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Crofting Agriculture
Chapter X. The Principles of Feeding Animals

49. The Constituents of Food

Food looms big in the lives of all of us. The men folk may do no more than spend an hour or two during the day eating, but women spend many hours of the day getting it ready to be eaten, and it is one of their perpetual remarks of surprise that what takes so long to prepare is so soon eaten. Men may not be bothered so much about their own food but on them rests most of the responsibility for growing the food which their animals eat, and that can be a considerable nervous as well as physical strain. Men have to till the ground and feed the plant which will in turn feed the cow which will help feed the family. Much of what I have written in this book has dealt with getting conditions right for the plant to feed and suggesting the foods the plants need. A chapter on feeding the animals with what we have grown on the croft may be useful.


This photograph vividly shows the strip crofts which are so common in Lewis. A croft may be no more than a few yards wide and the best part of a mile long. There may be a ditch or a balk between each croft. The crofts are laid open for grazing each October until March. Such a system precludes the growth of winter fodder crops, and cultivation of such narrow strips cannot be done economically. As this picture shows, small enclosures by fencing are taking place, and we may expect to see enclosure of crofts become general in time to come, or, in such places where the stretches of arable ground are sufficiently large, the whole township may come to do away with the wasteful ditches and balks and run the arable ground as a collective farm on which machinery could be used instead of the spade. This would give the crofter time to engage in other activities.

There is one big difference between feeding plants and animals: plants can take their food only in the form of mineral salts which are soluble in water or weak acids—lime as calcium carbonate, nitrogen as calcium nitrate, and several other elements in the form of salts. The big four, we found, were lime, nitrates, phosphates and potash. Even when an organic manure such as dung is applied to the soil (organic meaning that complex chemical state of a substance derived from the animal or vegetable kingdoms) the plant must wait until bacteria have broken down the dung into mineral salts before it can feed. Animals, on the other hand, must have their food in organic state, consisting of plant or animal matter. They cannot feed on mineral salts alone. Yet both plants and animals are needing precisely the same elements—calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and so on. The difference in the food is in the chemical constitution. Organic food has these elements bound up with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen; carbon and oxygen coming originally from the air, and hydrogen and oxygen from water. It is the particular feat of life of the plant to create starch and sugar from air and water, through the agency of light. The process is called photosynthesis, a word of Greek derivation meaning combining through light. This is why we grow potatoes. This plant can manufacture starch through the leaves and store it in the tubers in convenient form cheaper than the modern chemist can make it in a laboratory. The sugar beet will make sugar cheaper than the chemist can. These organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are collectively called carbohydrates and are one of the three main groups of foods necessary for the animal. You may prefer to think of them as starchy-sugary foods.

Mother Nature is a remarkable woman, if you will allow me to personify the workings of the cosmos, and employs excellent warehouse practice. Some of her plants make such a lot of carbohydrate matter that some form of concentration is necessary: she turns it into oils or fats, which are nothing more than a complicated and special group of compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The animal is unable to digest sufficient starchy-sugary food to fulfil its needs, so some of its intake of C, H and O is in the form of fat. When animals store these elements in their bodies, they store them as fat of rather more complicated structure than the oils of plants.

Where does the nitrogen come in and the phosphorus? These elements are found joined up organically with C, H, O, sulphur and other elements, in a highly complex way, and we call such substances proteins, being derived from protoplasm or living substance. Animal proteins are more complex than vegetable ones and usually of more concentrated feeding value.

These are the three big groups of animal foods—the starchy or carbohydrate, the fatty, and the meaty or protein. Unless animals receive them in sufficient quantity, in right proportion and in digestible form, there is trouble or at least a grave loss of efficiency.

In addition to the three groups of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which make up the bulk of food for man or beast, there are two others which are equally necessary, but in very small quantities—mineral substances and vitamins. Unless they are present the animal system cannot make efficient use of the rest of its food.

If conditions are perfect there are sufficient mineral salts of calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese, cobalt, sodium and so on in the food as it is produced from the ground. But we do not live in a perfect world. If the ground is lacking in these minerals, the plants growing on that ground are going to be deficient also and the cattle and sheep we feed are going to show it. West Highland soils are frequently poor in one or more essential minerals, so in addition to doing all we can in manuring the ground it may be necessary in addition to give the animals a special ration of mineral salts. They are conveniently given in the form of bricks of mineral "lick" placed in a container in front of the cow in her stall. Many (I might say most) cattle and sheep in the West Highlands show the need of lime and phosphorus, and in Tiree we have an example of another mineral-deficiency disease known as pining, caused by a lack of cobalt in the pastures overlying shell-sand. Yet the animal needs only about one part of cobalt in two million in its food. Rock salt itself is a great help to stock, but it should not be thought to fulfil the whole of an animal's mineral needs.

Some types of stock need special mineral feeding if they are to do their best : for example, a heavy yielding cow needs more calcium phosphate than she can normally get from her food, and young pigs at weaning time may get into a sorry state through an insufficiency of iron, a substance which can quite easily be put into their ration. It is a pity to spoil the ship for this most important "ha'porth of tar." Crofters throughout the Highlands would do well to offer their cattle a mineral brick to lick.

Vitamins, or accessory food factors, have no feeding value in themselves, but the presence in the food of minute quantities of these complex chemical substances is necessary if the animal is to remain in good health. For convenience, vitamins are labelled A, B, C, and so on up to K. Probably new ones still remain to be discovered. When a cow is at pasture it is unlikely that she will be short of vitamins, but if she is living inside in winter with poor hay as the staple diet, she will probably be vitamin-starved and her milk will not have the same healthful qualities it had in summer.

Vitamin A helps an animal to keep clear of infections. A deficiency of it is shown by sore eyes and chronic sore throats and cessation of growth. It occurs in green foods, carrots, fish oils and in most seeds and cereal grains.

Vitamin B contains several substances, not all of which have been isolated by chemists as yet. A deficiency of Vitamin B results in nervous disorders and paralysis. It is not normally in short supply in a cow's ordinary diet, but chickens may suffer under some circumstances.

Vitamin C prevents scurvy, but it is of little or no importance to the cow as far as can be ascertained. It is present in fruits and vegetables and is of great consequence to our own health. Vitamin C does not occur in cereal grains until they sprout.

Vitamin D is important to man and his domesticated animals. Deficiency of it results in rickets and means that the animal cannot take from its food and use the calcium and phosphorus necessary to build healthy bones. It is often shown to be deficient in the diet of poultry by the number of thin-shelled eggs laid. When animals get plenty of sunlight they manufacture their own Vitamin D. It occurs in some fish oils, particularly the liver oil of cod, halibut, and some sharks which live on other animals which eat the life of the surface layers of the sea, which animals live on the microscopic floating plants which collect the sunlight.

The other vitamins are not of much importance in ordinary stock-feeding practice.

50. The Nutritive Proportions of Food


Hark work seems to be accepted in the right philosophical spirit by our friend in the photograph. He is making lazy-beds for potatoes by turning the turf on to strips of bladder wrack already laid down. His cas-chrom has a longer blade than most mainland types in use at present. After personal experience of trying to plough in ground strewn with glacial boulders, I think it is better to work the ground like this. Unfortunately, I was never able to develop the knack and speed with the cas-chrom which makes this tool still a useful one even in 1945. Hard work, whether in man or beast, needs right feeding of a balanced ration.

A thorough knowledge of the contents of feeding stuffs is a chemist's job. The man who has to feed animals can concern himself with little more than knowing the percentage of the three main groups of protein, fat and carbohydrate present, and keeping in mind the mineral and vitamin contents if any. The feeder of animals must also learn how to compound various foods which he has at his disposal to make up a balanced ration. In our own dietary we find by experience that we must not eat too much meat or try to live on oatmeal without milk; we know that our bread needs butter. When I hear that in days gone by an Outer Isles fisherman when out in the boat would put a fish's liver inside a split girdle scone, sit on it to squeeze the oil from the liver into the scone, and then eat the soaked scone, I take my hat off to him as to a professor of dietetics. Similarly, I have heard of a Hebridean who kept a jam jar of chopped fish livers at the side of the stove, into which jar he would dip his oatcake at mealtimes when butter was short. These men knew.

In addition to knowing the right proportions of proteins, fat and carbohydrate to include in a beast's ration, we have to keep in mind one other important matter, the digestibility of the food, and its counterpart, the quantity of actual dry matter the animal can deal with in a day. If you want to understand how to compound rations from your available feeding stuffs and are able to supply a balanced ration, your cattle will come through the winter in good order. At present it is safe to say that 75 per cent. of the cattle in the Highlands suffer some degree of starvation in the winter —my own included, at present, for we cannot grow enough high protein food in the West nor can we buy enough in wartime. All the same, even when we could buy the food and had the wherewithal to buy it, lack of knowledge of compounding rations resulted in much wrong feeding.

There is no simple, easy way of learning the theory of feeding. It needs application, hard learning and some knowledge of chemistry. Similarly, it cannot be explained in the space of a few lines. The modern method of compounding a ration is to use a figure called the starch equivalent, that is, all foods are reduced to terms of starch for purposes of calculation. But it is not easy. An older and simpler method is that based on what was called the "nutritive or albuminoid ratio," which may be clearer to anyone unable to attend lectures or an agricultural college. Albuminoid means protein, and the ratio is intended to indicate the right proportion of meaty stuff to fatty and starchy stuff in a ration. It will be obvious that a young calf or a cow in full milk or a horse in heavy work will need more protein than a two-year-old bullock or an idle horse.

Here are a few reasonable nutritive ratios for different classes of stock:—

51. The Nutritive Ratio in Practice

It would not be economical of space to give a long list of the composition of the many feeding stuffs available to the farmer and crofter in peace time. Such a list may be obtained in a Ministry of Agriculture Bulletin obtainable from H.M. Stationery Office. Here are a few analyses per cent. of the foods a crofter might have now. Even of some of these he has probably seen none for a long time, but this list will give a fair idea of the relative values of common foods for various classes of stock.

The nutritive ratio is calculated in this way: as the fat is of higher feeding value than carbohydrates the percentage is multiplied by 2.5 and added to the percentage of digestible carbohydrates. Then the percentage digestible protein is divided into this sum of fat and

The nutritive ratio is 1 : 7.25 (from which we see it is a good enough feed for dry cows and two-year old bullocks but is not "strong" enough for a milk cow or a horse in heavy work).

Linseed cake

The nutritive ratio is 1 : 2.16, too strong a feed alone for any stock.

The rest of the nutritive ratios of the foods shown above are given to save you the trouble of working them out.

Perhaps the more modern factor for multiplying the fat to show its equivalent as carbohydrate would be 2.3, but the difference would be very small in the figures I have given.

From the figures I gave in the last section it will be seen that rations for the general run of livestock should vary in nutritive ratio between 1 : 4 and 1 : 8. If you feed a store bullock on a ration with a nutritive ratio of 1 : 5 you are being extravagant, and a cow fed on a ration giving a ratio of 1 : 8 is being starved.

52. Compounding a Ration

The problem now remains to compound a ration and find its nutritive ratio from the foods of which we know the ratio already.

Suppose we have good hay this year and but little else except a few turnips and crushed oats, so that we might find ourselves unable to offer a small milk cow more than the following ration per day:

By taking each food in turn, we find out the amount of digestible protein we are giving by multiplying the number of pounds by the percentage of digestible protein and dividing by 100. The figure obtained is multiplied by the nutritive ratio, which gives us the amount of digestible carbohydrate equivalent. Here we are:

The nutritive ratio, then, of this ration is as 1.796 is to 12.95, that is, 1 : 7.2. By reference to the table given in Section 50 this ration is not quite good enough in quality for a cow giving up to two gallons a day. It would be corrected by that pound or two of linseed or other oil cake which we cannot get just now

Let us look at the quantity. We found the ration contained 24.76 lb. dry matter. Estimation of total bulk of food given to stock is of great importance. Cattle, for example, must have sufficient roughage or they cannot chew the cud satisfactorily. Animals are not satisfied with tabloid food any more than men are. Equally, there is a limit to the quantity of food with which an animal can deal, and its requirements of protein and carbohydrate equivalents must be contained within a well-defined quantity. And here, also, we begin to split our ration into two parts in our minds—that part needed for maintaining the animal in its present condition without any production of work or milk, and that part concerned with production for which we keep the animal. Our cow needs for maintenance purposes

1.5 per cent. of her weight in dry matter each day, and about 1.0 to 1.5 per cent. for production—say, 2.75 per cent. in all for our little cow. I say our little cow because most cows in the crofting West are small—j say, 850 to 900 lb. If she weighed 900 lb. she would need 24.75 lb. a day of dry matter, which is almost exactly the quantity in the ration, so the quantity is all right. My advice to a crofter under these circumstances would be to drop 2 lb. a day of the oat straw and try to replace it with crushed oats if that much extra can be squeezed; or, if the cow gets out in the day, cut out the oat straw altogether and leave the 3 lb. of dry matter to be made up by what the cow can pick up from her grazing.

Try to remember that foods vary somewhat in their composition, and that the art of feeding lies in the hand of the feeder and his power of observation. Some of the cow's food is in the love you show towards her, for her response to love is quietness and content—which are great savers of food.

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