Frederick C. Holbrook At The Clark Rice Farm


Clark Rice

Detail From An 1883 Portrait By L. M. Miller

Taken From An Earlier Work

The Farm of Clark Rice, Esq.

Messrs. Editors---I was much gratified, in a recent visit to the farm of Clark Rice, Esq., in Dummerston, Vt., to find so triumphant an illustration of the profitable results of enterprise and good judgment, in seizing hold of the natural advantages of the farm, and appropriating them to use.

These advantages consist in an abundant supply of swamp muck of fine quality, and the power to obtain and hold a large quantity of surface water for the purpose of irrigation.

Mr Rice's farm is mainly a grass farm, hay being the most profitable crop for his location and soil, and his operations are therefore conducted with a view to the raising of a large burden of grass, of good quality.

He has recently erected new barns which are remarkably convenient and well arranged; the main barn is 160 feet in length, east and west, by 30 feet in width, with ample shed lofts, and a horse barn and carriage house annexed.

The ground upon which the barn is built is descending to the east, and under a portion of it is a spacious barn cellar for the manufacture of compost, 100 feet long by 30 wide, open 24 feet on the southeast end; the lower side, or east end of the barn-yard, being on a level with the cellar bottom, affords a convenient passage into and out of it from the yard.

The liberal use of muck enables Mr Rice to sell off large quantities of hay without detriment to the farm. He usually winters from 30 to 40 head of cattle, however, about half of which are stall fed, and the manure from these, composted with muck, together with other means of making compost hereafter described, affords him all the manure necessary for the improvement of his land, making and applying about 500 loads annually.

Management of Muck.--- His bed of muck covers a number of acres from 6 to 8 feet in depth, and is a vegetable deposit of the finest quality. The original growth of timber on the adjoining land, was hard wood mainly, and whatever wash there may ever have been of an extensive area of higher land around the swamp, would naturally flow into it.

Excellent arrangements have been made for the thorough drainage of the swamp, which will be more particularly described in speaking of his system of irrigation.

The main body of the muck, except from March to the middle of June, when the gates are shut and the swamp filled with water for irrigation, lies high and dry from moisture to the depth of 5 or 6 feet, and can be got out at any time of the year, when most convenient to do the work.

Two or three times in the course of the winter, a quantity sufficient for a layer of a foot in depth over the whole cellar, is taken directly from the swamp on sleds, and thrown in, it being but a short distance from the barn, and the ground a little descending.

In the fall, a coat of muck a foot in depth, is deposited over the cellar bottom, and when a sufficient quantity of manure has accumulated under the scuttles in the stable floors to cover the muck 8 or 10 inches thick, the same is spread, and another coat of muck put over the manure; repeating these operations from time to time, through the winter and spring, until the cattle are turned to grass.

An immense quantity of compost is thus formed, and, judging from the smell and appearance, of the finest quality.

A part of the muck is dumped through a scuttle in the barn floor into the cellar, and a part is thrown in through windows in the underpinning, and what cannot be conveniently spread from these heaps with the shovel, is taken up on wheel barrows, running on a plank, and distributed in due proportion; the design being to incorporate two parts of muck to one of manure.

A larger proportion of muck is kept under the stable floors, where the urine flows, than elsewhere, and this saturated muck is spread into the middle of the cellar from time to time, in order to equalize the whole mass.

The compost lays in this state until after the spring work is done, when at odd jobs, such as rainy days and other days of leisure, it is forked over from end to end.---After haying it is carted out on to the land where wanted for the next spring's use.---None of it is applied to the soil until a year old---Mr Rice being of opinion that composts, where large proportions of muck are used, require to be fully ripened by age and fermentation, in order to derive the greatest benefit from their application to the soil.

Mr Rice has been in the habit of applying 50 loads to the acre; 25 loads spread on the turf and plowed in, and 25 loads spread on the furrows and harrowed in.---He has come to the conclusion, however, from recent trials with a view to ascertain the proper depth to bury compost, that he shall in future introduce the plow two or three inches deeper in breaking up the sward land, which his present facilities for making compost will warrant, and spread the whole dressing on top of the furrow, incorporating it thoroughly with the soil above the sod.

The building appropriated to the horse barn and carriage house has a cellar under the whole of it, and the manure of two or three horses goes into the part under the stables, into which muck is also thrown, from time to time, and 6 or 8 working hogs are faithful to their business of mingling and pulverizing the materials with which they are supplied.

Bedding is freely used under the horses to augment the mass.---Under the carriage house is the feeding apartment, also a kettle and arch for cooking their feed, and storage for the materials.

There is still another cellar adjoining this, which receives all the wash of the house and the night soil, and which is liberally supplied with muck to absorb it as occasion requires. The objection to such places generally is that they are difficult of access, but in this case it is entirely obviated, the cellar being sufficiently capacious to back a cart into it.

The barn-yard is constructed differently from any I have before seen.

The main yard, where the fatting cattle run, is slightly descending to the east to another yard, which is well supplied with muck, and is calculated to receive the wash or superabundant moisture of the former.

This arrangement gives him a yard free from mire and water, which at certain times is deemed essential to the comfort of the fatted cattle, and to his own comfort and convenience in carting to and from the barn such large quantities of hay, &c.

During the day the coarser forage of the farm is mainly fed out in the lower yard to the cows and young cattle, which run there, and the refuse of it is incorporated with muck by the treading of the cattle. Occasionally in the course of the winter a moderate coat of muck is spread over it, this being deemed better policy than to put the whole quantity of muck that the yard will bear into it at once in the fall.

After planting in the spring, the contents of this yard are carted out into a heap for fermentation; it is immediately supplied with muck again, and the cows are yarded on it over night through the summer, excepting when too wet and miry from heavy rains, when they are for a few days turned into the upper or dry yard.

In the fall, the contents are again carted out, and a fresh covering of muck put in for winter. The litter, &c., of the upper yard is also carted out in the spring and composted with muck, in all cases designing to use two parts of muck to one of manure.

Irrigation.--- Mr Rice's system of irrigation is in the highest state of perfection.---At the breaking up of winter quite a brook is formed from the rains and melting of the snow. It may be termed surface water from the adjoining high lands, and probably its marked effects in increasing the quantity and quality of grass may be attributable, in a great measure, to the fact that it is thus formed, and not a living stream fed by springs.

A large embankment of earth has been thrown up on the lower side of the swamp, the other sides being surrounded by higher lands, and thus a large reservoir is made into which this temporary stream is conducted, and with which it is filled in March, and after, to the depth of several feet.---

Gates are constructed in the embankment to draw off this accumulation of water as wanted for irrigation, and they are also calculated for the thorough drainage of the swamp.

The water is conducted in ditches at different heights, over fifty acres of grass land, which lies more or less descending from the swamp. The ditches run across the land at right angles with its descent, and the water is taken out of them by small outlets, made at suitable distances in the lower sides, so as to flow gently over the whole land.

The water is not let on to the land till after the frost is out in the spring, on account of its liability to wash holes by getting under the frozen ground; neither is it continued on the land after about the middle of June, or when the grass has grown so as to cover the ground completely; if continued on longer, the quality of the hay is injured.

Mr Rice considers that the greatest benefit is derived from the irrigation in April and May, on account of the early and vigorous growth it imparts to the grass;---this effect is no doubt increased greatly from the fact that the temperature of the water is considerably warmer by standing in the reservoir.

Care and judgment is necessary in managing the irrigation. Mr Rice frequently passes over the land when under the process, and if any part of it is getting over-charged with water, it is taken off, or if any part is not receiving its portion the same is supplied as soon as discovered.

When heavy rains occur during the irrigation, it is stopped for a time; the object being not to drown the grass roots at all, but to keep them gently moistened.

The contrast between the irrigated land and the land adjoining, which is above the highest ditch and cannot be flowed, is very striking. The latter, although lying more level, and oftener plowed and manured, will not cut as much grass by one half as the former, neither is the quality as fine.

The irrigated land can be kept in productive mowing much longer than other parts of the farm that have not the benefit of the water; it is occasionally plowed and manured, however, and goes through a rotation of crops.---no water being let on to any portion that may be under a state of tillage until it is again in grass.

The crop of grass on the irrigated land is not affected by any drouth, however severe, that may occur after the water is taken off,---the land having been well saturated, and the grass completely covering it, prevents the moisture from evaporating. The burden of hay is very heavy, and the quality excellent; the tendency of the irrigation being to produce a thick and fine bottom.

Seeding to Grass in August.--- Mr Rice has several acres of grass land too moist to plow and cultivate in the spring. He obtains fine crops of hay from this land by plowing it in August, when a light coat of compost is spread on top of the furrows and harrowed in; the land is then stocked down to grass again, without sowing to grain.---

The new seeding is fit for the scythe the next season, although later than the old fields. The process is repeated about every fifth or sixth year, or as often as the more valuable grasses are supplanted by wild grass. He considers this by far the best management of a moist soil.

Improvement of a light, hungry soil.--- He has a piece of land rather inconveniently situated to get at with manure, upon which he is trying the following experiment to redeem it from a state of comparative sterility: it is sowed to rye in the fall, and stocked with clover early in the spring; the grain is taken off the next harvest, and the next year after, the growth of clover is plowed in and the same process repeated.

The plan has proved very satisfactory thus far, the land yielding more than double the crop it did five or six years ago.

Planting a Forest.--- Mr Rice had, a few years ago, a piece of side hill in pasturing, of rather thin unproductive soil, which he plowed up and sowed to rye, at the same time planting to chestnuts in rows about four feet apart. After the rye was taken off the land was left to run up to a forest.

The first growth or sprouts from the chestnut was rather crooked and scrubby; but by cutting it close to the ground new sprouts started whcih grew straight and thrifty; and there is now a good prospect of a fine growth of chestnut timber---an article which is becoming more and more valuable in this section of the country.

I have thus given a very imperfect sketch of some of the more important operations of this intelligent and prosperous farmer.---His enterprise and skill in the use and application of his muck, together with the appropriation of his natural advantages for irrigation, have told wonderfully upon the productiveness and profit of the farm.---

Some twenty years ago he commenced operations on a worn-out farm, the whole produce, all told, not filling the barn then on the place, 60 by 30 feet, and now, with all his ample barn room, he has none to spare.

Among other things, his operations show in a striking manner the great advantage to be derived on our worn out soils, from a liberal and judicious use of swamp muck, and the importance and profit attending a strict husbandry of all the resources on the farm for making and saving manure.

In the language of the chairman of the committee of our Agricultural Society for awarding premiums on manure:---

"Every animal in the house or in the barn, on this farm, contributes something to swell the immense heap."---"We hope our farmers will soon learn that the process of making manure is not an impoverishing, but an enriching process, as it proved in the case of Mr Rice, of whom his neighbors used to prophecy that this muck-hole would send him to jail. It has proved, however, that in digging muck he was digging money, instead of landing in jail."

It is evident to any one in conversing with Mr Rice, and witnessing the operations of his farm, that he unites extensive agricultural reading with the most close and minute observation.

He is a hard working, practical man; and he has adopted no new theory or practice simply because new, or continued in an old one because old; but with excellent sense he has adopted those suggestions, from whatever source derived, that seemed applicable to his soil and condition.

Starting in life with nothing but a willing mind and a doing hand, he has risen to his present position by the force of his own enterprise and good judgment. He has been compelled to advance slowly and cautiously in his improvements, making them no faster than they would pay for themselves, and now he has a farm and plan of operations that may safely challenge competition.

In this example we see, forcibly illustrated, the value of agricultural reading to the farmer who has the good sense to follow those suggestions that are applicable to his soil, location, and means.

It is not to be expected that every practically written article published in an agricultural journal of wide circulation can be of universal application, for soils, localities as to markets, &c.&c., must necessarily vary.

The farmer, therefore, who fails to exercise suitable judgment in following the suggestions of others, has mainly to blame himself, probably, if he meets with disappointments; and instead of commencing a tirade against everything that is written by others, he may as well exclaim of himself:---

"Poor Johnny Raw, what madness could impel,
So rum a flat to face so prime a swell.

How many young farmers, commencing in life with heavy mortgages upon them, pursue the mistaken course of cutting off their wood and timber, plowing up their pastures every few years for a grain crop, without even sowing grass seeds, and inventing every other possible means to cheat "mother earth" of a crop, without returning her any equivalent,---in other words, "destroying the goose that lays the golden egg,"---and all from the plea that they are in debt.

Let all such be reminded by the example of Mr Rice, that this is not the true policy. Like him, let them seize hold of every means the farm affords for making and saving manure, thus increasing the crops and the reward of their labor, affording a more sure and expeditious means of liquidating mortgages, with a farm left worth cultivating; a farm upon which they may live in independence, with the pleasing reflection in the evening of life, that theirs is an example safely to be followed by their children.

Further remarks, suggested by the example of this farmer, might be pursued, but the unwarrantable length of this communication admonishes me to forbear.

F. Holbrook.

Brattleboro, Vt., January 6, 1848.

Vermont Phoenix, June 23, 1848.

[Frederick C. Holbrook, later the Governor of Vermont during the Civil War, wrote this study for the Albany Cultivator. Frederick Holbrook was the inventor of the Holbrook plow. The Clark Rice farm gave its name to the Rice Farm Road in Dummerston, Vermont.

The ribald and canting poetry which Frederick C. Holbrook applies to his fellow farmers, is taken from "The Milling Match" by Thomas Moore (1819), in "Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress:---'Account of the Milling-match between Entellus and Dares, translated from the Fifth Book of the Aeneid by One of the Fancy'".

Tom Moore's own words were: "Poor Johnny Raw! what madness could impel / So rum a Flat to face so prime a Swell?"]


Dr. John Wilson Visits The Clark Rice Farm

Julia Ann Rice, Mrs. Milton M. Miller, was born July 18, 1838 in Brattleboro. Her parents were Clark and Clarissa Rice, and she grew up on this well-known farm.

In a letter to the Vermont Phoenix dated January 1, 1903 Julia recalls seeing Dr. John Wilson during his last years, shortly before he became recognized as the highwayman "Captain Thunderbolt"---

The recent items concerning old Dr. Wilson remind me of the time when I was ten years old and used to see him drive into the yard at the old homestead. I remember him very well, more distinctly because the old lady who mended our clothes told us one day "that if we young ones were not good and did not mind marm old Dr. Wilson would carry us off," and with an ominous shake of the head "they do say he has killed a man already."

The farmer Milton M. Miller purchased Dr. John Wilson's prosthetic heel at the "Captain Thunderbolt" estate auction in 1848. The heel was fashioned from wood and leather.







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