As I read Dr. W.E. Taylor’s book Soil Culture and Modern Farm Methods, I have been simply blown away at the depth of knowledge farmers had access to 100 years ago. One hundred years seems so far in the past that it is easy to assume the information is outdated. But the book contains many practical tips that still apply today. Over the next few blogs, we will discuss 5 of these.
1. The importance of clean, pure, readily available water
Taylor works through the many different digestive processes for animals in which water is necessary: mastication, digestion, and absorption to name a few. He even cites research where scientists learned that a different diet changes the amount of water an animal needs to consume. The study’s conclusion was that animals need to be allowed to drink freely, meaning fresh, clean water needed to be readily available at all times.
This may seem obvious to the average reader, but what the study fails to explain is how difficult it is to accomplish such a goal in the dead of winter. It is not uncommon for animals to get watered once a day in winter even today. It is very difficult to keep the water from freezing, which makes keeping water readily available a nearly impossible task. Especially 100 years ago.
Now, think about this scenario: a cow has had nothing to drink in nearly 24 hours and frigid, ice-cold water is placed before it. The cow drinks as much water as it needs as fast as possible because it is incredibly thirsty, for obvious reasons. The cow’s body immediately gets a shock because it needs to warm this water up before it can use it. For some cows, this is no problem, their body is already producing an excess amount of heat to stay warm in the cold winter weather. However, Taylor offers a practical solution for farmers if their cattle seem to be faltering in the winter:
The sudden demand for heat caused by taking into the body this large quantity of cold water may exceed the available supply. The result is that some of the food nutrients or body tissues are burned to meet it. Animals unduly exposed to cold and those sparingly fed or with scant coats may be directly helped by watering frequently or by warming their drinking water.
However, this practical tip only leads to more questions. A common method to provide warmed water to animals today is by using very shallow, electrically-heated water troughs that fill as the water is consumed. Another is to have an overflow system where the water is constantly running, preventing it from freezing except in extremely cold temperatures. What methods were used 100 years ago to provide clean, warmed water to animals in the cold months? Taylor unfortunately does not say. The reality is it was very difficult to properly water animals in winter and farmers are still coming up with unique solutions to this problem even today.
 W.E. Taylor, Soil Culture and Modern Farming Methods (Minneapolis, MN: Deere & Webber Company, 1913), 256.