Gardeners' Chronicle (Sept 5, 1846) p. 601

John Lindley

* LOW on the Domesticated Animals.

WHAT pains have been taken, and money spent, and enthusiasm exhibited, in the IMPROVEMENT OF THE BREED OF OUR DOMESTIC ANIMALS? Read the account given by Professor Low* of the labours of ROBERT BAKEWELL and JOHN ELLMAN, of CHARLES COLLING and BENJAMIN TOMKINS. How fully, too, the usefulness of their efforts has been appreciated! Think of the sum of three thousand two hundred pounds being given for the hire for one season of ten rams; of the enormous prices which CHARLES COLLING obtained at the sale of his celebrated herd one thousand guineas, for a single bull! This is a branch of the farmer's business which all must acknowledge has been most liberally patronised. And it deserves the interest which it has excited. By means of the improved animals it has given us a pound of beef or of mutton may now be manufactured out of less than two-thirds of the food formerly required. The farmer is thus able to make much more of' his green crops than he formerly could. This is certainly a very important consideration, and no one can disapprove of due attention being paid to the means by which such a result has been obtained.

But what we may and do blame is the comparative neglect which has been the lot of subjects having equal or higher claims upon the farmer's at­tention. If the object of agriculture be the supply of human food, we cannot consider that to be the most important branch of it which merely provides machines for the economical conversion of one sort of food into another. It is to the produce of the land that we must look as either immediately or indirectly indicating the excellence of our agriculture. And improved breeds of animals have never yet conferred a high character for cultivation on the districts in which they originated. If one were asked to point out the counties of Great Britain in which the best farming prevails—those whose surface in proportion to its natural fertility has been made capable of supporting the greatest number of inhabitants—Hereford would not be named, nor Durham, nor Leicester, nor Sussex.

Perfect farming will prevail when land shall have been made profitably to yield the maximum of produce and this is to be effected—

  1. By the proper cultivation of the soil.
  2. By a selection of the best plants.
  3. By a selection of the best animals as a means of converting some of these plants into human food.

These are the fields on one or other of which all agricultural improvers are at work; and this, we contend, is the order of their relative importance. An influence exerted in the first of them is felt through all the others; one acting in the last is felt nowhere else.

The first of these departments and the third have hitherto monopolised the efforts and attention of improvers. We wish we could divert a portion of their energy and perseverance for the benefit of the second.

THE IMPROVEMENT OF AGRICULTURAL PLANTS is a subject of the highest importance. It is as possible as the improvement of agricultural animals, and more valuable results will attend it; but hitherto scarcely anything has been done to affect it. Why do our national societies not more earnestly direct the attention of their members to this subject? Prizes should be offered with the view of exciting this attention, just as rewards are so beneficially offered in order to stimulate the efforts of sheep and cattle breeders. The means of improvement in the former case are precisely the same as those put in exercise in the latter.

Hybridising, or cross-breeding, special reference being had to the qualities of the parents which it is desired either to perpetuate or destroy, is in both cases the method by which we seek to improve the character of a breed. In horticulture this has loner been known and applied; in agriculture, whether known or not, it has not till very lately been successfully made use of.

Not long ago, at one of the weekly meetings of the English Agricultural Society, Mr. MAUND, of Bromsgrove, exhibited some specimens of Wheat (the first of their kind) which he had grown from seed artificially ripened in this manner. We had the pleasure of seeing these specimens, and are thus able to attest the complete success in certain instances of Mr. MAUND'S experiments. Each ear was accompanied by specimens of the varieties from which it had been procured, and it exhibited in all cases characters intermediate between those of its parents, united with that greater vigour of growth, which it appears, in the vegetable as in the animal world, is the result of a first cross. Mr. MAUND'S experience, we believe, extends over but a very few years, but it is sufficient to warrant high expectations of good resulting from an intelligent and persevering application of the methods which lie has thus been the first to adopt. We hope that the English Agricultural Society may be induced to devise some mode in which its influence may be usefully applied to the furtherance of this important. means of agricultural improvement.

We conclude with an extract from a letter with which we have been favoured by Mr. MAUND upon this subject:—

"The subject involves very extensive inquiry; hybridising without an aim at some specific object would be like visiting the mountains of North and south Wales, and taking the first ewe from one and ram from the other that present themselves in order to obtain an improved breed of sheep. The fact is, that in producing new varieties of Wheat, the interests of the farmer, miller, and baker, should be considered, and to these we may add the caprice of the public, which inclines it as decisively to a preference of bread that is very white—a whim which is administered to by such dainties as alum, soda, and plaster of Paris. The breeder of Wheat will find as many objects to aim at obtaining as the breeder of cattle, and it is not Wheat alone but other agricultural plants also that present capabilities of improvement; the subject, however, demands much time and attention, and as Dr. LINDLEY justly observes, 'If the Royal Agricultural Society were to take up this matter in good earnest important results might be obtained.' By the bye, as regards the Royal Agricultural Society, is it not much to be desired that all our country, farmers' societies and clubs should be attached to it? I do not mean as parasites, like the Mistletoe, abstracting from, and living upon the 'circulating medium' of foster-parent, but like the Ivy on the Oak, taking a lofty position from a powerful patron.

"Amongst a few plants in the flower garden, I can almost to a certainty produce hybrid varieties between two species, but the same facility of effecting this does not exist with the cereal plants. In some instances not more than 1 in 10 of my experiments have been completely satisfactory, notwithstanding I invariably extract the anthers arid if I suspect the escape of a single grain of pollen near the stigma, I reject that flower altogether as one for experiment. It is not only necessary to guard against the fertilisation of the ovary from its own anthers only, but it is requisite that all those anthers which are situate on the same ear above the ovaries, artificially fertilised, should be extracted, or they will pour out their pearly globes to the relief of your widowed feathery stigmas, and disappoint your hopes.

"More than ordinary care is taken in Nature that the Grass tribe (which includes Wheat) shall be fertilised by its own pollen, the Wheat breeder must, therefore, be proportionately diligent.

"An opinion prevails that wet weather injures Wheat whilst it is in blossom, by washing off its pollen. This opinion is erroneous, inasmuch as both in wet and very hot weather fertilisation is carried on within the chaff. Often in moist weather have I felt much interested, when, wanting pollen, I have held the straw and bottom of the ear in my warm hand for two or three minutes watching for a crop of anthers. Quickly the ripest of them, stimulated by the warmth, would peep out from their seclusion, arid gently rising, give me the chance of capturing them ere they scattered their contents over the expectants beneath them. Sometimes on leaving these excited ears, and returning to them after 10 or 15 minutes, I have found several anther cases as empty as balloons, dancing to the breeze, as if joyous that in my absence they had scattered every pearl they possessed."