Straw is much used in the feeding of cattle in Scotland, and there can be no doubt that oxen will feed well on straw and turnips, if the straw be good. It is recommended in all cases that for a month or six weeks after a bullock is put to turnips, straw only should be given with them. But in the more advanced stages of fattening, hay is so much superior, that it should if possible be supplied. It is certain, at the same time, that hay is a very expensive food for stock, and ought to be saved as much as possible where it can prudently be done. It is well known that a full allowance of turnips and straw, during the winter months, will fatten better than a small allowance of hay in place of the straw. In the spring, hay which retains its nutritive juices longer than straw, is much more valuable, both for fattening stock and feeding horses, and it is therefore the practice to reserve hay for about three months' consumption of these kinds of stock, and for no others.
In regard to horses, hay may very often be more or less scarce or dear; but with straw and the oats, which must always be given them whether they get straw or hay, they not only plough three-fourths of an acre per day, or work from seven to eight hours at other labor, but are actually full of flesh and vigor when sowing commences. They must, however, have hay instead of straw, when the severe labor of spring takes place.
When, therefore, farmers' horses are so much reduced in condition as to be unable to go through the severe labor of spring, it is owing to their not having got a sufficient quantity of oats or corn. Pea and bean straw certainly make the best fodder, when not injured by rain; but if that kind of straw is damaged in harvest, white straw is to be preferred.
There is no food of which sheep are fonder than peastraw. The soil of pastoral districts being rarely of a kind calculated for peas, any extensive cultivation of that grain is impracticable; but where circumstances are favorable to that crop, peas ought to be cultivated, were it merely for the straw, as it would enable the store-farmers to carry on their system of sheep-farming with much more advantage. Indeed, the same plan might be advisable in other districts. It might be proper to add, that for ewes at yeaning time, lentil-hay is better than tare-hay or even pea-haum.
On turnip farms it is the usual practice to feed horses till March, where the labor is not severe, and cows through the winter, with oat-straw, whilst the fattening and straw-yard cattle get the straw of wheat and barley. If any peas or beans be cultivated on the farm, that straw being given to the horses, a part of the oat-straw may be left for the fattening and straw-yard cattle. Upon turnip farms it is not thought profitable to cut the greater part of the clovers for hay. These are usually eaten by sheep and no more hay saved than what may serve the horses, cows, and fattening stock for eight or ten weeks, immediately before grass, with a small quantity occasionally given to the sheep fed on turnips.
The expense of feeding even the horses alone, for eight months, on hay, would be more than a farmer can well afford; at the same time it is a rule with the best farmers to give hay to their horses in the early part of winter; then peas or bean-straw till seed-time commences in the spring; and afterwards hay.
Straw keeps much better unthreshed, in a large stack, than in a barn. Straw in general, more especially white straw, is found to lose its value as fodder, in whatever way it may be kept, after the sharp dry breezes of the spring months have set in.
It is a general rule that straw, when intended to be used as food for stock, should be given as speedily as possible after it is threshed. The threshing separates and exposes it so much, that if kept long it is, comparatively speaking, of little value as fodder. Lisle, an intelligent writer on agriculture, and a practical farmer, states, that he found cows did not eat straw so well on a Monday morning as they did the rest of the week, because the straw was not fresh from the flail. Straw, therefore, should be constantly made use of, as soon after it is threshed as possible: for by keeping it becomes either musty or too dry, and cattle do not eat it, or thrive on it so well. It cannot be doubted that air has a very injurious effect upon all kinds of fodder, and the more it can be kept from the influence of the sun and the atmosphere, the better. It is seldom given as fodder, unless to straw-yard cattle, after the month of March.
When clover is sown with grain crops, the clover has often arrived at such a length as to mix with the straw in cutting the crop. This certainly improves the straw in good harvests; but as little clover as possible should be cut with the straw, as it makes it very difficult to secure the crop, unless it be left upon the ground for several days.
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