England – Profits From Farming In Kent

Mr. Hickman was very kind in giving me freely access to his books and accounts. I know more of his business affairs than he himself knew before. Suffice to say that I conclude that the farmer in Kent, because of his good markets, his fertile soil, his usually genial climate and his abundance of re-liable and fairly efficient labor, is in a much bet-ter position to make money than is the American farmer facing a severer climate, a soil no more fertile and usually less so, a deficiency of labor, and markets very much inferior, as a rule, to those of England. I judged that my host was making money and I was glad. He is a stirring man, and goes about over the farm giving close personal direction to every detail of the work—much closer attention, I think, than is customary among British farmers. He does not, however, take hold to do things with his own hands, as would a farmer in Ohio or Illinois ; that is not necessary with labor in such good supply.

We went one day to visit the father, a rugged old man of tremendous vitality and force of character. He had been among the greatest sheep-owners of England, having had at one time as many as 8,000 Romney sheep and having still a. great number. These he kept on Romney Marsh during most of the year; in fact, a lot of them never left the marsh until they came away fat. Only in winter the lambs come to the farms to be fed; their mothers remained on the bleak marsh. We went down on to the marsh to look at the sheep there. The marsh was once in part below the level of the sea, and I think that the high tides would still cover it if it were not protected by dykes. It is intersected with canals that drain it, and is nearly all in pasture. There are few trees; it is very wide, level, green and grassy. It is not now a wet country, for the canals drain it as dry as any part of Illinois ; but men do not farm the land because it pays better to graze it and because they learn that, once plowed, the land does not again soon set to so good a grass as is native there.

My chief memory of the marsh is of the old, faithful shepherd who had charge of Mr. Hickman’s hundreds of sheep. He knew the conditions of every pasture and of each lot of sheep—whether there was a lame one or a sick one anywhere. The marsh carries a heavy stocking of sheep, as many as ten or even twenty to the acre, when the season is good, for the soil is exceedingly rich. For some reason no other breed thrives so well as Romneys on the marsh. They have the ability to withstand the cold and wet and short pickings of winter, and to make quick recovery and get fat when the good grass of summer comes.

We went also to a market at Ashford, where we saw hundreds of small pens filled with sheep or lambs; some were fat for the butchers and some were in store condition only and needing to go to grass. The sheep are sold by auction one at a time. As the drouth had been severe and feed was scarce, the prices realized for the sheep were much lower than normal. Lambs sold as low as $3.00 to $7.50 each and sheep at prices ranging from $6 to $15 each. These prices, however, do not represent a normal season, when prices on the average would be considerably higher.

The wool market at Ashford is worth studying. There is none of that custom of lumping all the wools of a county together and paying the same price to each man, as is seen commonly in the United States. The farmers bring their wools in to be sold at auction, according to its quality and value. Thus the man who breeds good wool and presents it in good condition gets the benefit of his care in solid pounds, shillings and pence.