France – Revisiting A French Farmer

M. Delacour was more than an acquaintance. In after years he wrote me letters telling of the practices and operations of the farm, and once, when he heard that I was in Paris, he came down to ask me again to visit Gouzangrez, but that day time for-bade. Now again in France, I resolved to see the Delacours first of all. Thus it was that James Hopkins and I boarded the little train on the branch line that took us out to the old town of Us. Arriving, we were met with the big automobile that seems characteristic of advanced agriculture in many parts of the world, and dashed us to the farm, through quaint villages and past sunny meadows. We went straightway to see the flock of Dishley-Merino sheep for which Gouzangrez is famous. Out in the stubble-fields they were in care of the old shepherd, with his two dogs, a young one that he was training and kept close to him with a string, and an old Beauce dog that loved to work and did it willingly. It is no less than marvelous what the shepherds and dogs of France do with sheep. For instance, the shepherd will walk through the alfalfa, telling the dog that the sheep may come thus far and no farther—the dog will patrol that line and not permit a sheep to step beyond it, thus making them eat the alfalfa clean as they go. The dogs seem to be absolutely tireless, always going up and down the line and never barking. If a sheep is unusually rebellious they give it a gentle nip as a warning to be good. The shepherd often carries a chair with him and sits out on the plain, or stands and watches his feeding flock. On the stubble-fields they moved slowly forward, picking up the fallen heads, the little weeds and the blades of grass.

Not far away were iron hurdles enclosing a little yard, where the flock -stayed at night; the yard was moved once or twice a day to give the sheep clean lying ground and also constantly to enrich a fresh spot of earth. Near by was a little house on wheels, so small that the shepherd could himself move it. It was really only his bed in a big box. He slept out, there with his sheep and his dogs were chained under the bed. When the sheep are on especially rich land, they may be changed again at, midnight.

AMONG DISHLEY MERINO FLOCKS

I had in my memory that Gouzangrez carried about 2,000 sheep and yet often my mind had been troubled, for I said, “I must remember incorrectly; it is impossible to keep so many sheep as that on a farm and keep them in health,” but when I asked, I learned that I was right; that for many years there were here 2,000 sheep, more or less, de-pending on the season, for they sell lambs fat to the butchers, and sell rams as well. Not a trace of disease could I detect in the flock, due no doubt to the fact that there was no fence on the farm and no permanent grass; the sheep shifted constantly.

These Dishleys are wonderful sheep, too. They are nearly as good in form as Leicesters; perhaps I should say that they are fully as good. They are smaller in size, which is a good thing for the market at this time, and have a delightful cross-bred wool that sells for a high price. They shear about eleven pounds of wool per head in well-bred flocks. The lambs grow fast and fatten early. Fernand Delacour told me that he averaged about $9 each for his fat lambs when they were six months or a little more of age. I saw afterward many flocks of them in France, and was told that the breed steadily spreads and displaces other breeds. The Dishley-Merino is made by fusing the bloods of the Merino and the Leicester. In America we have thought that no permanent fusion with Merino could be done, but these men prove that it is possible, and that the result is good indeed. I was told that about 25 per cent of Merino blood is in the sheep, though some breeders claimed to have as much as 40 per cent. From appearance I doubt their having so much as that.

When the shepherd wished to move them he said something in a low tone to his dogs, which at once quietly yet quickly put the sheep together. The shepherd walked on ahead and the flock followed at his heels, perhaps all around him, seeming to have no fear of either him or the dogs and yet giving unquestioned obedience.

A SOISSONAIS MERINO RAM

The sheep were but one feature of the life and activities of the farm. There were many yokes of magnificent red oxen busily cultivating the wheat and oat stubble to make a seed-bed for the fallen grain and for all the weeds and grasses which would come up and make the land green. Sometimes they also sow red clover or other seeds on the stubbles at the time of this cultivation—a catch crop, as it were. The red oxen, of the race of Auvernat, were much like large Devons; they buy them when four years old, work them for three years and sell them fat in Paris. They cost about $150 each to buy and sell for $170 to $180 each. Oxen do not sell as well as do steers, but they do so much labor that they are profitable. They work them usually in fours.

In another field the fertilizer distributer was going, putting on basic slag at the rate of a little less than 1,000 pounds per acre. It is applied once in four years. They also used great amounts of plaster or gypsum on the manure heaps, and bonemeal in large amounts on the beet-fields, about 500 pounds per acre, and for the beets nitrate of soda, about 250 pounds per acre in several applications. All stable and yard manures are religiously saved and applied.

What is the result? In the drouth year of 1911 they got forty bushels of wheat and oats to the acre. The beets were hurt by drouth and the maize was also damaged as it was planted late and thick, to be eut green for cows.

The farm has 1,050 acres. It carries 2,000 sheep, sixty oxen; fifteen Normandy cows and twenty horses. It sells an enormous amount of grain. It sells fuel alcohol, distilled from the beets grown on the land. The land is worth, says M. Delacour, about $240 per acre. That is not saying that one could buy such land, with such equipment, for that price, but occasionally similar land sells for that price. The land, then, is worth, say $252,000, and M. Delacour tells me that one can make 10 per cent on this investment, if the land is properly farmed. He uses the sixty oxen and twenty horses on the land. He plows twenty inches deep once in the rotation, when he is ready to sow alfalfa. He limes the land thoroughly with unburned limestone or chalk, which he digs from his own farms and applies in large amounts. The more lime the better and more lasting his alfalfa and the sainfoin, which he sows with it. He employs all the year around forty laborers and at harvest time seventy men and fifteen women. These laborers work ten hours daily and live in cottages furnished them in the village of old stone cottages around the walls of the old chateau. He pays his shepherd $25 a month and extras for lambs raised and rams sold, his plowmen $21 to $22 per month with cottages. His labor bill must in the aggregate be enormous, yet the marvelous fertility that he and his fathers have accumulated pays all, feeds all and supports the Delacours in a beautiful way of living.

An electric thresher was threshing out the wheat and binding the straw into straight bundles again; wherever good machines would serve a- useful purpose they had been installed; they were always housed in fine stone-built buildings. Everything was done so well that it would endure for hundreds of years. Naturally the Delacours inherit values that were achieved by their grandsires, and what they add is so well done that it will be used by their great-grandchildren.