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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 77

The Feeding of Plants and Animals

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The Feeding of Plants and Animals

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Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, N.Z. Melbourne and London. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited.


The Feeding of Plants and Animals

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One of Charles Reade's heroines says, "My mother was an ideal woman; she taught me three rarities—attention, observation, and accuracy." Why rarities? The judicious cultivation of these faculties, neglected and almost entirely left out of account in our ordinary practice of education, even where nominally provided for, would do more to advance the interests of the farming community than any other measure. We are the fortunate owners of a country which embraces within a small compass a wider and more important range of geological and climatic valuations useful to man than any other country in the world—a country of infinite potentialities. There is almost no limit to the degree to which our resources could be extended and developed if we had a rising generation trained in the exercise of attention, observation, and accuracy; habituated to calling in the senses and the reasoning faculties to direct their manual work, and able to keep pace in practice with the trend of advances which are being made at the thinking centres of the world in the systematic development of the practice of farming. There is nothing formidable, complex, or difficult to understand in the practical application of modern scientific ideas. Everything needed would be well within the compass of our average youths if they had the necessary faculties cultivated at school, instead of being crammed with a vast amount of scholastic detail which is as distasteful to themselves as it is useless in practical life. We want to humanize the school, and we want to humanize our country life. Professor Robertson says: "The appalling waste of child life in thousands of our rural schools in Canada is little less than a crime against humanity.... We have a lot of people who are mentally starved, who are thin in their interests because they have not been given the chance to identify their thoughts with the interesting things that are about them all the while. That part of their nature has not been cultivated. In the elementary schools a boy's faculties and powers should be so quickened and trained that, when he grows to be a man and follows agriculture, he will do it in a masterful, intelligent way as a man should, not in a hind-like, animal way." Those of us engaged in trying to advance agricultural knowledge and practice find ourselves handicapped, not by what can fairly be called the stupidity of the farmer, but by the stupidity of the system which has neither habituated nor fitted him to think or act along the linos of modern progress.

The Feeding of Plants

I am asked to write on the broad subject of feeding plants and animals, but, to convey any precise ideas at all, I must employ the alphabet of science.

My Abc must be, on the one hand, Phosphates, Alkalies, and Nitrogenous salts; and, on the other hand, Proteids, Carbon- page 2 hydrates, and Fats. Take the simpler case first. What food does a plant need? Mainly air and water. Given these, an ordinary plant, with reasonable protection, will grow and flourish in the presence of sunshine, provided it has a suitable medium in which to push out its root system and to serve as a basis from which to rear the stem and leaves. Air, water, and sunshine are common property; and mere land, apart from the question of quality, is cheap enough. What, then, is there left for the farmer to supply when he has given his plant a suitable mechanical basis of support? What does a plant need to take out of the soil that land should vary so much in price? The common notion is that a plant builds most of its solid structure out of the solids it absorbs from the soil, though a moment's reflection over what remains after the burning of a tree or a field of ripe corn would point to the true conclusion, namely, that the whole plant—root, stem, leaves, and seed—is made out of mere air and water, with a trace only of solid mineral matter. But it is just this trace which it is important for the farmer to know about, because, while Nature has been liberal enough to supply him without charge with an inexhaustible stock of air and water, she has left it largely to himself to keep stored up in the soil with his own labour and money the proper proportion of mineral matter and nitrogen needed by the crops which he elects to grow.

Much can be done by systematic rotation and thorough tillage to keep the land in good heart—in other words, to induce Nature by means of sunshine, frost, rain, bacteria, etc., to keep on liberating from the upturned soil and subsoil year after year a sufficiency of the special salts needed for each succeeding crop. Proper rotation and tillage form the basis of all good agriculture, and really constitute the best means of manuring the land; but, when we desire to make specially paying crops take their turn more rapidly than Nature is able to renew her supplies, we must be prepared to make up the deficiency ourselves. In one soil the potash will tend to run short, in another the phosphates, in another the nitrogen; and this result will be much affected by the nature of the crops grown.

The purpose of the science of economic manuring is to learn to add each season for the particular crop we intend to grow just what is lacking in our soil, and nothing more. It requires no thought or knowledge to buy a manure labelled "Potato Manure" or "Turnip Manure," as the case may be; but this is mere wasteful empiricism, because such compounds can be specially adapted only for a ticular soil in a particular condition. They contain all the manurial constituents, where, perhaps, only one is markedly lacking. Attentive, accurate observation and experiment alone can determine what is really needed, and every farmer can find out this for himself without expense if he will take a little trouble.

Consider the case of a particular crop—the potato. At the present time this is especially important, on account of the "blight," which is Nature's messenger warning us that, if we do not keep our crops in robust health and vigor, she is going to back a lower form of life to destroy them. Our only response in the face of the enemy is the expensive one of arming ourselves with spraying pumps and page 3 poisons to kill the organisms as they come on year after year. The precaution is a proper one, but more essential things to do are (1) to grow only the hardiest and most resistive types of potatoes; (2) to procure good medium-sized seed from vigorous crops in other localities; (3) to keep the seed properly, so that it may not use up its strength by loss of first growth before planting; and, finally, to plant early in well-tilled ground containing the proper manurial constituents. We are fortunate if we happen to have a new bush clearing or a lea paddock which has not borne a potato crop for many years, but in the best potato districts such conditions are becoming rare. At Oamaru, for instance, I find farmers engaged in growing potatoes over and over again, almost without intermission, and with the addition of little or nothing in the way of manure. The steady decrease in the quantity and quality of the crops, which the farmers all admit and deplore, is inevitable.

Diagram of Potato Showing Sources of Ultimate Components. The Shaded Area below Indicates the One Per Cent. Derived from Nitrogen and Mineral Matter Absorbed from the Soil.

Diagram of Potato Showing Sources of Ultimate Components. The Shaded Area below Indicates the One Per Cent. Derived from Nitrogen and Mineral Matter Absorbed from the Soil.

Surely it would be worthwhile to find out precisely what is lacking. Nature contributes free everywhere at least 99 lbs. of the weight of every 100 lbs. of potatoes grown. We are called upon to supply only what she fails to make up, viz., at most, about one per cent of the weight of our crop. In other words, if we manage to increase a five-ton crop to a ten-ton crop by manuring, we shall have contributed to the tubers only about one cwt. per acre of pure phosphoric acid, potash, and nitrogen, at a cost of about £2 8s. 6d. This sum would provide a quarter of a ton of manure made up of 3 cwt. superphosphate, 1¼ cwt. of sulphate of potash, and ¾ cwt. of sulphate of ammonia, which allows a page 4 margin for impurity of commercial manures, for what is carried away by drainage, for what the plants fail to absorb, and for what they employ in building their roots, stems, and leaves. It will have cost us thus £2 8s. 6d. for the yield of an extra five tons of superior potatoes, and we shall have done much to render our crop vigorous and to save it from the ravages of disease. Such a compound manure as I have indicated would tend to largely increase the yield of potatoes on any land impoverished by cropping, because it contains all the necessary manurial constituents and is rich in potash, which is the special requirement of all the solanum tribe—potatoes, Cape gooseberries, tomatoes, native proper (bull-a-bull), etc.—which we know to revel in our bush clearings, rich in the potash of fallen leaves and burnt trees.

Some soils lack little but potash. In such cases why should we incur great expense in providing full proportions of nitrogen and phosphates? Usually all three constituents are beneficial, but they need to be supplied in proportions varying widely according to the soil. The problem of economic manuring can be solved in one way only, and it can be approximately solved very simply. When drilling a paddock for potatoes, mark out a small, even-looking patch for testing. Say the rows are 31 inches apart: select 10 drills and put pegs 15 feet apart in each drill. Each short row between the pegs will then represent 1-1120th of an acre, and will serve for 10 potatoes placed 18 inches apart. A quarter of a pound of manure to 15 feet is, then, equivalent to 2½ cwt. per acre. Treat the patch as follows:—

No. of Row. Manure. Weight in ozs. Equivalent to cwt. per Acre. Cost per Acre. Total. £ s. d. £ s. a. 1 No manure—— — — 2 Superphosphate ... 4 4/5 3 16 6 Sulphate of potash... 2 1¼ 1 0 0 2 8 6 Sulphate of ammonia 1 1/5¾ 12 0 3 Superphosphate 4 4/5 3 16 6 Sulphate of potash... 2 1¼ 1 0 0 1 16 6 4 Superphosphate Sulphate of ammonia 4 4/5 1 1/5 3¾ 16 12 6 0 l 8 6 5 Sulphate of potash... 2 1¼ 1 0 0 Sulphate of ammonia 1 1/5¾ 12 0 1 12 0 6 No manure ... — — — — 7 Superphosphate ... 4 4/5 3 16 6 16 6 8 Sulphate of potash... 2 1¼ 1 0 0 1 0 0 9 Sulphate of ammonia 1 1/5¾ 12 0 12 0 10 No manure ... — — — —

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row prepared seacliff seed - cut

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Experimental patch of British Queen Potatoes planted at Seacliff in August of the present year with a view to ascertaining the advantage of keeping seed in shallow trays partially exposed to light and freely exposed to air, as compared with keeping the seed in bulk on a cellar floor or in pits.

The fore-ground area, below the white line, was planted with seed kept in the ordinary way, and procured from a first-class seedsman in Dunedin. It was an excellent sample, and had the advantage of coming from a district remote from Seacliff. The seed was picked and weighed, and the four rows were planted in succession from left to right with potatoes weighing respectively 2oz., 3oz., 4oz., and 5 to 7oz. The same order of weight was continued above the white line, but using potatoes grown at Seacliff. In this case, therefore, there was not the advantage of a change of seed. On the other hand, these potatoes had been stored, from the time of lifting the crop, in shallow trays, exposed to air and diffused light. The trays were essentially similar to those shown in the diagram to the left, but were made rather deeper and with skeleton frames, in order that there might be a free passage for light and air between the successive layers of potatoes when the trays were piled up to a height of four or five feet in a shed. The battens, &c., needed for making a thousand trays, cost £20. The labour of making was very little indeed, and could be done by any boy who has learned to use a hammer and saw. With reasonably careful usage, the trays should last ten years. A thousand trays suffice for storing about a hundred thousand tubers—say enough to plant about ten acres. The crop shown above is almost ready to dig, and, at the present high prices, would bring over £130 per acre. The three potatoes in each row between the lower transverse white line and the stakes higher up, were intentionally deprived of the shoots they had formed at the time of planting, and had to start in the same apparent condition as the potatoes planted below the white line. The seed planted with the sprouts intact came up with almost perfect regularity in September, a month sooner than similar seed deprived of shoots. The coming up of the seed kept in the ordinary way was extremely irregular, and was delayed from another month to two months; and in some instances the shoots are only appearing now, in the middle of December. This delay is partly due to the unusual wetness and backwardness of the season. Our neighbours' potato crops have in some cases failed almost completely, owing to the tubers rotting in the ground. It will be noted that one row of the seed kept in trays was cut. As this row runs right through the patch, it can be directly contrasted, in the fore-ground, with the comparatively feeble growth of the ordinary seed on either side. In further reference to the fore-ground patch, planted with ordinarily-kept seed, it may be noted that the potatoes between the transverse white line and the white pegs below were uncut, whereas those below the pegs were cut. The cutting, therefore, seems to have exerted comparatively little influence. The true test, however, will be the actual yield of potatoes. In the meantime it is interesting to study the diagram to the left, taken from a child's primer, published by Macmillan's twelve years ago, and to read what experience and observation had then taught on the other side of the world.

I would further point out that over half a century ago—after the potato disease had ruined Ireland—a London market gardener showed in a series of letters writtten to the Times, that while the potatoes all around him were a prey to the blight, his crops were unaffected, simply because he had taken the trouble to keep his seed exposed to light and air. Yet our New Zealand practice is still in the dark ages!

Seed Potatoes and Resulting Crops.

Seed Potatoes and Resulting Crops.

Prepared Set (as in tray) and its crop on the left; Weakened Set and its crop on the right.

Preparing the Sets.—The preparation of the seed begins when the crop of the current year is lifted. Sound tubers, of medium size, are then taken and set on end—the eyes kept upward. Gradually, during the winter, a shoot as stout as one's little finger appears on the upper end of the tuber; by the end of August it is surmounted by a crown of leaflets, and rootlets protrude from its base. When required for planting the sets are carefully removed and placed in the ground without the shoots being injured. Growth follows with marvellous rapidity, none of the pristine vigour of the tuber having been wasted. A full crop of fine large tubers is a certainty, other conditions being equal. This is very different to the old method of placing the potatoes in a heap covered with straw and soil, or piled up in a dark room or cellar. Yet that was once the only way. the crowded tubers making long white weakly growths which were rubbed off, in some instances repeatedly, till planting came, to be followed by a weakly uneven growth of haulm and an inferior crop of tubers.—(See the illustration above.)

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At the end of a single season a farmer who carefully carries out this simple experiment with an equal sample of potatoes will have learned more about the science of economic manuring in relation to his own farm than any books or professors can tell him. I have supplied sets of weighed packets of manures, with directions, to two schools and to a number of persons interested in progressive farming, both in the North and South, this year, and shall be glad to do the same next season. Our object is to try to stimulate interest in farming as a profession, and to acquire and diffuse reliable practical information as to the special manurial requirements of various parts of the colony. We hope also to enforce attention to the great truth that the highest wisdom lies in sparing no pains to maintain the young organism throughout in the best possible condition. In plants, just as in the case of animals, the inroads of disease are best prevented by keeping the organism well nourished, vigorous, and healthy. It is better to be prepared to fight one's enemies rather than poison their wells. The potato plants which suffer most from various blights are those which have the least vital energy and resistiveness—the turnips attacked by aphides in a field are not, as one might expect, the healthiest and most appetising, but the weakest and least resistive; so also with human beings and consumption or any other disease. The broader principles of life apply equally to plants and animals. Such laws and principles ought to be conveyed to the rising generation, could be easily illustrated to children in schools, and would be appreciated by them.

The Feeding of Animals

The system and accuracy which science demands in Chemistry and in the feeding of plants is equally necessary in the feeding of animals. The fact that animals will subsist, and even thrive, on dietaries differing vary widely in their components misleads people into regarding the body as a kind of alchemist's laboratory capable of transmuting everything into flesh and blood.

In reality, there is in every case a definite proportion in which the nitrogenous (flesh-forming) and the non-nitrogenous (heat-giving) elements ought to enter into the composition of food. If an animal continue to do well though given twice the proper proportion of proteid food, it can only be said to thrive in spite of, and not because of, its dietary. It would thrive better, grow quicker, and be more healthy if properly fed. The excess of nitrogen must double the work of the kidneys, which are called upon to eliminate what should never have been introduced into the system. It is folly to impose on an animal this stress and waste of energy.

Calves fed on skim-milk are a case in point. They receive too much proteid and too little fat. It is easy for the farmer, by judicious addition of linseed meal and oatmeal, to make up a cheap food, which, though far from identical in composition with new milk, would yet contain similar proportions of the nitrogenous and page 6 non-nitrogenous elements, and would serve satisfactorily. We have fed our calves in this way for the last eight years, and they grow and appear to thrive nearly as well as when suckled.

Pigs fed on whey, without the addition of peas, beans, vetches, clover, or some other food rich in proteids, suffer conversely from proteid starvation, and tend to do badly.

Every farmer should have at his finger-ends an approximate knowledge of the proportional relationships between the various vegetable foods he grows or buys and what can be got out of them in the form of flesh, milk, and eggs. It has been established, for instance, that a vigorous pig or ox will increase about a pound weight for every five pounds of cereals given as food. I find, on reckoning the matter up, that a hen will supply about the same proportionate weight in eggs; but eggs will fetch in the market an average of 8d. to 1s. per pound, as against 3d. to 4d. for beef or pork. In other words, taking grain at ½d. per pound, we find that the return for 2½d. would be in the one case 8d. to 1s., and in the other 3d. to 4d. The intrinsic value of eggs as food is not greater than the value of an equal weight of beef or mutton; the difference in price is merely a question of luxury and human preference. Of course, in each of the cases cited we effect in practice great economy by utilising cheaper forms of food than cereals, which I quote merely as a standard for comparison. Consideration of the above fundamental facts shows why poultry ought to receive more and more attention from the farmer as holdings become smaller and dearer, and he finds himself obliged to secure the highest-possible return in money from a given quantity of vegetable material.

Feeding of Children

If it is necessary to be guided by the laws of nature, and to be systematic and accurate in the feeding of plants and the lower animals, such carets surely doubly incumbent on us in the rearing of human beings. Yet what do we find in practice In spite of the fact that suckling is the only perfect method of feeding any young mammal, it has become the exception, and not the rule, for human mothers to so nourish their own offspring. No farmer contends for a moment that he employs artificial feeding in the case of calves, because he thinks it as good as natural rearing. He knows that the calf which runs at its mother's heels has more spirit and vitality and greater resistiveness to disease than any hand-reared calf. There is more involved for both parent and offspring than mere identity in chemical composition of food. Nutrition given by the mother in the natural way is always best, and the wisest breeders will continue to let Nature have her way where they wish to keep their pure-bred stock at the highest pitch of health for the perpetuation and improvement of the best strains. When the farmer resorts to hand-rearing he does it simply because there is page 7 profit in removing butter fat valued at a shilling a pound and replacing it with vegetable starches and fats which cost him about a penny. But this is not the attitude or feeling of the mother who rears her child by means of a bottle. For the most part she is densely ignorant of the duties of maternity, and does not realise the injustice she is doing to herself and her offspring. She has no knowledge of or respect for the laws of Nature, and imagines that advertising charlatans have superseded Providence in the feeding of babies. Even cows' milk, which can be modified so as to serve reasonably well for the rearing of infants, becomes of secondary importance in her eyes to cheap vegetable substances, sold at high prices. The following table is more eloquent than anything I can say on the subject:—
Comparison of Dried Human Milk, Cows' Milk, and a Muchused Patent food for Infants.
Proteids. Fat. Sugar, etc.
Human milk 13.5 29 57.5
Cows' milk 33 30 37
A much-used patent food 12 1 87
It will be seen at once that cows' milk contains a great excess of proteids. To avoid this, dilution is commonly resorted to, which results in a deficiency of fat and sugar. Some vegetable sugar is usually added, but with no attempt at accuracy or precision, and the mother feels content if the child manages to struggle through with such a diet; very often it dies. There would be no extra trouble involved in preparing an approximately correct food as follows:—
1.Set a glass jar containing a quart of fresh cows' milk in a cool place for nine hours, and at the end of that time remove the upper half-pint of cream.
2.Dissolve two ounces of sugar of milk in boiling water; add two ounces of lime water, and make the mixture up to a pint with boiling water. Add this to the half pint of cream, and heat to a temperature of 155° F. This will prevent fermentation for 12 hours. The heating can then be repeated. Boiling impairs the digestibility of milk.

If mothers resent the trouble of using a thermometer, and deliberately and knowingly choose that their offspring shall draw in with their milk active living organisms to fight against them and weaken or kill them, the matter is one for the maternal conscience; no law intervenes to prevent the maiming or killing of children. The use of patent foods is even more fatal than the ordinary misuse of cows' milk. The table gives a clue to this. The 87 per cent, in the third column is not even sugar; it is mainly starch—a constituent that should not enter into the food of any young infant. One per cent, of fat as compared with 29 per cent, needs no comment.

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I trust that the summary statement I have given of some of the more essential relationships between the requirements of plants and animals may serve to direct attention to the unity and simplicity of the laws of organic Nature and the need for rational education. In appealing to farmers we are appealing to that large section of our population to which we must look mainly for the development of our material resources, and the evolving of a strong, healthy, capable race. Civilisation is tending everywhere to undermine humanity, and, as I have said elsewhere, we have no reason to be proud of the fact that, apart from dairy calves (which we treat rather worse than our own offspring) there is no young creature in the world so ignorantly and cruelly nurtured as the average infant. There is no death rate in Nature arising from maternal neglect and improper feeding that can be compared with human infant mortality. In this colony alone a generally diffused knowledge and recognition of infant requirements and maternal duties would save to the community at least one life per diem, and would correspondingly increase the strength and vitality of the rest of the rising generation. Statistics reveal the appalling fact that with artificial rearing infant mortality may be as high as from five to thirty times the death rate of children nourished by their mothers. Yet careless bottle-feeding is still resorted to by the majority of women. In the face of such facts one could wish seriously that, as Zangwill suggests, infants should be allowed the privilege of selecting their parents; then, as he says, "When children begin to be fastidious about the families they are born into, parents will have to improve or die childless. ... In their anxiety to be worthy of selection by posterity, parents will rise to heights of health and holiness of which our sick generation does not dream. If they do not, woe to them! They will be remorselessly left to die without issue."

Whitcombe & Tombs Limited. Wellington. Curistchurch and Donedin. 66857