Agriculture Burnt Clay
land manure fire acre sheep clods
AGRICULTURE BURNT CLAY About fifty years ago burnt clay was brought much into notice as a manure, and tried in various parts of the country, but again fell into disuse. It is now, however, more extensively and systematically practised than ever. Frequent reference to the practice is to be found in the volumes of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. This burning of clay is accomplished in several ways. Sometimes it is burned in large heaps or clamps containing from 80 to 100 cart-loads. A fire being kindled with some faggots or brushwood, which is covered up with the clay, taking care not to let the fire break out at any point, more fuel of the kind mentioned, or dross of coals, is added as required, and more clay heaped on. A fierce fire must be avoided, as that would make the clay into brickbats. A low, smothered combustion is what is required ; and to maintain this a good deal of skill and close watching on the part of the workman is necessary. A rude kiln is sometimes used for the same purpose. Either of these plans is suitable where the ashes are wanted at a homestead for absorbing liquid manure, &c.; but for merely spreading over the land, that called clod-burning is preferable, and is thus described in volume viii. page 78, of the Royal Agricultural Society's Journal : - " Roll and harrow, in dry weather, till the majority of clods are about the size of a large walnut ; nothing so good as the clod-crusher to forward this operation : when perfectly dry, collect them into rows about six yards apart, with iron-teethed rakes ; take a quarter of a whin faggot, or less, according to size, previously cut into lengths by a nen with an axe ; place these pieces about four yards apart in the rows, cover them with clods, putting the finest mould upon the top of the heap, to prevent the fire too quickly escaping ; observe the wind, and leave an opening accordingly ; having set fire to a long branch of whin, run from opening to opening till two or three rows are lighted, secure these, and then put fire to others, keeping a man or two behind to attend to the fires and earthing up till the quantity desired may be burned, which will generally take four or five hours, say from 25 to 35 loads per acre of 30 bushels per load.
"This work is often put out to a gang of men at about 10s. per acre for labour, and the whins cost 4s. Gd. per acre, not including the carting.
" When the heaps are cold, spread and plough in. The great advantage of burning clods in these small heaps, in preference to a large one, is the saving of expense in collecting and spreading ; there is much less red brick earth and more black and charred ; no horses or carts moving on the land whilst burnino. ; and a large field may be all burned in a day or two, therefore less liable to be delayed by wet weather. In the heavy land part of Suffolk, the farmers purchase whirrs from the light land occupiers, and often cart them a distance of fourteen or sixteen miles, when there is no work pressing on the farm. These are stacked up and secured by thatching with straw, that they may be dry and fit for use when required. Bean straw is the next best fuel to whins or furze, and it is astonishing to see how small a quantity will burn the clods if they are of the proper size and dry. Observe, if the soil is at all inclined to sand, it will not burn so well. I will here mention, that I often sift and store up a few loads of the best blackened earth to drill with my turnips, instead of buying artificial manure, and find it answers remarkably well, and assists in maintaining the position that a heavy land farm in Suffolk can be farmed in the first-rate style without foreign ingredients."
Burnt clay is an admirable vehicle for absorbing liquid manure. A layer of it in the bottom of cattle-boxes does. good service, at once in economising manure, and in yielding to the cattle a drier bed than they would otherwise have until the litter has accumulated to some depth. Valuable results have also been obtained by using it for strewing over the floors of poultry-houses, and especially of pens in whist sheep are fed under cover. In the latter case it is mixed with the excrements of the sheep as they patter over it, and forms a substance not unlike guano, nor much inferior to it as a manure. As an application to sandy or chalky soils it is invaluable. It is mainly by this use of burnt clay, in combination with fattening of sheep under cover, that Mr Randell of Chadbury has so astonishingly increased the productiveness of his naturally poor clay soil. A Berwickshire proprietor, himself a practical farmer, who visited Mr Randell's farm in the summer of 1852, thus writes : - " I have visited most of the best managed farms in England, at least those that have so much of late been brought under general notice ; but without exception, I never saw land in the splendid condition his is in. The beauty of the system lies in the cheap method by which he has imparted to it this fertility, and in the manner in which he keeps it up. A large part of the farm consisted, fourteen years ago, of poor clay, and was valued to him at his entry at 7s. Gd. per acre. It is now bearing magnificent crops of all kinds, the wheat being estimated to yield from G to 7 quarters per acre.
" Mechi has enriched Tiptree-heath, it is true ; but then it is effected at a cost that will make it impossible for him to be repaid. Mr Randell, on the other hand, has adopted a course that is nearly self-supporting, his only cost being the preparation of the clay. The great secret of his success lies in his mode of using it ; and as I never heard of a similar process, I will briefly explain to you how it is done : - His heavy land not permitting him to consume the turnip and mangold crops on the ground, he carts them home, and feeds his sheep in large sheds. They do not stand on boards or straw, but on the burnt clay, which affords them a beautiful dry bed ; and whenever it gets the least damp or dirty, a fresh coating is put under them. The mound rises in height ; and in February, when the shearlings are sold (for the sheep are only then twelve months old), the mass is from 7 to 8 feet deep. He was shearing his lambs when I was there, as he considers they thrive much better in the sheds without their fleeces. They are half-bred Shropshire downs ; and at the age I mention, attain the great weight of 24 lbs. per quarter.
" I walked through the sheds, but of course they were then empty. I saw the enormous quantity of what he called his home-made guano ;' the smell from it strongly indicated the ammonia it contained. He had sown his turnips and other green crops with it, and what remained he used for the wheat in autumn. He assured me he had often tested it with other manures, and always found 10 tons of the compound quite outstrip 4 cwt. of guano, when they were applied to an acre of land separately."