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1865 Dept. Agriculture Table of Contents]



The following essay is presented, not as a system of book-keeping adapted to mercantile business, where large sales are daily made, but for the use of the thousands of farmers scattered all over our broad land, from Maine to California, owning farms varying in size from ten to a thousand acres. Nor is it brought forward as, the only or the best one that can be employed, but as one that has proved practicable, and that can be carried out by any one who can write and perform simple operations in arithmetic.

The importance of keeping an account of the income and expenses of the farm has not been fully estimated by the majority of farmers, If they have dealings with their neighbors, they keep some record of it; but they cannot tell how the account stands with their farm. They do not know whether there is more profit in raising hay or corn, potatoes or cabbages, cattle or hogs, or whether any thing pays. It is not always advisable to take note of the expenses of every field, yet it is often well to see what it costs to raise a crop of grain; roots, &c., in order to judge the comparative value of each.

Many farmers are deterred from keeping a record of their receipts and expenditures by the belief that it is too complicated for them; others, that it will take too much time; a few, because of their unwillingness to attend to any intellectual labor; ane others, still, because they do not feel its importance. It is important and practicable for all, and no man should consider that he has reached the rank of No. 1 farmers unless he keeps accurate accounts with his farm; and one of the best means to reach that rank is to commence and continue well- arranged, simple, and accurate farm accounts, We admit that it is more difficult to arrive at the exact cost of a certain crop or animal, than for the merchant to get at the cost of his goods. For instance, in raising a calf it would take a great deal of time to keep an account of every quart of milk, every pound of hay, every ear-of corn, pint of meal, or bushel of roots consumed, together with every hour of time employed in feeding, watering, and otherwise tending it, until it reached maturity. But an approximation can be reached near enough for all practical purposes.

Sometimes we see accounts, even in agricultural reports, in which everything a farmer raises is set down at the market value. For instance, credit is given for the number of tons of hay, the number of bushels of corn and potatoes, and everything that is raised, without a corresponding debit of what is used in keeping the stock through the year—making it appear as if the net income was very large,when, in reality, nearly all is used upon the place. A farmer may, perhaps, plough large fields that have been previously manured, and, without applying any fertilizer, obtain a good crop, which, when sold, brings in a large sum of money... He may decide that his profits are large; but a system of bookkeeping that estimates the value of the land of each field, each year, would oblige him to appraise the fields from which his large crops were taken as of less value than before. This would show him that the profits were not really as large as he at first supposed. Another might spend a good deal of time and money in making improvements, which, for the present, bring in no profit, and it might seem that nothing was made by farming; yet an account of what his improvements cost, and of all that the land (on which the improvements were made) produced for several years would change his opinion. Thus, by carrying out a system of book-keeping, which not only applies to the farm as a whole, but also to each operation in detail, a very large fund of practical knowledge would be obtained in a few years. If each farmer in our nation would thus estimate the expenses of his business our practical knowledge of the value of agricultural products would be much increased, and the amount of productions in the nation be vastly enlarged.

Some charge no interest upon their cattle, tools, land, and buildings; others sell a large quantity of wood each year, which is all considered as profit, without regard to the diminished value of the lot; these all deceive themselves, thinking they have made a large profit by farming, when the profit, in reality, comes from some other source.

The plan which I propose to present is one which I have, in part, followed for some years, and has answered every purpose. It is so simple that a person whose education is very limited can adopt it. The productions raised, and the prices of both productions and labor, vary much in different localities; but the principles will apply in all circumstances, and a little practice will make the application of these principles easy. For convenience, it will be better to use only one book; it may be of any size and shape, but the most convenient shape I have found to be very nearly in the form of this which you are now reading— Agricultural Report—and containing about two hundred pages, made of ruled paper, and having two ruled lines on the right hand, up and down the page, for dollars and cents, and one on the left hand for the date of the transaction. Let the book be paged, writing the numbers plainly, and place an index at the commencement. Following, should be an inventory of the value of the farm, the stock and farming implements, leaving a few blank leaves for inventories in future years. Next, may follow what may be called a memorandum or journal, in which should be noted all transactions important enough to be remembered. This will require no debit or credit, but is simply a history, important for reference, and will serve to prove the time and nature of any transaction. At one-third the distance from the beginning should commence the cash book or farm account, in which every sale is credited to the farm, and every expense is debited. Commencing with the last quarter of the book may be kept the account with different fields, hired men, and every person with whom an account is kept.

As the season begins in April, I would commence the year with that month— as less produce is on hand, and it is easier to take an inventory, (or “account of stock,” as merchants call it) which should always be done. It will require some judgment to rightly estimate how much more, or less, each animal is worth than one year before; whether your buildings and fences are in as good repair; whether your land has improved or lessened in value; whether the new tools purchased are equal in value to the loss by use of the old; whether you have more hay, grain, or vegetables on hand than at the commencement of the previous year, all of which should be correctly ascertained, being appraised at the market value. If an inventory is not taken, however accurate the account of the receipts and expenditures may have been, the real income or loss of the farm will not be known; and the more accurately the estimate is made, the nearer correct will be the figures that show the gain or loss for the year.

The farm to which the following figures apply is one upon which a mixed system of husbandry is employed, and its poverty of soil and distance from a market may, in part, account for the small net income of the year. The follow ing will assist in understanding the plan to be pursued. It would, perhaps, be better to name and appraise each animal and each wagon separately, as, in case of losses or sales, the loss or cash could be set against it more readily.

Farm of about one hundred acres, upland and meadow, in a poor state of cultivation, with a house, two small barns, and other outbuildings, which would probably bring at auction $2,550.00
One horse 100.00
Six oxen620 00
Three cows185 00
One heifer35 00
Three turkeys6.50
Ninety hens, at 75 cents each67 50
Two swine80.00
One express and one riding wagon100 00
Ox wagon and ox cart50 00
Harnesses25 00
Truck harness5 00
Yokes20 00
Ploughs and cultivator20.00
Ox sled and chains8 00
Spades,shovels,and forks10 00
Corn sheller and harrow10 00
Hoes, rakes,and other tools30.00
Horse rake8.00
Hand threshing machine15 00
Corn15 00
Rye5 00
Wheat4 00
Three tons English hay75.00
Two tons salt hay20 00
Family stores155.00
Amount of inventory on which interest is to be reckoned for one year 4,244 00


To go-through the year would occupy too much space; and as it is my purpose simply to give a specimen of what should be done, I will give a memorandum of only one week every two months. It is not necessary to note every sale in the journal, only the more important, and such transactions as one wishes to remember.

April 1, 1865.—Have this day taken an inventory of farm and what is on it, all of which are worth at the market value about $4,244.

Have engaged two men to work for the season; one, Charles Gross, at $25 per month, and the other, William Aiken, at $23.

April 3.—Ploughed for grain and grass seed.

April 4—Ploughed for onions, and purchased onion, grass, and garden seeds, oil meal for feeding, and tools for summer use.

April 5.—Gave the onion ground thorough preparation for the seed, harrowing in fine manure, and working out all lumps and stones, making it mellow and level.

April 6.—Sowed onion seed, and finished sowing grass seed.

{Omitting till first week in June.}

June 1—Planted cabbages, putting hen manure mixed with loam in the hills.

June 2.—Sold one yoke of oxen for $197, which cost $105 last fall. They have done considerable work, and have had good keeping of hay and meal. The only way I know in which anything can be, made in keeping cattle is to feed liberally.

June 3.—Hoed potatoes and corn, and planted squashes and melons.

June 5.—Bought one yoke of oxen for $135, which are in thin flesh, but will probably gain during the coming summer.

June 6.—Hired another man, Patrick Murphy, for the remainder of the season, to be paid $24 per month. I believe in hiring an abundant supply of help, and that more is lost by not having help enough than by having too much.

{Omitting till August.}

August 1—Men employed in hoeing cabbages and turnips.

August 2.—Went to market, carrying potatoes, cabbages, eggs, &c. Purchased one fine Cotswold buck lamb for $—.

August 3—Employed the men in filling low, swamp land for mowing. Last year the best grass on the farm was upon land so reclaimed.

August 4.—Mowed salt grass.

August 5.—At work filling swamp land.

{Omitting till first week in October.}

October 2.—Men at work digging muck. Went to market.

October 3—Gathered onions; a small crop, owing to a very dry summer. Purchased oxen and steers for $—.

October 4 and 5.—Digging potatoes; very good crop; better than was expected.

October 7.—Drawing sea manure.

{Omitting till first week in December.}

December 1.—The time of the men being out, only one is to be employed during the winter; the others are paid.

December 2.—Spending time in making everything snug for winter, The barn and hog yards are now filled with muck, bedding is secured, and part of it is housed, and the remainder stacked, so that it can be kept dry; and everything is done to keep the stock warm and comfortable.

December 4.—Sold two fat hogs and eight pigs for $—.

{Omitting till first week in February.}

February 1, 1866—Employed in laying plans for the coming year. In looking back over the failures of the past year, find they have generally arisen from two causes: first, poverty of soil or a lack of manure; and second, not having men enough to perform all the work at the right time. In addition may be added one beyond the control of man, which was, long and severe drought.

February 5—Man employed in getting wood for the year.


In this book everything spent for the benefit of the farm is charged to it as debtor, and everything sold, being the product of the farm, is credited to it instead of using the owner’s name.

Each debtor page is to be headed as the following— DR.Each creditor page is to be headed as the following—CR.
Apr. 4To 4 lbs. onion-seed, at $2.25$9.00Apr. 7By 2 pigs$15.00
To 30 lbs. clover-seed, at 15 cents4 50(Omitting until first week in June.)
To 1 bag red top4.00June 2By 1 yoke of oxen197.00
To ½ bush, Herd’s grass2.00June 7By 1 calf11 00
To ½ bush. orchard grass2.25By 15 bush. potatoes, at 60 cents9 00
To garden seeds3.50(Omitting until 1st week in Aug’t.)
To 500 lbs. oil-meal, at 24 cents 12.50Aug. 2By 8 bush. potatoes, at $1 5012.00
To 2 shovels, at $1.252.50By cabbages8.40
To 2 hoes, at 85 cents1.70By 12 dozen eggs, at 30 cents3.60
(Omitting until 1st week in June.)By 30 bunches onions, at 5 cents1.50
June 5To 1 yoke of oxen135 00By 15 bunches turnips, at 5 cents0.75
(Omitting until 1st week in Aug't)By 20 dozen green corn, at 15 cts. 3 00
Aug. 21 buck lamb10 00Aug. 5By 12 lbs. butter, at 40 cents480
Aug. 3To William Aiken8 00(Omitting until 1st week in Oct'r)
Aug. 4 To taxes86.55Oct. 2By 5 bbls. onions, at $2 2511.25
(Omitting until 1st week in Oct’r)By cabbages5.25
Oct. 3To 1 yoke of oxen160.00By 15 dozen eggs, at 30 cents4.50
To 5 steers225.00By melons4.30
Oct. 5To Patrick Murphy24.00Oct. 6By 15 bbls. onions, at $2 2533.75
(Omitting until 1st week in Dec’r.)By 4 bbls. apples, at $416.00
Dec. 1To Patrick Murphy, (in full)43.25By chickens15.40
To Charles Gross, (in full)175.00(Omitting until 1st week in Dec’r.)
(Omitting until 1st week in Feb’y)Dec. 2By 50 lbs. butter, at 45 cent22.50
Feb. 1To linseed meal24.00By 940 lbs. pork, at 16 cent150.40
Blacksmithing7.50By pigs at $432.00
Dec. 4By ¼ beef, 156 lbs, at 13 cts20.28
Dec. 5By 92 lbs. hide, at 8½ cents7.82
(Omitting until 1st week in Feb'y)
Feb. 1By 25 bush. potatoes, at 60 cents15.00
By 8 bush, turnips, at 60 cents4.80
Feb. 5By 15 dozen eggs, at 35 cents5.25
Feb. 6By 4 steers250.00

The above (being only detached parts, comprising merely six weeks of the year) will serve as a specimen to assist in understanding the manner in which each sale and expense is recorded. The debit side, or expenses, should be on the left hand page, and the credit, or sales, on the opposite (right) hand page, and when either page is filled, both should be added up, and the amounts placed at the bottom, when new charges and credits should be commenced on the next two pages. In like manner go through the year, and then the amounts can be drawn off and used in the final settlement.

The inventory at the end of the year will be omitted in this essay to save room, but the amount must be used in the settlement.

To find the gain or loss for the year, take—

The inventory April 1, 1865$4,244 00The inventory April 1, 1866$4,128.50
Interest on that amount for one year254 64Amount of sales for the year2,545.84
Grocer’s account for the year175 856,669.34
Butcher's account for the year85 40Take expenses, value of farm, &c., April, 18656,441.18
Expenses of farm for the year, being the amount of all the debit pages of cash book1,681 29
6,441 18Net income228 16

This amount is received for services of owner and family, besides that portion of their board and clothing furnished by the farm. It allows for the additional or decreased value of the farm-buildings and fences.

The last quarter of the book being devoted to separate fields, poultry, cattle, grocer’s account, butcher’s account, &e, a few items will be given to show the method in which they are kept:

CORN FIELD, (two acres sward land.)
May1To 12 cords of manure, at $5$60 00
1 and 2To getting out and spreading12.00
3 and 4To ploughing13.00
8To harrowing3 50
9To furrowing one way, 34 feet apart2 00
10To seed corn1 00
To planting3 00
June3To cultivating and hoeing6.50
August25To cutting and curing top stalks8.00
Oct.3 and 4To harvesting15.00
To interest on land and taxes6.50
[Total debits]143.50

By 128 bushels corn, at $1 10140.80
3 tons top stalks, at $1030 00
4 tons butt stalks, at $832 00
     Value received202 80
Cost of crop143 50
Net income on two acres59 30

CARROTS, (one-fourth of an acre.)
May12To 2 cords manure, at $5$10.00
To drawing manure2 50
13To ploughing and preparing land3.00
20To seed and sowing1 50
June20To hoeing and weeding10 00
Nov.10To harvesting4 00
To interest on land and taxes2 50
[Total debits]33.50

By 8,450 pounds carrots, at $ cent per pound, or $10 per ton$42.25
value of tops2 25
     Value received44 50
Cost of crop33 50
     Net income11 00

ONIONS, (one-half acre.)
April4To 4 cords of manure, at $5$20.00
To drawing and spreading3 00
5To ploughing2 00
To cultivating, harrowing, and raking4 00
6To seed and sowing12.00
June6To hoeing28.00
Oct.3To harvesting and topping12.00
Nov.6To drawing to packet and freight25.00
To barrels21.00
To interest on land and taxes5.00
[Total debits]132.00

By 95 barrels onions, at $2190.00
Cost of crop132.00
     Net income58.00

To 4 steers, at $45$180.00
3 tons salt hay, at $1030.00
½ ton English hay10.00
30 bushels meal, at $1 10, (2 quarts each per day)33.00
[Total costs]253.00
By 4 steers250.00
Loss besides the care of feeding3.00

Mem.—Yet it is better to feed the hay upon the place, if as much can be obtained for it as it would bring if sold, even if little is received for the labor of feeding out. The manure thus made should be estimated as part of the credit.

To value when four weeks old as veal$12.00
6 quarts of milk per day for three weeks.3 78
4 quarts of milk per day for next three weeks2 52
2 quarts of milk per day for next three weeks1 26
meal and grass to November 11 25
one pint of meal per day to May 14.00
hay to May 14 00
care the first year8 00
pasture till November 13 00
hay and grain to April 115 00
care the second-year5 00

Mem.—Not having calved, she is yet to be proved, although indications are that she will be worth all she cost. When she has been proved, her value may be entered beneath her cost stated above.

April1Sugar$2.156 lbs. steak, at 20c$1.20
32 lbs. tea2.50
6Flour12.508 lbs. beef, at 14c1 12
715 lbs. fish at 3c0.45

[So keep account to the end of the year.]

A similar account of dry goods and of general household furnishing should be kept; also, of all marketing sold.

It is said that farmers are more slack in their payments than most other business men. It is true they generally pay in time; but they are often short of money and get trusted for what they buy, thus keeping always in debt. This ought not so to be, and a little system in keeping an account of the income and expenses will have a favorable influence in assisting them to keep out of debt.

In order that every record may be accurate, it is necessary that it be attended to each night, while fresh in the mind. A small book in the pocket, or a slate and pencil hanging in some convenient place, may assist in retaining the principal facts and figures until they can be transferred to their appropriate places.

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