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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

On Sheep

On Sheep.

Paper read to the Courtenay Farmers' Club, by Mr. T. H. Anson on December 4th, 1876, on "The Sheep best adapted to this District."


It will be admitted on all sides that one of the chief objects of a Farmers' Association is the promotion of any discussion by which any practical knowledge may be diffused to its members; the elements of which may be more or less contained individually by those of its members who may have given more particular attention to any one subject as regards either agriculture generally, the breeding of stock, the appropriate times and seasons for sowing grain and root crops, the sorts best adapted for various soils, the best breed of sheep for this district, and other subjects which may be ventilated by a Society of this nature, and calculated to promote a higher general standard of knowledge on these points, which will assuredly bring its own reward.

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The subject I have chosen to give you a paper on this evening is "The Sheep best adapted for this District;" and I will endeavour, as shortly as possible, to give you a few ideas that I have arrived at in my own individual experience on sheep. Farmers generally, of late years especially, have found a combined system of grain and root growing with sheep keeping, the most profitable, as well as most beneficial to the land. The question then comes, which is the sheep that being adapted to our ground, will return us a fair quantity and quality of wool, with an inclination to fatten, and come to maturity at an early age ?

In the first place, I will enumerate the different breeds of sheep from which many of the crosses have been obtained in this Province; each breed having no doubt peculiar merit in itself, distinguishable in its adaptation to various localities, and different soils. There are at present in Canterbury—the Southdowns, Lincolns, Romneys, Cotswolds, Cheviots, and Leicesters. I will shortly describe the merits or demerits of each:—The Southdown is a remarkably hardy constitutioned sheep, a great favourite with the butcher, but on account of their short and light fleece are not a sufficiently remunerative sheep for farmers, who require both wool and mutton producing qualities combined; they might be advantageously kept by small farmers near town specially breeding for the market. This cross I could not advocate for ourselves, although well adapted to our own soil in many respects. Then we come to the Lincolns and Romneys; the crosses from these sheep thrive best on our heavy lands in the vicinity of Christehurch, Leeston, Southbridge, Ellesmere; but our district, with its large area of fair quality land, is in my opinion not able to do justice to such sheep as these, which require most luxuriant pasturage to bring them to perfection.

We also have the Cotswold and Cheviots; the former I have had no experience in, but I am led to understand that they might be crossed with the Merino with a certain amount of advantage, and if so would not make a bad cross for our character of land.

The Cheviots have been used by some of our sheep farmers for crossing with the Merinos on our hill runs, but whether successfully or not, I am not in a position to state. As many of you are aware, they are a favourite sheep in parts of Scotland, and are gradually exterminating the old original black-faced breed. I could not recommend them as a cross for our district.

I now come to the improved Leicester, a sheep which surpasses all other breeds for symmetry of carcass, its propensity to fatten easily, therefore coming to maturity early, has a fair length of staple finer than the majority of other long-wools, and likely to return the most profit for the amount of food consumed.

The pure Leicester ram put to a good Merino ewe will throw as good a cross as may be desired, combining the qualities mentioned by me in the first part of this paper; on the one hand, giving to the Merino these essential qualities, and gaining on the other hand a greater fineness of page 190 staple, and hardiness of constitution. How far this cross should be carried is a matter of opinion; my idea is that the third cross is far enough in the direction of Leicester, and that we should endeavour to go back to the Merino by putting a Merino top to a seveneights bred ewe. By this means we should still retain a certain length of staple, and gain a greater fineness and weight to the fleece. We should still be keeping a sheep suitable to our quality of land, a sheep that would thrive well on our not over luxuriant pastures, returning a remunerative fleece, as well as being predisposed to fatten at an early age. A good deal depends on how we keep our sheep, and I feel convinced, as is the case with most animals, if you cannot keep them well you are much better without them. Many of us have been too much inclined to overstock. It is only of late years that farmers are beginning to realise that the carrying capabilities of most of our farms in this district are not what some supposed or estimated them to be. I doubt whether we can carry, with justice, more than one and a-half sheep per acre all the year round. By growing rape and turnips we must increase this number by a little; but to keep them really well, I take it we ought not to put on more than the allowance I stated, viz.:—A sheep and a-half per acre, these requiring roots and straw to maintain their condition through the winter. Everything depends on the kind of pasture a sheep is sustained on, whether it will attain to a point as near perfection in carcass and wool bearing capabilities as possible; or, on the other hand, whether it degenerates every year in both. For instance, place some pure long-wools of any breed on our rye-grass pastures, and watch the result for a couple of years. The sheep will have deteriorated sadly in condition, their wool will have become shorter in stable, uneven and fluffy on the top, the effect of the un-adaptability of such sheep to our character of ground. Any person who first saw these sheep in their pristine vigour, with their long and lustrous fleece, and beheld them in their less prosperous condition, can be no advocate for breeding or keeping on such pastures as we may have in a dry district such as this, these heavy long-wool breeds of sheep. We must adapt our sheep to the character of land we possess, and I maintain that a good Leicester cross-bred is the most suitable, as well as the most profitable sheep either for a large or small farmer in this district to keep. But there is a great disparity between crossbreds; farmers generally are not particular enough as regards the rams they put into their flocks. It is not reasonable to suppose that any person putting a mongrel-bred ram to an inferior ewe can hope to attain anything but an inferior animal; we ought, therefore, to be impressed with the necessity of alone procuring the services of the best bred rams, to keep up the standard of our flocks. There is little excuse for a farmer in this respect, for well-bred rams are easily procurable, as there are some really good breeders of this cross of stock in the Province, who give their time and attention to breeding especially.

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Some of our farmers have an inclination to purchase old cull Merino ewes, because it requires a small outlay to purchase a good number. This may answer a person wishing to breed up a flock of his own, by keeping his lambs and so breeding on until he gets a cross-bred flock. But those who purchase for the sake of culling again, I am doubtful whether it would not pay them better to purchase half the number of good young cross-breds, which will breed a better class of lamb for the butcher, and realise probably more than double what the old Merino ewes will of wool of a higher money value in the market. There is a noticeable fact, which some of you may have observed in both pure and cross-bred sheep, that these sheep are apt to lose the use of their teeth long before even they have arrived at their prime. I know not whether this fact can be maintained when the same sheep are kept on soft and luxurious pasturage, but this I do know, that cross-breds (the more crossed the worse they are in this respect) lose, or rather their teeth become ground down to their gums as early as four-tooth in some instances, which must militate considerably against a sheep thriving in many of our paddocks with nothing but the hard stems of the rye-grass for food; and still worse for a sheep thus deprived to labour in vain to bite at, and gain a living out of a hard and unrelenting turnip; time and experience will teach us that we shall have to grow more succulent food than tussocks. The Merino does not seem to be affected in this way, though often subjected to live on the coarsest of herbage on our native pastures, on the very tops of our shingly mountains, with only an oasis of tussocks here and there in the midst of the shingle, or on our river-beds, where their chief food consists of the tough native broom.

There is another subject, before concluding this paper, to which I should like to draw the attention of this Farmers' Club, a paper which I am sure some of yourselves must have perused, and which is well worth of our consideration while on the subject of the sheep. I refer to a paper read to the Kaiapoi Farmers' Club, by a Mr. P. Duncan, describing an insect called the "Œstris Ovis," which had caused the death in one flock of fifty per cent., and explaining the influence it had on any sheep on which this insect had inserted its eggs; also, producing a bottle with ten living specimens, which had been taken from the head of a hogget. It seems to be a matter for public investigation how the eggs of this pest are inserted into the brain of the sheep, but most probably through the nostrils, causing symptoms analogous to an ergotised sheep. A resolution was passed asking for the co-operation of the Ashley and Courtenay Districts in endeavouring to ascertain in the Autumn months, when the sheep are both affected with the "Œstris Ovis" as well as the Ergot, any information regarding how this insect deposits its eggs, and what may be the best remedy to prevent such attacks. As this seems a matter of importance to those interested in sheep, I hope that any of you who page 192 may have sheep suffering from staggers, will observe carefully by opening the head, whether any of the Œstris Ovis are perceptible.

Gentlemen—In conclusion I would hope, that now the Courtenay Farmers' Club has been fairly resuscitated, we may be able to get a Paper once a quarter on the many subjects which interest a community like ourselves, throwing different lights and shades on various questions, as well as causing social intercourse and interchange of ideas amongst its members; and surely by helping each other we shall be fulfilling a duty in this our day and generation.