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mittee of the State Board of Agriculture''^ and also by Flint^^ in 1867. Therefore
the shift from beef cattle and sheep to dairy cattle, about the middle of the
nineteenth century, was an important factor in accelerating the deterioration of
pasture lands.

■'^Ibid., 20th .Annual Report (1872), Pt. II. p. 77.
''^Ibid.. 36th Annual Report (1888), Pt. I, p. 72.
'5lbid., 7th Annual Report (1859), Pt. I, p. 25.
'^Ibid., 20th Annual Report (1872). Pt. I, p. 202.
"ibid., 25th Annual Report (1877), Pt. I, p. 121.
■'Slbid., 7th Annual Report (1859). Pt. I, p. 27.
'^Grasses and Forage Plants, p. 362.


Early Attempts at Pasture Renovation

It would seem that, if the seriousness of pasture deterioration were appre-
ciated and its causes understood, as appears to have been the case, something
would have been done to correct the situation. The answer is that something
was done. Many different systems of pasture renovation were tried out from
time to time during most of the nineteenth century and many of them were
highly successful. The difficulty was that none of these systems, even though
highly successful, was ever widely adopted. A variety of materials was used
from time to time, including ashes, gypsum, lime, bone meal, guano, manure,
compost, and muck, both as top-dressings and as amendments worked into the
soil by tillage.

Henry Colnian*" in 1841 tells of a particularly successful farmer in Essex
County who regularly ploughed, manured, and seeded his pasture lands. In
1851 the chairman of the pasture committee of Essex County recommended the
use of gypsum as a top-dressing "on such land as is benefited by it," as the "best
and cheapest way of renovating pasture lands."*' The pasture committee for the
State Board of Agriculture*^ in 1859 advised using bones combined with wood
ashes if manure were not available. They also suggested top-dressing old pastures
with "from one to two bushels of plaster per acre; or twenty-five bushels of wood
ashes per acre, where plaster refuses to operate"; but in most instances the com-
mittee favored ploughing and reseeding as opposed to top-dressing. They rec-
ognized, however, that ploughing "will be found of little avail — except to destroy
weeds and bushes — without a suitable application of manure." They suggested
the following plan for the renovation of old pastures:

Set apart four or five lots of convenient size; plough and plant No. 1
with corn, applying enough manure to produce a good crop. The next year
sow the same with wheat or barle^', and stock down to grass. Plant and
treat No. 2 with the same manure, and so continue, planting one lot and
stocking down one lot each year, until all are stocked down to grass. At
the end of six years the five lots will have been completely renovated, and
the same course commenced for a second turn. Thus the system may be
indefinitely continued, yielding an unbroken succession of remunerative
crops and pasturage of the finest quality.

In the light of present-day knowledge of soils and soil fertility in Massachusetts,
this committee in 1859, in the opinion of some at least, were sounder and more
logical in their recommendation than perhaps they themselves realized.

There is considerable evidence that tillage was rather widely practiced as well
as recommended as a means of pasture improvement. A report*^ frcm Plymouth
County in 1865 stated that a considerable portion of the corn and most of the
rye that \vas raised was grown on pasture land "to rid it of bushes and briars."
The supervisor for pasture improvement for the same county in 1866 declared
that "the process of mowing bushes is merely conservative, having, like all con-
servatism, n> higher aim than that of keeping 'things as they are.' For permanent
improvement more radical measures are necessary, and the plough, where it can
be used, is the most approved agency for initiating them."*-*

A farmer in Worcester County in 1877 described a system that he had been
following to improve his worn-out pasture land, which consisted of removing
the stones, ploughing, cultivating, manuring, and reseeding. "In this way,"
he wrote, "I expect to restore my pastures to that abundant supply of sweet,
milk-producing grass that was produced so abundantly in former years. "*5

^"Agriculture of Massachusetts, 4th Report (1841), p. 398.
S^Mass. Agricultural Societies Transactions (1851), p. 45.
82Mass. State Bd. Agric. 7th Annual Report (1859), Pt. I, p. 27.
SSlbid., 13th Annual Report (1865), Pt. I, p. 280.
*''lbid., 14th Annual Report (1866), Pt. II, p. 19.
*5lbid.. 2Sth Annual Report (1877), Pt. I., p. 299.



The Difference Between the Two Pastures Shown Above is Largely a Difference in Soil Fertility.

Above: A "run-out" pasture which is rapidly reverting to brush and trees.

Below: A well-fertilized semi-permanent pasture supplying excellent grazing to a large herd.



Where Land is too Stony to Plow, a "Bog" Harrow is Sometimes Used to Facilitate Seedbed


Above: A field which has just been tilled with a "bog" harrow.
Below: A "close-up" of the machine.


23 J,

Above: A strongly podzolized soil profile located near Wellfleet on Cape Cod, showing a" well-
developed A 2 horizon.

Below: Alfalfa requires a high level of soil fertility. Where a top-dressing of potash has been
applied annually, a good stand of alfalfa remains after four seasons; but where no potash was
applied, severe winterkilling took place at the end of the third season.



Grass Strains
Differences Between "Strains" may be of Real Practical Importance.

Above : The short-growing orchard grass strain on the right is a late leafy hay type which can
be grown satisfactorily with alfalfa. It is much more desirable than either of the two coarse-
stemmed early-maturing strains on the left.

Below : The Svalof early meadow fescue on the right is apparently immune to leaf rust whereas
the "commercial" meadow fescue on the left is very susceptible.


But notwithstanding the pasture improvement recommendations of the agri-
cultural leaders and the success achieved by some of the best farmers, pasture
improvement practices were never generally adopted. Secretary Flint reported
in 1853 that "In some places some real and positive improvement has been
made — in others no pains have been taken even to prevent deterioration. "*6 And
Secretary Russell, in a spirit of resignation, some years later reported that "These
pastures are the constant topic of agricultural discussion. 'How to improve the
fertility of our pasture,' is a standing question of clubs and inoiicutes, only an-
swered in theory."*^

Why Pasture Improvement Failed

It would appear that one of the most important reasons for the failure of ail
attempts to prevent a general deterioration of pasture lands during the nine-
teenth century was the great scarcity of manures of all kinds. As has already been
pointed out, most of the available supply of barnyard manure was used on the
arable land to maintain satisfactory- yields of tilled crops. Since most of this
manure was made on the individual farms by feeding the grass crop of the farm
to livestock, it was obvious that enough manure could not be made available
to supply both the grass and the cultivated crops. The farming system was one
of a slow transfer of the fertility of the grassland over to the tilled land. Until
some outside source of fertility could be tapped either to maintain the fertility
of the grasslands or to provide the fertility for the tilled lands, a gradual de-
terioration of the grasslands was inevitable. To a limited extent outside sources
of fertility did exist, but the supplies were limited and the materials were usually
expensive. Wood ashes, gypsum, guano, bone meal, muck, composts, and various
mill wastes were all used, but the quantity of plant food material which either
was available or could be profitably used was wholly inadequate to meet the

Another important factor was the existence of large areas of cheap grasslands.
Farmers discovered that it was much cheaper to clear or buy and exploit new
lands than it was to renovate old land. Land was relatively abundant and
values were low. For example, in 1865 pasture lands could be bought for as low
as two dollars an acre, and seldom was the price more than twenty-five dollars
per acre.^^ Together with cheapness of the land were low standards of productivity
for both land and livestock. In 1841, a pasture of thirty acres which would keep
twelve cattle was considered an "excellent" pasture.*' A cow which produced
two or three thousand pounds of milk in a year was a satisfactory producer.
These standards of production are less than half present-da^^ standards.

Still another important consideration was the widespread belief among farmers
that, since pastures would produce something even on poor lands and would also
withstand a great deal of abuse in their management, this, then, was the most
profitable way to handle them. F. H. Storer wrote that "one fundamental con-
ception in the mind of many New England farmers is, that the land devoted to
pasturage upon any given farm should either be poor land or rocky land or land
so inaccessible that it could hardly be used for any other purpose. . . . "^
Unfortunately this conception has continued in the minds of many farmers all
o\"er the country' down to the present day.

A final factor which undoubtedly played some role in earlier as well as in recent

^^Mass. State Bd. Agric. 1st Annual Report (1853), Pt. I, p. 70.

''■'Ibid., 29th Annual Report (1881), Pt. I, p. 17.

^^Ibid.. 13th Annual Report (1865). Pt. I. p. 122.

^^Agriculture of Massachusetts. 4th Report (1841), p. 79.

'"Agriculture in Some of Its Relations with Chemistry (7th ed.. New York, 1910), III, 593.


times is the slowness with which pasture lands frequently respond to treatment
and the difficulties involved in measuring the magnitude of the response. It
may take one or more years for top-dressed materials to produce their full effect,
and reseeded pastures require most of one full season's growth before they are
■well established. As a result, farmers have become somewhat impatient with
pasture improvement practices and have not fully appreciated their worth.

The historical development of agriculture in Massachusetts was accurately
.summarized fifty years ago by one Professor Whitcher, when he wrote:

First we have the so-called period of inexhaustible fertility, when it
was thought that the soil would continue to yield abundant crops in-
definitely, without the application of fertilizer. Then we have the period
of exhaustion, when the soil has become exhausted of plant food and
will no longer produce a good crop. Then comes the third period, the
period of renovation, when we are asking how we can overcome the results
of the errors of previous methods. ^i

Pasture lands in Massachusetts have already passed through the first and second
periods and they are just entering the third period at the present time.


Since agricultural leaders first attacked the problem of pasture improvement
in the nineteenth century, conditions have materially changed. Fertilizer sub-
stances which were either non-existent or scarce and expensive in former days
are at present available in practically unlimited quantities and at relatively low
cost. Our present-day knowledge of the soil and plant sciences, although by no
means exhaustive, nevertheless offers plausible explanations for phenomena which
puzzled our nineteenth century predecessors. It is desirable, therefore, to examine
the observations and conclusions of these earlier workers, in the light of present-
day theories and information. It would be a serious omission if the early work
in the field of pasture improvement were ignored or slighted, because the apparent
accuracy of much of this work is amazing.

The following discussion is an attempt to integrate that which appears to be
the best in nineteenth century thinking with that which appears to be the best
in twentieth century thinking as it relates to the problem of pasture improve-
ment in Massachusetts. The problem is considered from the standpoint of the
four principal cultural factors which determine the productivity and usefulness
of pastures in Massachusetts — the soil, the grazing system, the pasture plant,
and the climate.

The Soil

In reviewing the history of pastures in Massachusetts, the one significant fact
which stands out above all others is that the soil, in terms of soil fertility, has been
the chief limiting factor to successful pasture culture.

A satisfactory explanation of why this was true may be found when one con-
siders the fundamental nature of the soils themselves, a subject which has already
been discussed in some detail. If this explanation is true for the past, and the
writer on the basis of his studies and experience thoroughly believes that it is,
then soil fertility must still be one of the most important limiting factors in pasture
culture since it is practically impossible to change the fundamental character of
a soil.

Before discussing soil fertility, a definition or an explanation of what is meant

SlMass. State Bd. Agric. 38th Annual Report (1890), p. IS.


by the term is desirable. Unfortunateh* no simple, concise definition can be given
because soil fertility is "a complicated and multi-dimensional problem." Soil
fertility is not simpl)' a matter of abundant supplies of nitrogen, calcium, potas-
sium, and phosphorus, but includes many other chemical, physical, and biological
relationships of the soil as well. Soil fertility really consists of a large number
of factors operating favorably toward the production of a crop. Some of these
factors are known, others as yet little understood, and probably many others
still unknown. Perhaps the best definition of soil fertility which can be given
was formulated many years ago by one Nathan Bowen in a letter to Jared Eliot
in 1761, when he wrote, "The grand secret of the planters Art, seems to be to
Supply the plants with a Sufficient & proper Food, water and air in due propor-
tion & Time. This Art being well understood and practiced by him, will give the
fruit of his Labour to his Sattisfaction if he have any Reason at all."92 A high
level of soil fertility implies a capacity on the part of the soil to "satisfy simul-
taneously and continually during the whole time of the growth of a plant its
maximum demand in water and food." A low level of soil fertility or infertility,
of course, implies the opposite condition.

Soil Fertility and Yields

To point out the relationship of soil fertility and crop yield may seem super-
fluous since such a relationship should be perfectly obvious. Within certain
limits this has been generally recognized with most other field crops but not with
pastures. The fact that pasture yields are extremely difficult to measure and
the fact that pastures will withstand a great deal of abuse in their cultural manage-
ment and still produce something have partially obscured the direct relationship
which exists between soil fertility and herbage yields. Some appear to go so far
as to assume that, although such a relationship exists with tilled crops, with
pastures it is relatively unimportant and the most economical way, if not the best
way, to manage a pasture is to starve it. Those who wish to fit the plant to the
soil and not the soil to the plant and who are searching for a high-yielding, nu-
tritious, palatable pasture species which will thrive on "run-out"soils fall in this

Soil fertility influences pasture yields in two important ways. The first is
through the direct relationship which exists between the level of soil fertility
in a pasture and the productivity of whatever pasture species may be present.
Any pasture species, irrespective of its particular growth habit or soil adaptation,
is much more productive at high than at low fertility levels.

The second way is through the close correlation which exists between the soil
fertility level and the botanical composition of the pasture vegetation. This is
more noticeable in semi-permanent pasture than it is in permanent pastures.
In the former, highly productive species, such as alfalfa or Ladino clover, will
maintain themselves and remain productive as long as soil conditions are favorable;
but when soil conditions become less favorable, they are supplanted by less produc-
tive species and disappear altogether. In permanent pastures, a similar suc-
cession of lower fertility species supplanting higher fertility ones is easily observed
as soil fertility levels fall. As permanent pastures become exhausted, bent grass
and low-growing white clover supplant blue grass and tall-growing white clover;
poverty grass supplants both bent grass and white clover; while mosses and
woody shrubs eventually succeeded by forest trees complete the whole succession.

It has long been observed that many of the more productive pasture species
demand a relativeh' high level of fertility before they will grow satisfactorily.
John Worlidge observed in 1675 that "Land too rich for Corn, cannot be too rich

92Field Husbandry, p. 208.


for [red] clover. "^^ In 1747 Jared Eliot stated that "If Land be too poor, it
[clover] will not grow."^^ Recent experience with Ladino clover in Massachusetts
has shown that the superior yielding capacity of this plant and its phenomenal
ability to make a quick comeback after grazing can be realized only through the
maintenance of high levels of soil fertility. When this high level declines, as it
inevitably does three or four years after seeding, this species usually disappears.
Alfalfa, another high yielding species, reacts similarly, and there is mounting
evidence to show that certain of the grasses behave in the same manner.

Soil Fertility and Feed Quality

In addition to producing more feed, fertile soils produce better feed. This fact
was recognized many years ago by G. L. Clemence, when he stated that "A ton
of hay gathered from a third of an acre has more of the elements of animal growth
than has a ton raised upon an entire acre. . . . that one acre has been able to
produce only one ton to the other's three, is evidence in itself that it is lacking
in the elements of plant and animal growth. "^^

In recent years, coincident with generally declining fertility levels of many of
the hay and pasture sections of the country, there has been an increase in nutri-
tional diseases traced to mineral deficiencies in forage crops. Nutritional anemia
in cattle has been traced to a deficiency of iron in forage produced in certain sec-
tions of southeastern Massachusetts. ^^ Elsewhere in the country other nutritional
disorders or diseases have been variously traced to mineral deficiences of calcium,
phosphorus, and copper and still other elements.''^

Albrecht has expressed the situation thus: "Crops can make themselves only
from what is offered by the soil. Animals can make themselves only from what
is offered them by the crops as feed, and thus in the final analysis, the animals
reflect the fertility of the soil. "9*

Palatability, another important factor in feeding any type of livestock, is
closely associated with feed quality. Feeds low in nutritive value are seldom
palatable. Wheat straw is an extreme example, yet the herbage supplied by
many of our "run-out" pastures in midseason is little more palatable. Indeed,
it is no coincidence that the hay and pasture plants most sought after by stock-
men for their nutritive value and for their palatability require a fertile soil.

Soil Fertility and Resistance to Disease and Winter Injury

Just as the health of animals is dependent upon nutritious forage, so is the
health of plants dependent upon a fertile soil. This conception is another idea
that is not new. Years ago, W. H. Bowkcr in 1880 stated that, "It has been
demonstrated over and over again that a healthy plant will withstand disease,
and a healthy plant means one that is properly fed from beginning to end."^^
Professor Stone some years later wrote that "a condition of health is the natural
or normal thing with the plant, and that if we as cultivators do our part by making
the condition right for the normal development of the plant, many of these
troublesome problems of disease are thereby solved in advance. . . . The first
essential in the prevention of plant disease is to supply the plant with the condi-
tions for its best normal development."'"*'

In recent vears, closer studies of nutrient deficiency symptoms in plants have

^^Systema Agriculturae (London, 1675), p. 26.
9^Field Husbandry, p. 18.

95Mass. State Bd. Agric. 38th Annual Report (18901. p. 297.
36journal of Dairy Science, XXI (1938), 59-68.
^'National Fertilizer Association, Pamphlet No. 129, 1941.
'^Fertilizer Review, XIII (1938), No. 5.

^^Mass. State Bd. Agric. 34th .Annual Report (1886), p. 209.
lO^Ibid.. 54th Annual Report (1906), p. 22.


shown that many physiologic disorders or diseases are directly associated with a
deficiency in one or more essential nutrient elements. Some of these so-called
"deficiency diseases" have been found affecting forage crops in Massachusetts.
A characteristic chlorotic condition of the plant leaves has been identified with a
deficiency of soil magnesium. More recently, a yellowing of the leaves of alfalfa,
particularly in the second crop, has been definitely associated with deficiency of
soil boron.

Winter injury, particularly with some of the leguminous crops, is another
important trouble which has long been associated with soil fertility'. In 1888,
for example, the Massachusetts Experiment Station reported^"' that the un-
fertilized plots of alfalfa, red clover, alsike, perennial rye grass, and meadow
fescue showed serious winter injury, whereas fertilized plots did not. It was
reported from Rhode Island in ISQSi*'^ that the liberal use of lime had resulted
in good crops of red clover on soils where clover had "formerh" winterkilled nearly
every year."

Much evidence has been obtained in Massachusetts recently to show that
additional potash applied as top-dressing to fields of alfalfa will greatly reduce
winter injury and thereby prolong the life of the stand. '"^ In this case potassium
appears to have been the limiting fertility factor to what was otherwise a satisfac-
tory level of fertility. Since alfalfa is a heavy feeder on potassium and since
Massachusetts soils are naturally low in potassium, this pronounced response
to a potash fertilizer is readily conceivable. In Rhode Island, lime or more likely
calcium was directly associated with winter injury while in Massachusetts it was
potassium. It would seem, therefore, that a deficiency of any important nutrient
element might so weaken a plant as to render it susceptible to winter injury.
The weakening of a plant by injury from certain disease organisms might also
hav^e the same effect.

Healthy plants are hardy plants and to produce healthy plants the soil must
be capable of delivering to the plant an adequate supply of all essential plant
nutrients. Plants like animals perform at their best only when given a balanced
as well as a plentiful "diet."

Factors in Soil Fertility Maintenance

Practically all available evidence indicates that adequate levels of soil fertility
are just as important to the pasture crop as they are to any other productive
crop. Pastures offer some difficulties in this respect which do not exist with tilled
crops. The fundamental principles of fertility maintenance are essentially the
same in both cases, but because of differences in cultural procedure, the practical
application of these principles is more difficult.

Fertilizer Materials. — As previously discussed, the soils of Massachusetts
are naturally low in available quantities of many essential nutrient elements,
including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Therefore,
for these soils to supply the pasture crop with an "adequate and balanced diet,"
the supplies of these necessary elements must be periodically replenished.

Lime. — The need for calcium was early recognized and materials supplying
this element were among the first soil amendments used in this country. Jared

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