the old country did you come?

A. Scotland, in 1842, then twenty years of age; lived in Puslinch, County of Wellington, twenty years.

Q. How many acres of land have you under cultivation at the present time?

A. One hundred and forty under crop, and about sixty more broken this summer. We plough the first breaking two inches deep, and the next spring or fall plough it a second time, and turn, up two inches more.

Q. Is it broken from bush or prairie land?

A. Prairie.

Q. What is the quality of the soil, and of what does it consist?

A. Around Fort Garry to Poplar Point rather clayey with rich alluvial soil above; from Poplar Point west, clay loam with fine alluvial soil above, but in several places sand loam. There are to the south-west of here places too sandy for good farming land.

page 38

Q. Do you consider it good agricultural productive soil?

A. I never saw better, except that which is too sandy. There are settlers north-west from here for fully thirty miles, and although newly settled, they have good, fair crops, and no grasshoppers.

Q. Is prairie hard to break?

A. When the summer is wet or moist I would sooner break it than old spear grass sod, as we do not require to break so deep.

Q. What month do you consider best to break it in?

A. June and July, but earlier will do if you have time, as later does not answer so well.

Q. What kind of a plough do you use for breaking?

A. American, made by' John Deen Moline, but other Americans make good breaking ploughs—light with gauge wheel in front, and revolving coultermould boards and coulter and shear, all steel. No use for any other material here in ploughs but steel. The soil rich and very adhesive, and even to steel it will stick a little in wet weather, more so after it is broken and cultivated.

Q. What kind, and whose make, of a plough do you consider best adapted both for breaking and after ploughing?

A. The American ploughs answer for both at present. I have a Canadian plough which does very well, but I think a good light Canadian, all steel, or even glass mould-board, would be better after the land begins to be old or long broken. We cannot go deep enough with the American ploughs when land is getting old and needy.

Q. How many horses or oxen do you use with each plough when breaking the prairie?

A. On a twelve inch breaker, we use one pair horses, or one yoke oxen. When sixteen-inch, we use three horses or two yoke oxen. I prefer twelve-inch ploughs to larger ones.

Q. How many acres will a good team break in a day?

A. About one acre is a fair day's work, i. e., day after day. Some, of course will do more; The large plough and more teem will break one and a-half acres.

Q. How many ploughings do you give the land before cropping, and at what time?

A. Two ploughings for first crop answers best, i. e., one light or two inch in summer, and then two inches more, stirred up, next spring; we plough both times same way, and not cross the first breaking. I have raised potatoes and turnips last year on first breaking; had a fair crop, but would not like to depend on it if the season was dry.

Q. What crops do you grow most extensively?

A. This year, spring wheat, ninety acres; barley, thirty acres; oats, 1 acre; peas, eight acres; rye, one acre; flax, ½ acre; potatoes, page 39 six acres; the rest, roots of various kinds, and clover and timothy.

Q. What kinds of fall wheat do you grow? A. I have tried fall wheat, but do not consider it a profitable crop to raise here at present.

Q. How many bushels do you sow per acre? A. About two bushels per acre.

Q. What is the average yield per acre, one year with the other? A. Fully thirty bushels; I have had over forty.

Q. Does Indian corn grow well, and yield a good crop? A. It does not mature very well. They have a small kind that ripens, but I do not like it.

Q. What kind of barley do you grow?

A. Common four rowed, but think any variety will do well.

Q. How many bushels do you sow per acre?

A. About two bushels.

Q. What is the average yield per acre?

A. About thirty-five bushels, but I have seen over fifty per acre.

Q. What kind of peas do you grow?

A. Russian blue and small white peas.

Q. How many bushels do you sow per acre?

A. A little over two.

Q. What is the average yield?

A. I think this year about twenty or twenty-five per acre; my land being new till this year, they did not do so well.

Q. What kind of oats do you grow?

A. Black oats.

Q. How many bushels do you sow per acre?

A. Two bushels.

Q. What is the average yield of bushels ?

A. I have but little, but I see fields from here to Poplar Point I think will yield from forty-five to sixty per acre.

Q. Do timothy and clover grow successfully? A. I have had both do well; but timothy seems to do best.

Q. Do rye and flax grow successfully? A. Rye is a fair crop, and flax I never saw better.

Q. How are the soil and climate suited to growing root crops? A. All kinds of roots and vegetables that I have raised each year have done very well.

Q. Are these crops troubled with flies and insects as in Ontario?

A. I have heard some complain of grubs, but have not suffered any by them on my crops, and I have sown turnips in May and they did well, and all through June, and no flies to hurt.

Q. Has your settlement been troubled by the grasshoppers?

A. Not since I have been here. I am eight miles west of Portage la Prairie, and no settler was before me west of the Portage. page 40 Poplar Point is about twenty-five miles east of here, or seventeen from Portugal.

Q. How many times have the crops been destroyed or injured by them; at what season do their ravages generally commence; and how long do they generally continue?

A. In 1868 they destroyed all from Portage at that time to Fort Garry, and all settled. This year they destroyed all down on Red River or around Fort Garry, and partially up the Assiniboine River, up to Poplar Point, but no farther. There are several fair crops in Headingley and White Horse Plains, i.e., half way between Poplar Point and Fort Garry.

Q. Do you think that this plague will continue when the country is better settled and more land cultivated?

A. I cannot positively say, but think their ravages are partial. Some may suffer, while others escape. They only made three clear sweeps, I am told, since 1812, when the country was first settled, and then all the portion that was settled was a small spot round Fort Garry. Rev. Mr. Nesbitt had a good crop in Prince Albert Mission, Saskatchewan, in 1868.

Q. Are there any crops that they do not destroy ?

A. They are not so bad on peas as on other crops.

Q. Are the grasshoppers the only plague that you have been subjected to since settling in the Province?

A. I have not suffered any as yet from grasshoppers. Black birds were very bad at first, especially on oats, and that is the reason I had no more sown this year. I have not seen one-fifth so many this year as before. I intend, if spared, to sow more oats in future.

Q. How do the seasons correspond with ours in Ontario?

A. Fall and spring are drier. About the middle of April, spring commences generally; but I sowed wheat this year on the 3rd of April, and ploughed in 1870 on the 5th of April.

Q. Is the snow melted by the sun, wind or rain?

A. Nearly all goes with the sun.

Q. Have you much rain during the spring?

A. Very little till May, June and July.

Q. What time does the frost leave the ground ?

A. About the 20th of April; in places it may be longer.

Q. Have you much frost after growth commences?

A. I have seen a little in May, but I have not had any of my crops injured by frost since I came to Manitoba.

Q. How soon may ploughing and sowing be done?

A. You may sow as soon as the ground is black or snow off. The frost was not three inches out when I sowed my first wheat; I have it stacked now and a good crop.

page 41

Q. Is the summer different from ours in Ontario?

A. Generally rather drier and vegetation more rapid.

Q. Have you showers during May, June and July, and have you heavy dews at night?

A. yes.

Q. Is growth as rapid as in Ontario?

A. I think more so.

Q Have you any summer frosts?

A. None whatever since I have been here to injure crops.

Q. When do you generally cut your hay?

A. From 15th July to 15th September.

Q. Does wheat, barley, and oat harvest commence later or earlier than in Ontario?

A. Later; generally about first week in August.

Q. Is the fall early, wet or dry?

A. Early; generally dry.

Q. What date do frosts generally commence?

A. First of the season, about 8th or 10th September, but fine weather after.

Q. When does the winter commence; how soon is the ground frozen, and when does snow fall?

A. Generally frozen about 10th or 12th November; snow about 1st December. Some seasons are earlier; others later.

Q. Have you deep snow early in or during the winter ?

A. First three winters snow would average from 16 to 20 inches; last winter 10 inches. The frost is generally a steady freeze.

Q. Have you many severe drifting snow storms?

A. Not any more than in Ontario generally; last season none, but that is an exception.

Q Have you wood convenient, and what kind?

A. From two to three miles; greater part poplar, but some oak and white ash, and small ash leaf maple.

Q. How do you fence your fields: with rails, wire, or sods?

A. With rails.

Q. How deep do you have to dig to get water in yours, as well as your neighbouring settlements? Is it good ?

A. Generally they' get water from nine to eighteen feet, but in this locality it is not so easily got. We expect to have a test well this fall. Water, in some instances, tastes a little salty. We use creek water.

Q. Have you a hay meadow convenient?

A. About two miles off I have a large one of my own.

Q. What grass grown in Ontario does prairie grass, cut for hay, most resemble?

page 42

A. Beaver meadow hay; only ours here, I think better, and more variety.

Q. Does it make good hay, and do cattle and horses feed well on it?

A. It makes good hay for cattle, and they feed well on it, but I do not think it near so good for horses as timothy hay.

Q. What is the average yield in tons to the acre?

A. From one ton to two and a half tons; different seasons and different grasses vary a good deal.

Q. To what height does grass on the open prairie generally grow?

A. On hard, dry prairies not over ten inches, but on hay meadows I have seen four feet.

Q. Is it as pasture equal to our timothy and clover in Ontario?

A. No, it is much thinner, and does not start so readily as clover, when eaten or cropped.

Q. Do the grasshoppers at any time destroy this grass: or can it at all times be relied upon as pasture?

A. They do a little cropping when very bad, but not, to my knowledge, to destroy it for hay or feed.

Q How often do the settlers fire the prairie, and are your crops over endangered by such fires?

A. There is a law against setting out prairie fires. I have not suffered any by them. I plough a few furrows around my fields and fences.

Q. Is it necessary to burn the grass on the prairie every fall in order to have a good growth the following year?

A. Not at all.

Q. Have you tried any fruit trees, if so, how have they done?

A. I have a few apple trees from seed, not well attended to, three years old. I do not think it very good for apples or pears, unless we have a very hardy kind; Siberian will do wild. Plums are very good, and likewise wild grapes, though small, grow finely on the banks of our streams, and better hops I never saw than .grow here wild. We use them for our bread rising. Currants, raspberries and strawberries grow wild quite abundantly. I think the growth of apple trees too rapid, and wood does not ripen, the soil being rather rich, and not much shelter in general.

Q. What kind of lumber is most plentiful, and what is the average price for good lumber?

A. Poplar lumber, heretofore, and from twenty-five dollars to thirty dollars per thousand; now good fair pine is to be had at Fort Garry, dressed, for same price, and soon we will have a mill to cut up white wood pine, or rather spruce pine.

Q. Would you advise persons coming from Ontario, to settle as page 43 farmers, to bring stock, such as working horses, oxen, cows, sheep, pigs, etc., or would you advise them to bring with them any machinery, such as reapers and mowers, waggons, ploughs, fanning mills, etc., or can they be bought as cheap in Manitoba as they are brought when we count the heavy freights and risk in doing so?

A. I would not advise to bring many horses. At first they do not thrive so well; besides grain is expensive till raised. Oxen I prefer at first. They do more work on rough feed, and are far less risky. I think nearly twenty per cent, of the horses die, or are useless the first two years after being here. If a farmer wants a driving mare or to breed, all well, but by far too many horses are brought in, till we have more timothy hay and oats raised. Oxen and cows thrive well, and none can go wrong to bring them in. They can be got here. Freight by United States route is very high. On immigrants' goods it costs in general about five dollars and a half per cwt; that is, counting bonding, etc.

Q. What is the price of a good span of horses in Manitoba?

A. I thing about fifteen to twenty per cent, higher than same quality in Ontario, no regular price; same for oxen, etc.

QWhat is the price of a good yoke of oxen ?

A. I have sold them from 8125, $130, $35, $40, $50, $65, $70, $85, to $200 and $210, the latter were prime, i. e., here or in Ontario.

Q. What is the price of a good cow?

A. I have sold them from $30 to $60.

Q. What is the price of good sheep?

A. I have none; they would do well if people had pasture fenced; I think they would sell pretty high, but wool, as yet, has .been cheap.

Q. What is the price of good pigs?

A. Probably about twenty per cent, over same quality in Ontario. There are some very good pigs here.

Q. What is the price of a combined reaper and mower?

A. From $200 to $240.

Q. What is the price of a good plough, also fanning mill?

A. Wooden ploughs, Canadian, do. American, about $40. Fanning mills from $45 to $50, both far too high for all the work on them.

Q. Would it not be a good speculation to bring out some thoroughbred stock, such as cattle, sheep, and pigs?

A. I think so. My thoroughbred cattle thrive well here both summer and winter.

Q. How do you think the country is situated for dairy, cheese, and butter making?

A. Very well, just the thing required.

Q. Have you always a ready market for your produce?

page 44

A. Can sell nearly all I raise at the door.

Q What is the average?

A. Wheat, I sold last season about 1,000 bushels for 81.50; two seasons before it was about $1.25; barley, from 75 cents to $1.12; oats, from 75 cents to $1; peas, from $1 to $1.25; potatoes, from 62½ cents to 87½ cents; butter, from 25 cents to 37½ cents per lb; eggs, from 20 cents to 25 cents per dozen; cheese, from 25 cents to 30 cents per lb.

Q. What season of the year would you advise settlers (with or without families, who intend to settle as farmers) to come in?

A. In spring, if possible; but any season will do. I would advise immigrants with families to rent the first year or "share," and take a little time to select their location, and then to work and put in a crop, on the place they rent; generally plenty of farms can be got to rent or share. My reason for not raising more oats is, that the blackbirds heretofore were very troublesome, and seemed worse on the oats, but there is not now the one-fifth quantity of them that there used to be, and I hear they are generally worst at first. I intend to sow fully 20 acres next year (I would sow more if it were ready) with carrots, turnips and mangel-wurzel. These crops grow well, but the want of root houses is a disadvantage at present.

All the land around here, say from 30 miles west, i. e., third crossing of White Mud or Palestine River, to say 25 miles east, or Poplar Point, is rapidly filling up, especially this summer, but plenty is to be had all the way westward to the Rocky Mountains. I think few countries in the world are superior to ours for agricultural purposes, and, although the winter is hard and long, cattle, if provided for, thrive well. I wintered 91 head last winter, and lost none, all turning out well in the spring. Most of them had only rough open sheds for shelter, and ran loose. We have none of the wet sleet in spring and fall that hurt cattle elsewhere. We are now stacking our grain, and I think my average will be fully 36 bushels per acre all round; last year I had 32 bushels per acre. I raised about 300 bushels of onions last year. I expect fully as good a crop this year.

I again say, bring fewer horses into the country, but as much other stock and implements as possible. First-class marsh harvesters, or machines which will employ two men binding and of the most improved make, are wanted. I have two combined ones, made by Sanger & Co., Hamilton, which answer well, but those that will cut wider and quicker are required. There are no hills, stumps, or stones to trouble us, and 1 have not a single rood lodged this year, although my crops are very heavy. Straw is generally stiff here, and not apt to lodge. This year we have excellent crops of potatoes, and a neighbour of mine, Mr. Hugh Grant, yesterday, dug page 45 an early rose potato, weighing over two pounds, and not then full grown. I think grain drills or broadcast sowers would be an improvement, as it is generally windy here in Spring. They should be wider than those used in Ontario, say from eleven to twelve feet. I never saw better buckwheat in Ontario than the few patches grown here. I think by ploughing round our farms, and planting lines of trees, we could have shelter, and live posts to which wire fences could be attached with small staples. Timber grows fast here. If we had yellow or golden willow, which grows rapidly from cuttings, it would do well. Poles, that I planted, of black poplar or balm of gilead are shooting out, and we could plant hardier and better trees amongst them, which, though slower of growth, would replace them. In several localities the Indians make maple sugar from small trees.

I have not seen grain or other crops in either Minnesota or Dakotah to equal ours in Manitoba. I have been in those States in all seasons of the year, and have friends farming in Minnesota, who are desirous, if they can sell out, of coming here. I have seen people, newly arrived from the old country, grumble for a time, and afterwards you could not induce them to go back. Some that did go back soon returned. I have heard of some faint-hearted Canadians who, frightened with tales of grasshoppers and other drawbacks, returned without even examining the country, but I think, we are well rid of such a class. We have a largo increase this year, principally from Canada, and I think they are likely to prove good settlers. I think, however, immigrants from the old country will be better off, as the population there is denser with less chances, whilst Ontario for those who are already settled there, offers as good a chance, as here, without moving. The grasshoppers that came here are driven by the wind from the deserts south of us. Our storms arc not so bad as those in Minnesota, as the reports of the last few winters show.