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GENERAL INFORMATION FOR FARMERS.
SHEEP AND THEIR HISTORY.
With the exception of the dog, there is no one of the brute creation which exhibits the diversity of size, color, covering and general appearance which characterizes the sheep, and none which occupies a wider range of climate or subsists on a greater variety of food.
In every latitude, between the equator and the arctic, he ranges over the sterile mountains and through the fertile valleys. He feeds on every species of edible forage, the cultivated grasses, cereals and roots; he browses on aromatic and bitter herbs; he crops the leaves and bark from the stunted forest shrubs and the pungent resinous evergreens.
His coat is sometimes long and coarse, like the Lincolnshire; short and hairy like those of Madagascar; soft and furry like the Angola, or fine and spiral like the silken Saxon. His color, either pure or fancifully mixed, varies from the black or white of our own country, to every
shade of brown, dun, buff or gray. With the earliest records of man we have mention of sheep. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Abraham and his descendants as well as most of the patriarchs were shepherds. Job had fourteen thousand sheep. Of Rachel it is said, “She came with her father's sheep, for she kept them.” The seven daughters of the Priest of Midian “came and drew water for their father's flocks." Moses “kept the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law;" and David was a keeper of sheep; and to the shepherds of Judea, watching their flocks at night, was announced their Savior's birth.
Emblematic of purity, they have been used as sacrifices in the religious exercises of the earlier ages; while the writers of all nations and creeds have dwelt with pleasure upon their virtues.
Sheep formed the principal wealth of the Hebrew patriarch, and the term pecus fcattle), of the Latins, whence was derived pecunia, wealth, was applied especially to them. It is generally believed that the fable of the Argonauts and the “Golden Fleece" rests with the facts connected with the first importation of sheep into Greece. And the old Spanish proverb, “Whereon the foot of the sheep treads the land is turned to gold,” evinces an early appreciation of a concomitant to sheep raising which is quite overlooked by our farmers in their estimate of the value of sheep.
A knowledge of the effects of breeding was early known to the race, as is shown in the Scriptural history of Jacob, and mention is frequently made by profane writers.
The signs of a good ram are concisely laid down by Varro, by Virgil, in his third Georgic, and by Columella ; and though the Spanish nobility were looked upon with wonder in giving two hundred ducats for a ram, yet Strabo
assures us that in his day (under Tiberius), they gave more than three times that sum for one of the breed of the “ Coraxi,” a Pontiac nation, believed to have the finest fleece in the world.
The greatest recorded improvers in sheep in ancient times were Lucius Columella and his uncle, Marcus Columella, who are reported to have crossed a variety from Africa with the breeds of Tarentum and sent the offspring to Spain. There they throve remarkably, attracting the attention of other nations to whom they were from time to time exported, and became the progenitors of all the finest breeds at present existing. The King of Spain, about the year 1800, presented the Elector of Saxony with a small flock of Merinos, and from these came the fine Saxony breeds for which Germany is famous.
The first sheep were introduced into the United States at Jamestown, Va., from England, in 1609. About the year 1625, they were introduced into New York and Massachusetts. In 1676, they were spoken of as being “ abundant in New England,” and in 1790, it is said, flocks were numerous in New York. The first Merino sheep sent to this country, it is said, were smuggled out of Spain in 1793, but they were not preserved for breeding.
Between 1801 and 1808, several pairs were imported by enterprising Americans ; but the French invasion of Spain and consequent sale of several of the largest flocks enabled the United States to obtain several thousand of the most improved breeds of Spanish sheep.
The first Saxon Merinos were brought over in the year 1823; and for several years following they were extensively introduced. They were at one time quite popular, but other breeds proving more remunerative they have almost disappeared, and but few pure bloods can now be found in this country.
It is a fact, perhaps not generally known, that Washington imported probably the first improved breeds of English sheep introduced into this country; and that from his stock was obtained, by Mr. Custer, by crossing a Persian ram with Bakewell ewes, the Arlington “Long Wooled Sheep,” mentioned by Mr. Livingston in his essay on sheep, published in 1809.
Sheep are divided into Long Wooled, Short Wooled and Cross-bred—the latter being obtained by crossing the long and short wooled sheep, either for the purpose of modifying the character of the fleece or improving the condition of the mutton.
LONG WOOLED SHEEP.
Among the long wooled sheep are the following: Lincoln, Leicester, Cotswold, Romney Marsh and Oxford Downs, all of which have been introduced into this country from England, where, by careful and judicious breeding, the peculiar characteristics of each have been obtained.
The Lincoln is probably the heaviest bodied sheep. They have been greatly improved during the past century, and from 1862 to 1870 carried off most of the prizes for long wooled sheep in England. It is popular for crossing with other breeds. It is a sheep requiring rich soil and careful attention. A few have been introduced here from Canada.
The Leicester.—This breed was brought to its great perfection by Mr Robert Bakewell, of Leicestershire, England, who, by a course of careful breeding, begun in 1755, obtained an animal which had established such a reputation in 1789 that he obtained over $6,000 for the use of three rams. They are a large sheep, mature early, and shear about seven pounds. They are not a hardy sheep. They require proper food, careful shelter and skillful treatment to be kept in good condition.
The Cotswold.* __“ The Cotswold has an ancient history. It is said to have been introduced into England from Spain by Eleanora, Queen of Henry II, of England, in the twelfth century. Although there is nothing more than tradition to support this, yet there is some corroboration of it in the fact that in Spain there has long existed, and is now a breed of coarse, long wool sheep, not unlike the original Cotswolds in some respects.
It is known, however, that in fifty years after this early date the wool of the Cotswold sheep was a source of material wealth and was jealously guarded by law.”
They are a large breed of sheep, producing a fleece about eight inches in length, and weighing from eight to ten pounds. They have been extensively introduced here, and full-blooded animals can be obtained in almost every State east of the Mississippi.
The Romney Marsh.-Its home is in the county of Kent, where it thrives on the low lands. It is a hardy animal, and will stand severe weather and poor treatment better than most breeds. Its fleece, which weighs from eight to ten pounds, is long and glossy, and much sought after by continental manufacturers of mohair and alpaca goods.
Oxford Downs are a cross between the Cotswold and Hampshire Downs. They are said to produce a fleece of better quality than the Cotswolds, and to thrive in some localities better than their progenitors. They have only recently become prominent in England, and have therefore not been introduced to any extent in this country.
SHORT WOOLED SHEEP.
The Southdown is perhaps the best known sheep on account of its superior mutton. It has been brought to its present perfection by careful attention during a long continued series of years. It derives its name from the Downs upon which it feeds—a range of low hills gradually descending to the sea shore, containing a dry soil covered with a rich but dense herbage. It has inhabited this section from the earliest times, but has been greatly improved during the past century. It has become thoroughly acclimated in America. They are very hardy, keeping up their condition on moderate pasturage, and readily adapting themselves to the different systems of farming in which they are situated. They fatten early, and the meat commands the highest price in market. The fleece, which closely covers the body, produces a valuable cloth
* Shepherd's Manual, by Henry Stewart, published by Orange Judd & Co., New York.
The Cheviots derive their name from the hills upon which they are found, and by some are supposed to date their origin back to the times of the Spanish Armada, on the supposition that they swam to the shore, and escaped to the hills when the ships were sunk. The original stock has been greatly improved, and are now an excellent mutton sheep, at the same time producing a fair fleece of medium wool.
The Merino, which we have before noticed, is the predominant breed in this country. During the past half century it has been judiciously bred here and so successfully as to obtain an individuality of its own. So favorable a reputation has it obtained that rams have been sent to Australia to improve the fine flocks there.
The French Merino has been introduced here in past years. It is an excellent sheep, but hardly hardy enough to withstand the rigors of our climate. Its origin is as follows: In 1786, a small flock was imported from Spain and placed at Rambouillet,. near Paris, France. In the course of fifty years, they had so improved as to be considered by many superior to the parent stock, both on account of size of sheep and improvement in staple of wool.
It is not possible, in the limits of such a short article as this must necessarily .be, to give a description of the crossbreeds, although judicious crossing is, perhaps, one of the most important points in the business of sheep raising. We cannot do better than•to quote the remarks of Mr. Stewart, in the “Shepherd's Manual,” upon
upon the subject of breeding : “ Breed for some well understood object. Learn and know the character of every ewe and ram in the flock. Remember that the male gives his impress upon the progeny most strongly; Purity of blood in the male is an absolute necessity.
“ It is cheaper to pay a fair price for good rams to a capable breeder who makes production of breeding animals his business, than to attempt to raise one's own breeding stock.
“Animals that are not pure blood when coupled tend toward reversion to the inferior stock rather than progression to the superior.
“ Animals, as sheep, that are easily improved favorably, as easily retrograde; the rule works both ways.
“ To feed well is the co-efficient of breeding well ; without good feeding, good breeding is of no avail. Breeding lays the foundation, feeding builds upon that.
“ The first cross is the most effective, the next is but half as effective and so on in the fractions 1, Å, 1, 15, 71, 64, etc. Unity is approached by diminishing quantities, and is thus never reached, so the higher we breed the less advance is made in proportion.”
The sheep industry must continue to increase in this country; for, aside from the constantly enlarging demand for lambs and mutton, the home consumption of wool will insure a fair profit.
Our manufactories, though at present suffering from the dullness of the times, are yet well appointed; and we possess, in most branches of woolen manufactures, equal skill with the English. Labor is not much higher, while fuel is decidedly cheaper here, and the advantage in this respect is likely to become, from year to year, more and more in our favor. The statement that wool-growing does not pay is not well-founded. And we think that if farmers would give the proper care and attention to this industry for a series of years, they would be satisfied as to the correctness of our views.
From the following statement, it will be seen that, although the most of our flocks are of no well-defined character, such as the English, French, German or Spanish, yet the returns from the wool are even now greater than in those countries and, also, in some of the colonies into which they have been introduced :
Pounds of Wool
54 1 45 2 00
We take pleasure in quoting from a paper written by John L. Bowes & Bro., English wool merchants, upon the subject of American wool:
“ The estimate of wool clipped in the United States during the past year (1875) was 193,000,000 of pounds against 178,000,000 in 1874, and 175,160,146 and 163,000,000 in the four years preceding that; we regret we are not in a position to give detailed information as to the quantities of each class produced; but we can say that the varied climate of that country admits and encourages the growth of nearly every description, from the purest Merino to the commonest carpet wool ; no better delaine wool is grown in any part of the world than in the United States ; bright haired wools, also, grow there to perfection, and the cultivation of the Angora goat has recently been essayed with a fair amount of success. It only requires the adoption of an enlightened fiscal policy to secure for the wool-growers of the United States the reward due to their success in this branch of industry, a success due equally to their ability and to the climatic advantages of which they are possessed.”
This is the language of a concern whose interests are entirely with foreign wools and ought to have weight with those who, owing to small returns, slaughter their sheep when wool is slow of sale.