Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Oats for Me or My Livestock?
What do you think of my plump grain? Not always have we been blessed with such good grain. When first I brought my family to this island I had but one horse, a milk cow, two beef cows and their calves, and five sheep with me from my father's farm near Boston (we were banished and our properties confiscated). In truth, we were blessed to have even that much livestock. They all fed upon what grass they could find and any undergrowth in the brush and woods.
Have you ever considered what it takes to grow this grain? Yea, it takes a bit of work. We came with only a small measure, not even enough to feed ourselves. I, my wife, and my sister worked to clear a small plot of land from the brush. We planted that small measure. 'Twas a dry year so twice a day we carried water from the brook down that path there to both the grain and the kitchen garden by the house. Through the summer we nurtured the grain, praying God might give us an abundant harvest, and He did. That first year the oats brought forth eighty-fold. This means eighty times more than what we seeded. Still that was less than eight bushels. The next year, I fear we had but thirty-fold. Hail had destroyed a good portion.
Those first years the grain was not for our livestock but for ourselves. If we fed our horse every day for a year the measure of oats I just gave him, he would eat more than a hundred bushels. Those first few years we could not spare even a kernel for them. We ate what we could and saved some to plant each spring. In time, however, we continued to expand our cleared land and could grow more.
Yea, in time we were blessed to get eighty bushels of grain to an acre. Indeed I'm told my grandfather only managed 8 or 9 bushels an acre in Wales nigh eighty years ago. I've heard tell of some here in the colonies getting even ninty bushels. I cannot think but that such a farmer was truly blessed by God.
Even today, however, I only feed grain to this stallion here during the breeding season. He needs the extra care at this time. But for the other livestock, our pasture suffices.
Look closely at the grass beneath your feet. You will see that there are a number of different plants, some clover, some timothy, and so on. This makes for good pasture and good livestock. This took years to grow and I had to import grass seed from England.
I wish you all Godspeed and may you count your many blessings today when you sit at your meal and enjoy the bread God has provided for you.
A note from Lynn Squire:
I began to question how often bread was eaten by the early colonists. Growing up on a grain farm, I knew how hard we had worked to grow a crop--that with all the then-modern equipment, fertilizer, methodology, etc.
The early seventeenth century colonist did not eat a lot of wheat or oats (they ate nuts, berries, corn, meat and fish). They had a difficult time growing grain. While corn became a mainstay, even that wasn't as bountiful as it is today. I did find recorded where eighty-six bushels of corn was gleaned from one bushel of seed. A bushel of seed would cover approximately one acre of land. A bushel of corn weighs 56 lbs. One bushel could feed 10 people (the average household) for approximately 5 to 6 days.
Most farms were approximately fifty acres in New England. Livestock, buildings, kitchen gardens, pasture, etc. would be on those fifty acres.
The average acreage in England only produced about eight to nine bushels of grain to the acre. A lot of acreage would be needed to grow enough wheat, for example, to feed a family for a year. In time the colonists seemed to do better than those farmers in England.
I experimented in our backyard. Even though I would not have the same variety of grain the colonists would have had (which would be of poor quality than our present varieties), I scattered the grain on the soil in a manner similar to how the colonists would have. Yes my soil is different and the climate was different, but I felt it would still give me a feel for what the colonists would have experienced. Within a few months, I had first hand experience how little grain (grown from a handful of kernels) would grow in a small plot--not even enough to grind into flour for a loaf of bread.
Consider a few things. Rocks and trees and brush populated the land when the colonists arrived and needed to be cleared. I have memories of walking the fields to pick rocks and poison gophers. These were constant enemies of the farmer, as they would have been for the colonists. The soil in most of New England was of poor quality. The birds would come. The mice would come. Floods and hail would come. Drought would come. As well as sickness. Even if the conditions were perfect, for those early colonists surviving on what they could grow on their farms would be difficult. How much more when you factor in nature.