RECORD: [Thurber, G.]. 1868. Varieties and variation. American Agriculturalist 27 (May): 176-7.

REVISION HISTORY: Images from Google Books, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data, corrections by John van Wyhe 9.2010. RN1


[page] 176

Varieties and Variation.

That animals and plants vary, i.e., the child is not always in all respects like its parent, must be admitted by all. That the peculiarities which mark this variation may be transmitted, and that by breeding from animals possessing desirable peculiarities in the most marked degree, a race may be so well established that it is quite certain to "come true every time" is known to every stock-breeder and every intelligent farmer. How great these variations, what a difference from the wild type of animals and plants our domestic ones present—a difference caused by man's agency in selecting for perpetuation those possessing qualities best suited to his use or his fancy—few are aware. It remained for Mr. Charles Darwin, the distinguished English naturalist, to bring together in his recent work, on

[page] 177

the "Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," a host of the most interresting, we might almost say startling, facts bearing on these points. One cannot peruse this book without wonder at the industry that has brought together so much widely scattered material, without being impressed with the wonderful power that man has, often unconsciously, exercised over the brute creation, in modifying not only their habits, but their very structure and without gratitude to the Creator that He has so formed the creatures over which He has given man dominion, that they should be not only subject to his will in the sense of subordination, but to his will in adapting themselves to his uses. The laws which seem to govern these variations, the effects, good and bad, of crossing and close breeding, inheritance, influence of food, climate, etc., and all matters relating to the subject, are discussed with a clearness and thoroughness, that have made the book, to us, not only instructive but fascinating. It is a book to be studied, and thought over, and referred to. We

Fig. 1.—HEADS OF WILD BOAR AND YORKSHIRE HOG.

are tempted to give a few of Mr. Darwin's figures, as illustrations of some of the remarkable instances of variation, and in doing so we select those that are within the observation of most of our readers. The hog has done a great deal for man, and reciprocally man has done a great deal for the hog—"A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind." Look at the portraits in figure 1. The upper head is that of a Wild Boar— not altogether unlike some tame ones we have seen—while the lower is from a photograph of "Golden Days," of the Yorkshire breed. What a difference in the development of the head—a difference which is equally marked in the legs, and in the whole structure of the animal. When man found it inconvenient to go out and shoot wild pork, he began to grow it in pens. Man had a fondness for ham and good pork, and be bred from animals likely to furnish these, while the pig, not being obliged to seek its own living, had less use for enout and legs. Thus the two, man and pig, unconsciously, it may be, produced the result here shown. We not only get more pork from the carefully bred animals, but the animal gets less head. In the common breeds the head is in length to that of the body, as 1 to 6, while in the highly cultivated races it is as 1 to 9, and even 1 to 11; and so with length of legs, size of hams, character of hair, skin, etc.

Cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, and other quadrupeds are treated in a most interesting way, and many curious points in their history developed. Upon birds, especially upon pigeons, Mr. Darwin is very full. Pigeons are bred so largely for "fancy," vary so widely, and in so few generations, that they afford striking illustrations of the variation produced through the agency of man. The fine group of pigeons we gave last month shows some of the widely differing forms. These are, however, but few among the many breeds known to fanciers, and as unlike as they are, they are all traced back, with considerable certainty, to the wild pigeon of Europe. In a long course of breeding, these varieties have departed widely from the original type, and from one another. Not only do they differ in particulars that are noticeable at sight, but the skeleton is changed in various ways.

Figure 2 shows the skulls of some of the varieties. A is the skull of the Wild Rock Pigeon; B, the Short-faced Tumbler; C, the English Carrier; and D, the Bagsdotten Carrier. A comparison of these skulls shows how much the domestic races have departed from the wild type, in shape of the bones of the head, length and character of the bill, and the like.

Mr. Darwin has much that is interesting to say about fowls, the numerous breeds of which he considers to have originated from one wild species. Strange, indeed, that a species should have varied so greatly as to give us the tiny Bantam and the enormous Cochin, the Black Spanish, (fig. 3,) with its immense single comb and white face, and the Hamburgh, (fig. 4,) with its flat, curiously pointed, and marked comb!

It is not our purpose to review Mr. Darwin's book, for our limits would not allow of that. We can only say, that no one has discussed the subjects of which he treats with so much ability. He has given us a store of facts, and the explanation of the wonderful variations in our domestic animals and plants that seem to him indicated by these facts. In the above we have omitted all reference to Mr. Darwin's facts and investigations with respect to plants. Some of these are

Fig. 2.—SKULLS OF PIGEONS.

from experiments of his own, developing some exceedingly curious facts in fertilization, and attended with results of great interest to the botanist and the general cultivator. Some may not agree with his views, but none can deny the force and fairness with which they are put.

Fig. 3.—BLACK SPANISH FOWL.
Fig. 4.—HAMBURGH FOWL.

[page] 178

Walks and Talks on the Farm.—No. 53.

Do you recollect a conversation we had about the system adopted by the Herkimer County dairymen, of breeding and feeding cows solely for milk, without any reference to their value for beef when thay were no longer profitable for the dairy? I endeavored to show that at the present price of beef it would be better to keep a cow five years and then sell her for beef, and get another and keep her five years and sell her also for beef, than it was to keep one cow ten years until she was "used up" and of little value except for the hide. In the latter case, we figured a total profit of $310 in the ten years; and in the former case, a profit of $125 in five years on one cow, and consequently a total profit on the two cows during the ten years of $250. (See Agriculturist for Feb., p. 54.)

A Cortland Co. farmer writes that I have made a mistake—that the profit on the old cow is $210, and on the young cow $125, and that consequently the present system of keeping cows until they are used up is more profitable than of turning them off at an earlier age for beef. He overlooks the fact that in the latter case we have two cows instead of one. The profit in the ten years is just double what he supposes. There is no mistake, except that the profit on the young cow is $130 Instead of $123, and consequently $260 instead of $250, a mistake which adds ten dollars to the strength of the argument. I was very careful not to overestimate the profits of the new system. I think it would be easy to show greater advantages than those which we claimed. With beef at famine prices it seems a pity to keep a cow until there is nothing left of her but skin and bones.

The same writer says: "Some other ideas of Walks and Talks in the February No. differ from what I believe dairymen around here hold to, as when ho says: 'It takes more food to produce a pound of cheese than a pound of beef.' I cannot say he is mistaken, as I have not tested it." He then asks if the cow that produced 600 lbs. of cheese in a year would produce more than 600 lbs. of beef with the same food. Prolmbly not. But a cow with equally good digestive organs, that is so constituted that all the food shall be changed into beef instead of into cheese, will gain a good deal more than 600 lbs. in live weight.

It is an extraordinary cow that will produce 600 lbs. of cheese in a year. Such a cow must necessarily eat a large amount of food, and of the best quality, and the probabilities are that at the commencement of the season she is in high condition, and as thin as a shadow at the end of it. In other words, although the season may not last over eight months, the food of the whole year is used to produce the 600 lbs. of cheese, and the calf The flesh and fat she had stored up during the winter would all find their way to the milk-pail before the end of the summer. Mr. Sheldon's Short-born calf weighed at 6 months old, 652 lbs.; at 9 months old, 928 lbs.; at 12 months, 1,216 lbs., and at 18 months, 1,806 lbs. Of course this is an extraordinary animal—but so is also the cow that will give 600 lbs. of cheese in a year. Both have splendid digestive organs, and both unquestionably had all the food they could digest and convert into beef or cheese. Had this animal been killed at twelve months old, he would have dressed at least 800 lbs. And you must recollect that in the case of the cow the machine for converting the food into cheese is already made—and it required at least three years feeding to get the machine in running order. But this yearling Short-horn made nearly the whole of his own machine as he went along, and turned off 800 lbs. of beef.

But of course such facts as these prove nothing. They are not comparative. The main reason for supposing that a pound of cheese requires more food for its production than a pound of beef is this. Beef is derived from the blood of the animal, and so is cheese. Their origin is identical, and composition very similar. But there is far less water in cheese than there is in beef.

A first-class American cheese analysed by Dr. Voelcker contained in one hundred parts:

Water 27.29
Butter 35.41
Casein 25.87
Milk sugar, lactic acid, and extractive matters 6.21
Mineral matters, (Ash) 6.23

Lawes & Gilbert give the composition of the carcass of a fat calf, a half fat ox, and of a fat ox:

Fat Calf Half fat ox Fat ox.
Water 02.30 54.00 45.60
Fat 16.60 22.60 34.80
Nitrogenous compounds 16.60 17.80 15.00
Mineral matter (Ash). 4.48 5.56 4.56

Look at these figures and tell me which would require the most food to produce it, a hundred pounds of cheese or a hundred pounds of beef? Take the half fat ox, (which is the condition in which most of our cattle are slaughtered), and it will be seen that the beef contains twice as much water as the cheese. If there was no water in the cheese, and no water in the beef, the composition per cent would be as follows:

Cheese. Beef.
Fat or Butter 43 1/ 49
Nitrogenous compounds or Casein 93 1/ 38¾
Sugar, lactic acid, &c none.

The beef contains a llitle more fat than the cheese, and some 3 per cent more nitrogenous matter, but the cheese has 8 1/ per cent sugar, etc.

Looking at these figures as they stand, one would say that it look about as much food to make a pound of dried beef as a pound of dried cheese. But we do not sell beef and cheese in this chemically dry condition. As ordinarily sold, the cheese contains only about half as much water as the beef. The cow that makes 600 lbs. of cheese in a year has as much fat and nitrogenous matter extracted from her blood as would make about 900 lbs. of beef. And that this is all derived from the food directly or indirectly, no sane man will question. It takes, therefore, more food to produce a pound of cheese than a pound of beef.

The same writer thinks it a mistake to suppose "that enriching the land either by hoeing or manuring, causes it to grow richer grass." He thinks "2 tons of hay from two acres is worth more than 2 tons from one acre." Sometimes it is, and sometimes it is not It depends on the character of the land and on the nature of the grass. Two tons of timothy from two acres of upland would be worth more than two tons of sedges, weeds, rushes, aud coarse grass, from one acre of rich, swampy land. So far he is right. But this does not touch the point. Take a field of good, dry upland. Let half of it be enriched by thorough cultivation and manuring, and the grass on this half will be sweeter and more nutritious than on the other half. Top-dress an acre or two of pasture land with some rich, well-rotted manure. It will bring in finer grasses and thicken the sward, and the cows will very soon tell you which grass they like best. They will not touch the other grass as long as a bite can be obtained on the top-dressed portion.

This man is hard to please. He thinks everything I said in the February No. is "faulty." He cannot see why high farming is any more necessary or profitable on high-priced land than on cheap land. He thinks "good farming pays the best anywhere." But we were not talking about good farming, but high farming. If he had written : "My idea is that high farming pays best anywhere," he would have met the case. And if he had thought a moment, he would have seen that this proposition is not true.

Good farming is sometimes high farming and sometimes not. Plowing under a crop of clover for wheat is frequently good farming, but it is anything but high farming. Summer-fallowing is often the best and cheapest way of cleaning and enriching land, and in such a case is good farming, but it is never high farming. High farming would summer-fallow the land and have a heavy crop growing at the same time. The market gardens around New York afford excellent examples of high farming. Read Henderson's interesting book on "Gardening for Profit," and you will get an idea of how much produce can be raised on an acre of land. They employ a working capital of $300 an acre; underdrain thoroughly; use from 50 to 100 tons of manure on each acre every year; have two, three, and four crops in succession during the season on the same land; never let a weed show itself pay from $100 to $300 an acre rent and taxes, and make a handsome profit besides. This is high farming. They have to pay an enormous price for the land, and they must farm high, or not farm at all. They could not afford to let their land He ie idle a year in order that they might summer-fallow or plow under a crop of clover. Where land is worth only $50 an acre, we can afford to adopt a slower method of enriching it than when it is worth $500, or even $200 per acre.

He quotes my remark: "You can afford to pay more for manure that will double the crops on land worth $150 per acre, than on land worth only $50," and asks "Why so? If doubling the crops on good farms is profitable, why not on poor ones equally so?" Why not stick to the proposition ? He should say, "If doubling the crops on land worth $150 an acre, by using 400 lbs. of guano costing $20, is profitable, why not on a farm worth only $50 an acre?"

Had he put the question in this form he might have discovered a reason. You can afford to spend more time in order to double the interest on $150 than to double it on $50. Mark you, I did not say the Herkimer Co. dairy farms were worth $150 to $200 an acre. I only said if such was the case it would pay better to adopt high farming than it would on land worth only $50 per acre. I can afford to spend $30 an acre in underdraining my farm in Western New York, but it is very questionable whether $30 an acre can be profitably spent in draining a farm in a section of Iowa, where good, dry land could be bought for $10 an acre. Where corn is worth $1.25 a bushel it may pay to expend 25 cents a bushel in grinding and cooking it for the hogs, but where corn is worth only 35 or 40 cents a bushel it would hardly pay to expend 25 cents a bushel for the purpose.

I have just sold 15 tons of straw to the paper men for $150—they drawing it themselves—and the Deacon says he met Peart, the butcher, yesterday, who told him that he "was going to get some one to write an article for the papers giving me 'Hall Columbia' for preaching one thing and practising another."

Pity the sorrows of a poor old editor I do not think it is a good plan, as a general rule, to

[title page]

AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST

FOR THE

Farm, Garden, and Household.

"AGRICULTURE IS THE MOST HEALTHFUL, MOST USEFUL, AND MOST NOBLE EMPLOYMENT OF MAN"—WASHINGTON.

ORANGE JUDD & CO., PUBLISHERS AND PROPRIETORS. Office, 245 BROADWAY.

ESTABLISHED IN 1842, Published also in German at $1.50 a year.

$1.50 PER ANNUM, IN ADVANCE, SINGLE NUMBER, 15 CENTS. 4 Copies for $5; 10 for $12;20 or more, $1 each

Entered according to Act of Congress in April, 1868, by ORANGE JUDD &Co., In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New-York.

VOLUME XXVII.—No. 5. NEW YORK, MAY, 1868. NEW SERIES—No. 256.

(COPYRIGHT SECURED.)

A ROMAN FARM-YARD SCENE. —FROM A PAINTING BY C. H. POYNDESTRE.—Drawn and Engraved for the American Agriculturist.

This spirited scene, so foreign in its whole air, yet so thoroughly agricultural, affords us a fine opportunity to present the chief peculiarities of form, which distinguish the cattle of Italy. A herd of cattle, which had been turned out upon the Campagna to graze, have been collected by horsemen, and, excited by their halloolngs, have rushed, impetuously following their leader, into the wrong enclosure, to the dismay of the occupants of the quaint court-yard, with its odd old well, and shrine of the Virgin, before which hangs the ever-burning lamp. A race of cattle, for years bred without the admixture of foreign blood, their owners perhaps being guided in the selection of breeding animals more by uniformity of color, size, and strength, than by anything else, will, of necessity, present a similarity of appearance hardly possible among cattle bred for milk and beef, with a secondary regard to other characteristics. Though domesticated, they are essentially a wild race, because they have been bred in accordance with a sort of natural selection, like that which prevails under the rule of the strongest upon the pampas of South America, or great plains of Texas. Travellers in Southern Europe are familiar with the mouse-colored cattle of Italy. This is not the universal color, by any means, yet it exists extensively, shading into dingy cream-color in parts of Tuscany, and running also into French gray with dark legs and heads. The mealy muzzle familiar to us in the Channel Island breeds is universal. The oxen are marked by immensely long and powerful horns, massive necks, and full dewlaps. The breed is coarse-boned, and the cattle generally thick-hided and poor feeders. Formerly it is likely greater pains was taken in their breeding, but it is said there is now very little, except in Parma, whence the markets of the world are supposed to be supplied with Parmesan cheese. Here a marked improvement in the milking qualities of the cows is noticed, which is no doubt largely due to the introduction of Swiss blood, and it is accompanied by the usual evidences of a crossed or mixed breed. The artist has thrown great character into his animal figures; and the spirited piece of by-play between the hay-laden horse, the ass, and the goat, introduced boldly into the center of the picture, is a great success, and does not detract from the effect of the alarming incursion of the cattle.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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