The Annual Register, Or, A View of the History, Politics, and Literature for 1771, pp. 104-110 (1772)

Great Improvements made in the Breed of Cattle, by Mr. Bakewell of Dishley in Northamptonshire;
from the Farmer's Tour through the East of England, by Arthur Young, Esq;

MR. Bakewell of Dishley, one of the most considerable farmers in this country, has in so many instances improved on the husbandry of his neighbours, that he merits particular notice in this journal.

His breed of cattle is famous throughout the kingdom; and he has lately sent many to Ireland. He has in this part of his business many ideas which I believe are perfectly new; or that have hitherto been totally neglected. This principle is to gain the beast, whether sheep or cow, that will weigh molt in the most valuable joints: — there is a great difference between an ox of 50 stone carrying 30 in roasting pieces, and 20 in coarse boiling ones — and another carrying 30 in the latter, and 20 in the former. And at the same time that he gains the shape, that is, of the greatest value in the smallest compass; he. asserts, from long experience, that he gains a breed much hardier, and easier fed than any others. These ideas he applies equally to sheep and oxen.

In the breed of the latter, the old notion was, that where you had much and large bones, there was plenty of room to lay flesh on; and accordingly the graziers were eager to buy the largest boned cattle. This whole system Mr. Bakewell has proved to be an utter mistake. He asserts, the smaller the bones, the truer will be the make of the beast — the quicker she will fat — and her weight, we may easily conceive, will have a larger proportion of valuable meat; flesh, not bone, is the butcher's object. Mr. Bakewell admits that & large boned beast, may be made a large fat beast, and that he may come to a great weight; but justly observes, that this is no part of the profitable enquiry; for stating such .a simple proposition, without at the same time shewing the expence of covering those bones with flesh, is offering no satisfactory argument. The only object of real importance, is the proportion of grass to value. I have 20 acres; which will pay me for those acres best, large or small boned cattle? The latter fat so much quicker, and more profitably in the joints of value; that the query is answered in their favour from long and attentive experience.

Among other breeds of cattle the Lincolnshire and the Holderness are very large, but their size lies in their bones: they may be fattened to great loss to the grazier, nor can they ever return much for a given quantity of grass, as the small boned, long horned kind.

The breed which Mr. Bakewell has fixed on as the best in England, is the Lancashire, and he thinks he has improved it much, in bringing the carcass of the beast into a truer mould; and particularly by making them broader over the backs. The shape which should be the criterion of a cow, a bull, or an ox, and also of a sheep, is that of an hogshead, or a firkin; truly circular, with small and as short legs as possible: upon the plain principle, that the value lies in the barrel, not in the legs. All breeds, the backs of which rise in the least ridge, are bad. I measured two or three cows, 2 feet 3 inches flat across their back from hip to hip — and their legs remarkably short.

Mr. Bakewell has now a bull of his own breed which he calls Twopenny, which leaps cows at 5l. 5s. a cow. This is carrying the breed of horned cattle to wonderful perfection. He is a very fine bull most truly made, according to the principles laid down above. He has many others got by him, which he lets for the season, from 5 guineas to 30 guineas a season, but rarely sells any. He would not take 200l. for Twopenny. He has several cows which he keeps for breeding, that he would not fell at 30 guineas apiece.

Another particularity is the amazing gentleness in which he brings up these animals. All his bulls stand still in the field to be examined: the way of driving them from one field to another, or home, is by a little swish; he or his men walk by their side, and guide them with the flick wherever they please; and they are accustomed to this method from being calves. A lad, with a stick three feet long, and as big as his finger, will conduct a bull away from other bulls, and his cows from one end of the farm to the other. All this gentleness is merely the effect of management, and the mischief often done by bulls, is undoubtedly owing to practices very contrary — or else to a total neglect.

The general order in which Mr. Bakewell keeps his cattle is pleasing; all are fat as bears; and this is a circumstance which he insists is owing to the excellence of the breed. His land is no better than his neighbours, at the fame time that it carries a far greater proportion of stock; as I shall shew by and by. The small quantity, and the inferior quality of food that will keep a beast perfectly well made, in good order, is surprizing: such an animal will grow fat in the same pasture that would starve an ill-made, great boned one.

*The following is an account of two sheep of Mr. Bakewell's, measured in the wool.

In the breed of his sheep, Mr. Bakewell is as curious, and I think, if any difference, with greater success, than in his horned cattle: for better-made animals cannot be seen than his rams and ewes: their bodies are as true barrels as can be seen*; round, broad backs; and the legs not above six inches long: and a most unusual proof of kindly fattening, is their feeling quite fat, just within their fore legs on the ribs, a point in which sheep are never examined in common; from common breeds never carrying any fat there.

"I this day measured Mr. Bakewell's three years old ram, and found him as follows:"

  Feet Inches
His girt, 5 10
His height, 2 5
His collar broad at ear tips, 1 4
Broad over his shoulders, 1 11 ½
Ditto over his ribs, 1 10 ½
Ditto his hips, 1 9 ½

Dishley, 17th March, 1770. H. SANDFORD

 "This day measured a two year old barren ewe."

  Feet Inches
Height 1 11
Girt 5 9
Breast from the ground, the breadth of 4 fingers.

 N. B. I would have measured her breadth, but for a fall of snow.
Dishley, ut sup.
H. S.

In his breed of sheep, he proceeds, exactly on the same principle as with oxen; the fatting in the valuable parts of the body; and the living on much poorer food than other sorts. He has found from various experience in many parts of the kingdom, as well as upon his own farm, that no land is too bad for a good breed of cattle, and particularly sheep. It may not be proper for large stock, that is large boned stock, but undoubtedly more proper for a valuable well-made sheep than the usual wretched sorts found in most parts of England on poor soils — such as the moor sheep — the Welch ones — and the Norfolks. — And he would hazard any moderate stake, that his own breed, each sheep of which is worth several of those poor sorts, would do better on those poor soils than the stock generally found on them: A good and true shape having been found the strongest indication of hardiness, and what the graziers call a kindly sheep; one that has always an inclination to feed.

He has an experiment to prove the hardiness of his breed which deserves notice. He has 5 or 6 ewes, that have gone constantly in the highways since May-day, and have never been in his fields: the roads are narrow, and the food very bare; they are in excellent order, and nearly fat; which proves in the strongest manner, the excellence of the breed. And another circumstance of a peculiar nature is his stock of ewes, that have reared two lambs, being quite fat in the first week of July; an instance hardly to be paralleled.

The breed is originally Lincolnshire, but Mr. Bakewell thinks, and very justly, that he has much improved it. The grand profit, as I before observed, is from the same food going so much farther in feeding these than any others; not however that Mr. Bakewell's breed is small; on the contrary, it is as weighty as nine tenths of the kingdom; for he fells fat wethers at three years and an half old at 2l. a head. Other collateral circumstances of importance are the wool being equal to any other; and the sheep standing the fold better. He sells no tups, but lets them at from 9 guineas to 30 guineas for the season.

* Let me remark, that Mr. Bakewell has several comparisons between other breeds of cattle and his own, which I purposely omit taking any notice of, because such experiments are impossible to be accurate from the great difference in certain beasts in feeding, fatting, &c., besides, supposing such accuracy, still other people, and particularly those of the countries compared, would never give credit to such comparisons, unless the very best breeders in the very best countries themselves chose certain beasts to represent their breed in the trial: Nor does Mr. Bakewell's breed want any such experiments to recommend them.

Relative to the rot in sheep, Mr. Bakewell has attended more to it than most men in England: He is extremely clear, from long attention, that this disorder is owing solely to floods — never to land being wet, only from rains which do not flow, nor from springs that rise. He conjectures, that the young grass which springs in consequence of a flood, is of flashy a nature that it occasions this common complaint. But whether this idea is just or not, still he is clear in his facts; that floods (in whatever manner they act) are the cause. Perhaps the most curious experiment ever made on the rot in sheep, is what he has frequently practised: When particular parcels of his best bred sheep are past service, he fats them for the butcher; and to be sure that they shall be killed, and not go into other hands, he rots them before he sells; which from long experience he can do at pleasure. It is only to flow a pasture or meadow in summer, and it inevitably rots all the sheep that feed on it the following autumn. After the middle of May, water flowing over land is certain to cause it to rot, whatever be the soil: he has acted thus with several of his fields, which without that management would never affect a sheep in the least: the water may flow with impunity all winter, and even to the end of April, but after that the above effect is sure to take place. Springs he asserts to be no cause of rotting, nor yet the grass which rises in consequence; unless they flow: Nor is it ever owing to the ground being very wet from heavy rains, unless the water flows. This theory of the rot upon the whole appears satisfactory and that part. of at which is the certain result of experience, cannot be disputed*.

In the breed of stallions for getting cart-horses, Mr. Bakewell is also very attentive: he has those at present that he lets at from 25 to 150 guineas the season. He conceives the true make of a cart-horse, be nearly that described above for an ox — thick and short bodies, and very short legs. He makes them all particularly gentle: and apprehends that bad drawing-horses, can be owing to nothing but bad management. He has one stallion that leaps at 5 guineas a mare.

Mr. Bakewell is remarkably attentive to the point of wintering his cattle; all his horned beasts are tied up in open or other sheds all winter through, from November till the end of March, feeding them according to their kind, with straw, turnips, or hay; all the lean beasts have straw alone: he never litters them, on account of making the straw go as far as possible, — that it may be eaten up perfectly clean. Young cattle, that require to be kept quite in a thriving state, have turnips; and also fattening ones: and late in the spring, when turnips are gone, hay is wholly their substitute

The conveniencies for tying up beasts, which Mr. Bakewell has built at his own expence, are a remarkable instance of spirited husbandry; he has formed such numbers of stalls for them, by building new sheds, and converting old barns and other places into standings for cows, that he has more than once wintered 170 beasts of all sorts; and all in the house.

The floors on which the beasts stand, are paved, and 6 or eight inches higher than the level of the yard: they are just broad enough for a beast to stand on with some difficulty; the consequence of which is, that his dung falls beyond his standing, and on the lower pavement, and when he lays down, he draws himself up on to the higher pavement, and is clear of it — by this means, they are kept quite clean without litter; and the men who are employed on purpose, keep the whole constantly swept down, and barrow the dung into the area of the yard, that is surrounded by the sheds, and then pile up the dung in a square clamp.

By using no straw in litter, he makes it go so far in wintering cattle, that he much reduces the expence of winter feeding them: and this has occasioned his adopting a new system in the management of his horned cattle. He used to draw with teams of oxen; and found that he must keep double the number worked, to have, in the comman manner, one set coming into work, and another going out; and then he had his cows bulled at two years old, consequently they were wintered on hay when three years old. But now he has changed his system; he draws all with cows; they live on straw at three years old; when they are bulled, and work till four years old; hence one winter at hay, is changed to two at straw, which, from Mr. Bakewell's management, is a great saving, and the work all gained at the same time; and let me observe further, that the calves bred from a cow rising from 3 to 4, must far exceed those from cows rising from 2 to 3: the latter age is too early to breed, both for the calf and the dam.

I saw the teams of cows at work, and they were to the full as handy as oxen; and Mr. Bakewell finds, that they draw just as well as oxen of the same size. He would not have taken 120l for one of his teams of 6 cows.

He has water in cisterns in his farm-yards, and all the beasts are let loose to drink once a day, except those on turnips, which do not want it.

He prefers, in the raising of manure, the dung arising from cattle that eat a given quantity of straw, to any manure to be gained from such quantity of straw by littering — insomuch, that if he had more straw than he could eat, he would not litter with it, but take in his neighbour's cattle to eat it, for nothing; and would give them the same attendance as his own. This is a particular idea, which may very probably be just; but experiment alone can prove it.

Mr. Bakewell very justly considers the raising dung as one of the most important objects of husbandry; and for this purpose, his vast stock of cattle is of noble assistance. The proportion of his stock to his land, will shew, not only the excellence of his management, but also the hardiness of his breed; for no tender cattle could be kept in such quantities. His farm in all consists of about 440 acres, 110 of which are arable, and the rest grass. He keeps 60 horses, 400 large sheep, and 150 beasts of all sorts: and yet he has generally about 15 acres of wheat, and 25 of spring corn: the turnips not more than 30 acres. If the degree of fatness, in which he keeps all these cattle, be considered, and that he buys neither straw nor hay; it must at once appear, that he keeps a larger stock on a given number of acres, than most men in England: the strongest proof of all others, of the excellence of his husbandry.

He makes his turnips go as far as possible by carting every one to his stalls, in which manner, one acre goes as far as three; his straw, I before observed, he makes the very most of, by giving it all to his lean beasts, not in litter, — or as food in quantities at a time, but keeps the cattle hungry enough to make them eat clean; giving but a small quantity at a time.

Of his hay he is also very choice; and the means he has taken to command as large a quantity as possible, are perhaps to be reckoned amongst the rarest instances of spirited husbandry ever met with among the common farmers of England. It is that of watering his meadows that lie, along a small brook which runs through one part of his farm. This improvement was begun by his father now living, and carried on and finished by himself.

These meadows, amounting from 60 to 80 acres, were all like the rest of the country in ridge and furrow; over-run with ant-hills, and disfigured by various inequalities of surface. They were all ploughed up; kept clean of weeds for a crop or two; tilled in a very perfect manner, and laid down again to grass perfectly level, with a view to improvement by water: This operation is a proof that unlevel pastures may be ploughed down without any injury by burying good land and bringing up bad, according to the common vulgar notion. As soon as this work was done, he cleansed the brook in a manner peculiar to himself; his design was to keep the banks always clean and neat, and the water every where of an equal depth: and this he did, and continues to do when wanted, by throwing the sand and earth, driven in heaps and ridges by the stream, into the holes formed by it; never throwing any on to the banks, by which method the water is always kept to a level, with half the expence of the common manner of throwing the earth out, which enlarges the holes, but fills up. none. When this point was gained, the next business was to examine every where the courses of the ditches; all in a proper direction were much deepened and enlarged, of conveying the water so the meadows that do not join the brook, and others done in the same manner for taking the water away after it had flowed over the land. Besides these, several new cuts were found necessary to be made near as large as the brook itself: and, strange to tell, not a few to prevent the water running over the meadows of his neighbours. They totally disapprove the plan; and have insisted an all proper precautions being taken by making cuts, and raising mounds for the water, that none of it may ruin them, which is the idea they have of it; notwithstanding many rears experience of its amazing efficacy in the fields of Mr. Bakewell.

Besides all these cuts and ditches, numerous sluices are substantially erected at his own expence, to stop the water and make it overflow at pleasure; and close to each a small brick house, for holding the doors, boards, bolts, &c. when not in use; the whole perfectly well executed.

By means of all these works, he floats at pleasure from 60 to 80 acres of meadow, and finds the improvement of the most undoubted kind; fully answering an annual manuring of any other sort: fine level crops of hay are now the view, instead of ridges, furrows, hills, holes, thistles, and other trumpery. Upon the whole, this system of watering is not only executed with spirit, but much exceeds any thing of the kind I have yet seen in the hands of landlords themselves. Our farmer has expended large sums in these uncommon undertakings — he richly merits the enjoyment of their profit.