Many persons quote what is, or what they consider to be, the natural state of animals, and hold that out as a guide by which we should shape our treatment of them in a state of domestication. Nothing can be more fallacious than such reasoning and idea. Whether animals are longer or shorter lived in their wild than in a domesticated state I am not prepared to say; for, though we hear of many that survive our treatment of them but a short time, let it be borne in mind that such are usually foreign animals, and change of climate probably brings about the catastrophe much more than the treatment. Be this as it may, let us look at the change art, or rather breeding and treatment, has made in animals of domestic use. To begin with the horse: I believe it will not be found that the horse of the desert, or those of the prairie of America, exhibit either a body overloaded with flesh or a carcase of distended dimensions. In these particulars they may be styled, to a certain degree, in condition. Nor have those employed to catch them found them deficient in speed, or, to a certain extent, in endurance. They have two circumstances in their favour to render them so-constant exercise, and, from the shortness of the herbage, their stomachs are never distended. Could we supply them with five or six feeds of corn per diem, we should not find a prairie horse far short of the condition of the hunter (I had almost said racehorse); for if, as in summer, the sun has made the growing herbage into all but hay, it is not a very bad succedaneum for it; and provided a horse gets sufficient exercise, it matters little whether he does so of his own accord from habit and circumstances, or whether he does it with an exercise boy on his back. What the wild horse wants is stamina; and this we give the domesticated one by proper feeding. But if what I have said is correct (and I believe it is), we find the wild horse not differing greatly in point of carcase from one of our own when in condition.
We - that is, art and culture - have produced for our use the great inactive, ponderous, pot-bellied animal we see working in a farmer's team; there neither was nor is a similar animal of the horse kind in nature. But London, though not the paradise of the sportsman, is, after all, the school for improvement in most things; and London men, when using cart horses in their business, now show a very different animal, in point of appearance and alertness, to what was seen fifty years ago in the same employ, and to what may be seen now in that of many farmers.
But we will go further than this, and instance cloven-footed animals. It is true, "unwieldy as an ox," "moving like an ox," and "big as an ox," are terms in common use as applicable to the unwieldy animal we daily see represented by the ox; but let us look at him in his natural form and wild state -we do not find the bison, musk ox, or buffalo with the enormous carcases and bodies we find in the domestic animal, after being kept in luxuriant pastures, where he is at liberty to fill his stomach daily to repletion. Many foreign oxen are, in their natural state, as light in their carcases as our hunters-they are naturally an active animal, and possess no inconsiderable speed; by this I trust I prove that distended abdomens are not natural to animals.
We perhaps render the ox more in accordance with our ideas of value by rendering him the unwieldy beast we see him; but we have totally destroyed many of those attributes given by nature for his comfort and safety. By our mode of habitual treatment we may possibly give the ox a tendency to carry flesh, and thus enhance his value in the eyes of the butcher; if so, our treatment is right so far as his being an article of food-but as an animal for the farmer's servitude, we spoil him from the day he is weaned.
It has been a disputed point whether the use of horses or oxen is, on the whole, most beneficial to the farmer. The great objection to the ox is his being slow. How, in the name of common sense, should he be otherwise? So soon as he has left his mother, indeed before, he is turned into long luxuriant pasture, where he distends his bowels ad libitum, without having occasion to walk a mile in a day from any cause whatever-his companions, whether cows or oxen, moving at the same pace; and if from necessity compelled to walk a quarter or half a mile home, he and his companions are driven by a boy quite willing to walk as slowly as they wish.
Why, I would make a racing colt all but as slow as an ox, let him be brought up with him and in every particular the same way; while, on the contrary, give me any pair of oxen at six months old, let me feed them as I like, and treat them as I like, I will be bound to produce the pair at three years old ready to trot their ten miles in an hour in harness willingly, and with perfect ease to themselves. Of course the experiment would not be worth making; but it shows my perfect conviction that it is to the feeding and treatment of the young animal we owe their alertness or the reverse, in after-life. Look, we will say, at a young calf. So long as he gets no more than nature requires-that is, sustenance from the mother -so long as he keeps in shape, we see no exuberance of carcase in him; but from the moment he begins to feed, and is turned into a luxuriant pasture, from that moment he gets more or less out of shape. The racing colt would become just the same if turned into the same pasture.
No more preposterous idea ever entered the mind of man than that of turning hunters out to grass (say) in the middle of May. True hunters do not require the being kept in the same condition during the months of May to the middle of August that they exhibit from the latter period till fox-hunting ends. During the summer months a certain quantity (and that a very small one) of cooling food may with advantage be allowed him as a mild alterative; but the turning him to grass and stopping his oats brought him to the state of the cow or ox. The master in those days rejoiced to see his hunter as big as a bullock-so fat and inert that stamping at the flies was the only exercise he took; and, moreover, shook his head on seeing another, not so great a glutton, keeping up something like a proper form.
He thought that he had not thriven like his obese favourite, quite forgetting that when brought up to be got into what was then thought condition, the strong doses of physic that were in those days rammed down his throat, and the influence of exercise, would cause all this obesity to melt away in very quick time; and, having little or no corn in him, he had very little stamina to support the treatment to which he was now subjected, so different to that which he had been used to when at grass; and it is not at all improbable that the sparer horse, at whom his master had shaken his head, may, after a month's stabling, show by far in the best condition; and as in those days grooms gave all horses indiscriminately the same quantum of physic and work, whether wanting it or not, supposing my hypothesis to be correct, it shows the spare horse quite as strong in constitution as the lustier one; and I am quite sure that such would be found, in a general way, to be the case.