England – An Historic Farm

“Passing a beautiful and well cared-for old stone church, passing a finely forested bit of park, turning into well-kept fields, back a short distance from the road, to a great house set about with shrubs and flowers and trees, we were at Riby Grove. Mr. Abrams, the genial young factor, met me and we spent the day walking over the place, watching the sheep and cattle and the hay-making and the shepherds. There are about. 700 acres in Riby Grove. It keeps 1,000 ewes and fattens each year about 200 cattle. There are some 140 Short-horns also. We know of the Dudding cattle right well, but it is the fame of the sheep that chiefly has attracted me. Not that the cattle are not excellent ; they have attained wide fame and honor; but the sheep have done wonderful things, and one wishes to see a flock that has produced a ram selling for $5,000 and many selling for almost as much. I do not know that I was there long enough to `catch on’ to know how it was all done; but a study of the old shepherd told me a great deal. He is a man with a big brain, a big heart and a big lot of perseverance. He is a serious and almost a stern man. I have an idea bluff, willful Henry Dudding finds that shepherd fully his match, and that the shepherd has his way many a time. The shepherd, by the way, has his large pretty brick cottage better than many well-to-do land-owners have in America. He has his assistants; he is a fixture, as much so as the sheep. That is one of the secrets of this land of wonderful results in breeding. The men stay; they are devoted to their charges and to their masters’ interests. Men with the caliber of Henry Dudding’s shepherd would soon be independent land-owners and employers of others in America. How are we in America to unriddle this riddle?

“What a lot of cake these men feed. Pure-bred cattle on grass, lambs on grass and shearing rams on grass, all have their bite of cake (linseed or cottonseed meal pressed into thin sheets and broken at the farm). Hurdling is only a little practiced at Riby Grove. The yearling rams are in the hurdles on grass; they have sheds and get mangels and a bit of cake. The ewes are away now on grass lands near the marshes. The lambs are on fresh grass pasture, white with clover. They raise sheep in Lincolnshire in such a way as would be impossible of imitation with us. We could not keep lambs healthy on such old grass, nor do they always succeed. Some years they too have losses from parasitism.

“The value of the Lincoln sheep lies in its size, its sturdiness, its good mutton form and its wonderful fleece. Lincoln wool is not so exceedingly valuable in its pure state; it ranks coarser than the Shropshire and finer than Cotswold wool, but when Lincoln sheep are crossed on Merino blood, the wool is wonderful, both in amount and quality. There are few breeds so well adapted to crossing on the Merino when wool and mutton are taken into consideration. This fact has caused the great importation of Lincoln rams into the Argentine. They have taken them down by the hundreds. They have taken enough of them down there so that Argentine mutton is far and away ahead of what we send to London. There is no doubt that a wide-spread infusion of Lincoln blood into our ranges would be worth much to our people.”

The foregoing was written during my first visit in 1903. And it is still true, only the skies have temporarily changed. Lincolnshire was hot and dry, as seemed all the northern world. Still was Henry Dudding, prince among sheep breeders, the same genial man whom I knew so many years ago. The old shepherd, a master of sheep indeed, was with him. It is not a wonder that Englishmen can do such great things in the way of breeding when they can call to their command such men as this—men who in America would be their own masters and like as not millionaires in the bargain. Well, Henry Dudding had a bit of a grouch against the world in general. Mutton, he thought, was ruinously low; he had had to sell good “hogs” (yearlings) for from $7.20 to $9.60 each. Then he had paid for his corn 79 cents for our bushel of 56 pounds. There is not much profit in that, certainly. To grow turnips cost fully $75 per acre, he said. Mr. Dudding rents altogether more than 2,200 acres; his average rental was slightly more than $5 per acre.

They were cutting oats, a marvelously heavy cutting, and yet they had not lodged, as they would with us. The heads were full of plump grain, but in the stubble there were no young clovers. The drouth had killed them. Even the field peas had failed because of heat and drouth, but the wheat was rarely good. With the old shepherd, I made the rounds of some of the nearby pastures, seeing the behemoth “lambs,” each lot getting its bite of cake and corn in troughs on the grass. Mr. Dudding talked of the old days when his father was alive and soil-building work was vigorously going on. Then they took the chalk out from under the soil (great pits are left whence it came) and spread it over the fields at the rate of twenty or more cartloads to the acre. The frost made the chalk fall to pieces; it became mixed with the soil when it was plowed ; then clovers and grass would grow on land that was barren before. “Our lands needs chalking again, all of it,” declared Mr. Dudding. “It does not grow clovers as it ought—not as it did in my father’s day.”

He buys ground lime and applies it to the land, a half-ton to the acre once in the rotation, doing this because it is easier than to take chalk out from under the fields. The Lincolnshire rotation is barley or oats. with which will be sown “seeds ;” that is, grass and clovers, usually rye-grass and alsike, red and white clovers; then wheat or oats, followed by turnips and then with good fertilization barley and seeds again. Manure is applied liberally when the land is laid down to grass. This is a lesson to us in America.

With Mr. Dudding I drove over breezy high-lands, beside a noble bit of forest, to see a small farmer whose farm is all on the upland. As we drove along, I remarked a curious thing: the whole country was new. That is, nothing appeared to be older than, say fifty or sixty years. Farms, farm-steads, houses and churches—not one was old, and the fields were rather large and square. “Why, Mr. Dudding, this looks like a new piece of country.” “Well, it is a new country, Mr. Wing. When I was a lad there was not a fence anywhere hereabout, nor a house, nor a cultivated field.” “Why, what was the reason of that, I wonder?” “The land was too poor to support anyone, Mr. Wing. There were gorse bushes scattered about, and poor, thin grass between them. Gypsies came here to camp and to pasture their ponies and donkeys. I came here when I was a lad to shoot wild rabbits. Only about fifty years ago did they begin the work of redeeming this land.” “My r I am glad that you have told me this. Now please tell me how the land was made fertile.”

“It was done with chalk, first of all,” Mr. Dud-ding said. “Men mined it out from under the soil and put it on with wheelbarrows. I do not know how much they, put on, but I should guess that it was at least forty tons to the acre. Before that, the soil was sour; that is why it was barren. After the chalking, it was plowed and given a heavy dressing of bonemeal—at least 1,000 pounds to the acre. Then clovers and grass and grain were grown, the fields were fenced, farmsteads built and men have gone on farming it as you see today.”

It’ was an amazing story. It had every look of a prosperous, fertile land, teeming with grass and clover, with very good grain indeed if one could judge by the great stacks. I should say that there must be thousands of square miles of poor land in eastern America that could be redeemed in similar manner, but not so easily, because we do not often find chalk or soft limestone underlying our farms. We must buy the harder limestones ground, or use burned lime, but it is convincing to see that the whole problem of soil-building and maintaining fertility was understood fifty years ago in England and it is doubtful whether the present generation of farmers is as thorough a one as that which preceded it.

On the hill we found W. H. Stanewell of Swallowmount. He keeps 210 Lincoln ewes and breeds them to Hampshire rams. He feeds the lambs a bit of cake all summer, about one-half pound a day to each one, and in January he sells them, getting many times $15 per head for them, but he thinks he will now do well to get $10. He was busy in his wheat-stacking, as were most of the neighboring farmers. We met Matthew Addison, a great tenant-farmer, renting 3,500 acres and keeping about 1,650 sheep.