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The following article is the second chapter of The Book of the Farm.
Chapter 1 – The Book of the Farm – Written in the 19th-century by the farming expert Henry Stephens. Much of this knowledge is still applicable today.
The Difficulties Which the Young Farmer Has to Encounter at the Outset of Learning Practical Husbandry
” One, but painted thus,
Would be interpreted a thing perplex’d,
Beyond self-explication.” Cymbeline.
THE young farmer, left to his own guidance, when beginning to learn his profession, encounters many perplexing difficulties. The difficulty which at first most prominently obtrudes itself on his notice, consists in the distribution of the labour of the farm; and it presents itself, in this way: – He observes the teams employed one day in one field, at one kind of work; and, perhaps, the next day in another field, at a different sort of work. He observes the persons, employed as field workers, assisting the teams one day; and in the next, perhaps, working by themselves in another field or elsewhere. He observes those changes with attention, considers of their utility, but cannot discover the reasons for making so very varied arrangements; not because he entertains the least doubt of their propriety, but, being as yet uninitiated in the art of farming, he cannot foresee the purpose for which those labours are performed. The reason why he cannot at once foresee this, is, that in all cases, excepting at the finishing operations, the end is unattained at the time of his observation.
The next difficulty the young farmer encounters is in the variety of the labours performed. He not only sees various arrangements made to do the same sort of work, but various kinds of work. He discovers this difference on examining more closely into the nature of the work he sees performing. He observes one day the horses at work in the plough in one field, moving in a direction quite opposite, in regard to the ridges, to what they were in the plough in another field. On another day he observes the horses at work with quite a different implement from the plough. The field-workers, he perceives, have laid aside the implement with which they were working, and are performing the labour engaged in with the hand. He cannot comprehend why one sort of work should be prosecuted one day, and quite a different sort of work the next. This difficulty is inexplicable for the same reason why he could not overcome the former one; because he cannot foresee the end for which those varieties of work are performed. No doubt he is aware, that every kind and variety of work which are performed on a farm, are preparatives to the attainment of certain crops; but what portion of any work is intended as a certain part of the preparation for a particular crop, is a knowledge which he cannot acquire by intuition. Every preparatory work is thus perplexing to the young farmer.
Field-work being thus chiefly anticipatory, is the circumstance which renders its object so perplexing to the learner. He cannot possibly perceive the connection between preparatory labours and their ultimate ends; and yet, until he learn to appreciate their necessary connection, he will remain incapable of managing a farm. It is in the exercise of this faculty of anticipation or foresight, that the experienced and careful farmer is contradistinguished from the ignorant and careless. Indeed, let the experience of farming be ever so extensive, or, in other words, let the knowledge of minutiae be ever so intimate, unless the farmer use his experience by foresight, he will never be enabled to conduct a farm aright. Both foresight and experience are acquired by observation, though the former is matured by reflection. Observation is open to all farmers, but all do not profit by it. Every farmer may acquire in time sufficient experience to conduct a farm in a passable manner ; but many farmers never acquire foresight, because they never reflect, and therefore cannot make their experience tell to the most advantage. Conducting a farm by foresight is thus a higher acquirement than the most intimate knowledge of the minutiae of labour. Foresight cannot be exercised without the assistance of experience; though the latter may exist independently of the former. As the elements of every art must first be acquired by observation, a knowledge of the minutiae of labour should be the first subject for acquirement by the young farmer. By carefully tracing the connection betwixt combined operations and their ultimate ends, he will acquire foresight.
The necessity of possessing foresight in arranging the minutiae of labour, before the young farmer can with confidence undertake the direction of a farm, renders farming more difficult of acquirement, and a longer time of being acquired, than most other arts. This statement may appear incredible to those who have been accustomed to hear of farming being easily and soon learned by the meanest capacity. No doubt it may be acquired in time, to a certain degree, by all who are capable of improvement by observation and experience; but, nevertheless, the ultimate ends for which the various kinds of field-work are prosecuted, are involved in obscurity to every learner. In most other arts no great space usually elapses between the commencement and completion of the piece of work, and the piece is worked at until finished. The beginner can thus soon perceive the connection between the minutest portion of the work in which he is engaged, and the object for which it is intended. There is in this no obscurity to perplex his mind. He is purposely led, by degrees, from the simplest to the most complicated parts of his art, so that his mind is not bewildered at the outset by participating in a multiplicity of works at one time. He thus begins to acquire true experience from the outset.
The young farmer has no such advantages in his apprenticeship. There is no simple, easy work, or one object only to engage his attention at first. On the contrary, many minutiae connected with the various works in progress, claim his attention at one and the same time, and if the requisite attention to any one of them be neglected for the time, no other opportunity for observing it can occur for a twelvemonth. It is a misfortune to the young farmer, in such circumstances, to be thrown back in his progress by a trifling neglect. He cannot make up his leeway until after the revolution of a year. And though ever so attentive he cannot possibly learn to anticipate operations in a shorter time, and therefore cannot possibly understand the drift of a single operation in the first year of his apprenticeship. The first year is generally spent almost unprofitably, and certainly unsatisfactorily, to an inquisitive mind. But attentive observation during the first year, will enable him, in the second, to anticipate the successive operations ere they arrive, and arrange every minutiae of labour as it is required. Many of the events of the first year, which had left no adequate impression of their importance on his memory, crowd upon his observation in the second, as essential components of recognised operations. A familiar recognition of events, tends, in a rapid degree, to enlarge the sphere of experience, and to inspire confidence in one’s own judgment; and this quality greatly facilitates the acquisition of foresight.
Let it not be imagined by those who have never passed through the perplexing ordeals incident to the first year of farming, that I have described them in strong colours, in order to induce to the belief, that farming is an art more difficult of attainment than it really is. So far is this from being the case, I may safely appeal to the experience of every person who had attained manhood before beginning to learn farming, whether I have not truly depicted his own condition at the outset of his professional career. So that every young man learning farming must expect to meet with those difficulties.