National Geographic : 1970 Feb
truck as it moved along, pumping feed from a hopper into troughs before the cages. A dial indicated amounts delivered. Mr. Shames explained: "We keep track of the feed eaten and the eggs collected in two rows of cages among the 110 rows in each building. When production drops to the un economic point, all 90,000 birds are sold to processors for potpies or chicken soup. It doesn't pay to keep track of every row in the house, let alone individual hens; with two million birds on hand, you have to rely on statistical sampling." Droppings Pose a Problem Just then a little tractor came by, equipped with an arm that plowed through the drop pings on the floor beneath the cages. "We used to spend thousands of dollars on insecticides to keep down flies," Mr. Shames said. "Now blades on the arm window the droppings, speeding drying and thus curtail ing fly-breeding. At the same time the material is moved in stages toward the center aisle, where the tractor picks it up. We've just about solved the fly problem, but not what to do with the collected manure. And we have 120 tons a day to contend with." This was a facet of farming I hadn't imag ined. I got a more jolting awakening when I roamed the feed lots of the Blair Cattle Com pany in Blair, Nebraska. "One cow produces as much waste as 16 humans," Harry J. Webb, the company's president, said matter-of-factly. "Witht20,000 animals in our pens, we have a problem equal to a city of 320,000 people. But we kept that in mind when we bought this place." Details of how this energetic cattleman and his associates put together their feed lot epitomize the keen management involved in successful farming today. "The company started in 1965," Webb told me. "We began with feasibility studies, using computers, to pinpoint an ideal location in relation to sources of feed and cattle. It also had to be central to slaughterhouses, on a major highway, and near a railroad. The land had to be hilly, so quick runoff would leave dry footing for the cattle after rains. The slopes should have a south exposure, so the winter sun would work for us, and we wanted a prevailing breeze for coolness in the sum mer. Lastly, there had to be pastureland where manure could be spread, and a place to build a drainage pond which would keep runoff from polluting nearby streams. Farmer-executive Airplane and office are as familiar as the field to this modern American farmer of Marysville, California. Gesturing behind his long desk (below), burly Earl Blaser maps a harvesting campaign with his son and son-in-law. Working as many as 75 hands and $250,000 worth of equipment, they farm 2,300 acres planted in tomatoes, cucum bers, rice, and fruit. Diversifying like other busi nessmen, they also operate a farm-equipment agency and a duck-hunting club. Piloting his own plane, Blaser inspects crops - and prospects for more acreage (right). "Dad kept his farm records in a cigar box," chuckles Blaser, who today employs a full-time accountant. For decisions on planting and effi ciency, he consults a computer, nowadays the progressive farmer's almanac.