I have a reprint of The Country Gentleman’s Catalogue for 1894. Published in England as a useful compilation “…of all requirements for the country house and estate,” it was meant not for the English yeoman farmer who actually did the work, but for the “gentlemen” who owned those farms and estates.
The first part of the book is full of brief commentaries on the contemporary state of livestock and crops, as well as cures or fixes for various problems that might confront the gentleman farmer or estate owner. I thought a few of these were interesting.
Under Corn Crops of 1893 (Corn in England referred to wheat; the grain we call corn, was known as maize or Indian corn), is this commentary: “The harvest of 1893 was a notable one, not so much by being either a very good one or a very bad one, but on account of its peculiarities. Wheat should have been excellent in such a season that abounded in sunshine and dry weather, conditions in which this cereal is supposed to thrive. Yet we find that not only was the acreage much reduced, from 2,298,607 acres in 1892 to 1,955,213 in 1893, but the yield per acre was down from 26 bushels in 1892 to 25 last year. This is an almost unique instance of a hot, dry summer producing a small and inferior wheat crop.”
In The Perfect Dairy Cow the authors tell us that “Cows are a growth and not a manufacture, otherwise in these inventive days we should probably have a perfect dairy cow by now. As it is, that animal is still in the future. The claims of the Jersey to that position are not so easily thrust aside, even though advocates of other breeds may think so. A dairy cow means one that will give the largest quantity of the richest milk in proportion to its size, and where is there an equal to the Jersey in that respect? The Jersey, in the exhaustive trials at Chicago, eclipsed, both as a butter and cheese maker, not only the Shorthorn, but its twin sister the Guernsey. The only thing against it is that it does not fatten well and cannot be used for meat when no longer useful in the dairy. If the capacity to make good beef is a criterion in the perfect dairy cow, combined with a faculty for giving the largest quantity of the richest milk for its size, then the little Dexter-Kerry presents the nearest approach of any!”
Under Indian Corn, is this appraisal: “The vast importations of maize or Indian corn into this country during the past quarter of a century, continue unabated, fostering the impression that it is a grain of great feeding value. While there is, of course, some degree of truth in it, there is equally little doubt that its merits are considerably exaggerated. For working horses, especially, it is a quite inferior and somewhat unsuitable food, being very heating in its effect, and also very deficient in flesh and muscle forming properties. Why it is so popular with horse owners is a puzzle, now that English horse beans, which are far more suitable for horses in every respect, are available at so low a price.
“Maize, although useful, is not a perfect food for pigs and poultry, as, although it’s fattening, it certainly produces an inferior quality of meat, having a somewhat coarse and fishy flavor, peculiarly objectionable in poultry. The advantage of being able to buy cheap maize is a somewhat questionable one.”
In a report on pigs, we find that, “Throughout the past several years, pigs have paid better than almost any other kind of livestock. The price obtainable for bacon and pork has been good, while the cost of fattening materials has been low. Berkshires remain the most popular breed, although no extraordinary prices were realized at public sales. The same may be said for large and small whites; they may have sold well in private and for ordinary purposes, but there has been no great demand for breeding stock.”
There are other short essays on establishing a gun room, yachting, horse racing, raising rabbits, lighting and heating, water-power, silage, golfing, fruit growing, forestry, taking care of a sportsman’s feet, the game of cricket, and dozens of other subjects deemed useful to the country gentleman.
In addition to a lot of ads for farm implements, from steam traction engines and “thrashers,” to plows, harrows, and grain drills, there are others for gardening supplies, lawn mowers, fencing, windmills, pumps, and kennel, stable, and hunting supplies.
There’s a record of the prizes given in 1893 for horse, cattle, sheep and pigs, including those given to “her Majesty the Queen” for cattle exhibited from the “Prince Consort’s Shaw Farm” as well as the Queen’s Flemish Farm at Windsor Castle. For example, the Queen’s Devon cow “Buttercup” won the 1st prize of 10 pounds at the Smithfield Show. The Prince of Wales’ Sandringham Estate also exhibited horses, cattle and sheep, and won prizes in each category.
One can imagine an English laird reading this book while sitting by a roaring fire in his study on a cold and damp morning. Later he would don his tweeds and gaiters, have had his mare saddled and brought round, and then ride out to inspect his crops and livestock, and to issue orders to the peasants who worked his land. What a life!