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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62



Sheep: New Zealand has proved itself to be admirably adapted for the breeding of all classes of sheep, from the fine-combing Merino to the strongest type of Lincoln, with the intermediate breeds. The Merino occupies and thrives on the wild lands of the colony, from the snow-line to the border of the plains, as well as on the drier portions of the plains. The Merino ewe furnishes the foundation for all the cross-bred varieties. On the rich, moist soils the Lincoln and Romney Marsh flourish, while the finer English and Border Leicester's occupy the drier lands.

Crossbred Sheep: Those bred from Merino ewes and long-wool rams are the most suitable for the frozen-meat trade, and are known as "freezers."

The dapper little Southdowns flourish wherever crossbreds thrive. Their more ponderous cousins, the Shropshire and Hampshire Downs, have their admirers, especially the Shropshire, which is largely used for crossing, with a view to producing early-maturing lambs. English Leicesters are much sought after also for this purpose.

Since the development of the frozen-meat trade, sheep-fanning has undergone a radical change in the colony. At one time wool was the chief consideration, the surplus stock finding their way into the boiling-down vat, the tallow being the only available product. Things have undergone a marvellous change since 1882, the inaugural year of the frozen-meat trade. Farming has assumed a new phase, sheep-raising for mutton being now the most profitable branch of farm management. Sheep have risen 100 per cent, in value since that industry took hold in the colony. Small and large flocks of pure and crossbred sheep are now kept on all farms which are suitable for them, the object being the production of early lambs for freezing, which sell readily at from 10s. 6d. to 12s. each. The percentage of increase all over the colony is very high, particularly so in the paddocks, where 100 to 125 per cent, is not uncommon in favourable seasons, while on the hill and unimproved country it varies from 45 to 80 per cent.

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Disease among the flocks is of rare occurrence where ordinary care is taken. Whenever it does occur, it may generally be traced to overstocking, or excessive moisture.

Shearing commences in September, and continues till January. The usual price per hundred is 15s. to £1. Shearing-machines are gradually coming into use, and will doubtless become general when better understood.

The average clips for the various breeds of sheep are approximately as follows: Merino, from 4lb. to 7lb.; quarter-breds, about 6½lb.; half-breds, 7½lb.; three-quarter-breds, 8½lb.; Leicester, 10½lb.; Lincoln, 11lb. Of course, very much larger clips are obtained from special flocks, as much as 25lb. to 80lb. per sheep; but the above figures represent general averages.

The staple of New Zealand wool, especially the long-wool and cross-bred, is remarkable for its freedom from breaks and other imperfections incidental to countries subject to long droughts and scarcity of feed.

The coming sheep for New Zealand will be that which combines the best fleece and the most suitable carcase for freezing purposes, together with early maturity. This is the problem which some sheep-breeders have set themselves to work out. Whether such an animal, having fixity of type, can be evolved remains to be proved.

The capability of New Zealand for producing mutton has not nearly reached its limit. When the frozen-meat trade was first seriously considered, an assertion which was made to the effect that the colony could find 1,000,000 sheep per annum for freezing-without impairing the breeding-flocks was treated as highly chimerical by sheep-breeders of long experience. It is found, however, on reference to the statistical returns, that during the year 1891 1,788,619 sheep and lambs were exported from New Zealand; and not only so, but the flocks have gone on steadily increasing, numbering, according to returns made to the Agricultural Department, 18,475,500 in 1892, as against 16,758,752 in 1891. There are twenty-one freezing-works in the colony, with a full freezing-capacity of 8,665,000 per annum.

The production of wool and mutton in New Zealand is undoubtedly the premier industry of the colony, as may be inferred from the fact that out of a total of £9,566,897, representing the whole of the exports for 1891, no less than £5,662,081, or nearly 60 per cent., was due to sheep-farming, made up as follows:— page 13
Value of wool exported 4,129,686
Value of sheepskins 171,292
Value of mutton 1,076,713
Value of tallow 173,257
Value of preserved meats 111,133
Total £5,662,081

As the country is probably not much more than half tested as to its sheep-carrying capacity, and its consequent power of production, it can readily be seen that, when increased areas have been opened up and laid down in English grasses, and more winter feed grown—such as turnips, mangolds, &c.—New Zealand will offer more than ever before a wide and lucrative field for industrious men of young or middle age, possessed of moderate means and an intelligent knowledge of that most valuable of all animals—the sheep.

It is impossible here to go into minute details with regard to sheep-farming in New Zealand; and, in consequence, the statements which follow must be regarded as general in their character, but nevertheless they are absolutely reliable.

It is a well-known fact that climate and soil exercise the most potent influence on the development of animals (as well as human beings) reared in any country, and these conditions being exceedingly favourable in New Zealand render this colony the most suitable of the British possessions for sheep-farming.

It may unhesitatingly be asserted that not even Great Britain itself is so favourable to the production of the sheep as is New Zealand, for the colony possesses all the climatic and soil advantages of the Mother-country, without the drawbacks of long and severe winters, wet seasons, foot-and-mouth disease, &c.; and the prolonged droughts of the Australian Continent are unknown.

Until the commencement of the frozen-meat industry, in 1882, sheep-farmers in New Zealand confined their attention exclusively to producing the class of sheep that would cut the heaviest fleece; but of late years the ideal has been, and still is, early maturity of mutton and good fleece together. The two qualities have been best combined by the judicious crossing of Down rams with long-wool ewes in the North Island; and in the Middle Island of Leicester, Lincoln, Romney Marsh, and Cheviot rams with large-framed four-year-old Merino ewes. The climate and soil in New Zealand are of such varied character that in page 14 some districts it has been found that one cross does better than another. For examples the following are given: In the North Island, until lately, the Lincoln and Romney Marsh breeds have predominated; but since the starting of the frozen-meat trade it has been found necessary, in order to produce an earlier maturing of sheep with a better quality of fleece, to put Hampshire, Shropshire, of Southdown rams to the long-wool ewes; and the desired result has in every case been achieved.

In the Middle Island, where the variations in climate and soil are much greater, and the country, generally speaking more mountainous, the Merino for many years reigned almost supreme. Here, too, however, the export trade of frozen mutton has revolutionised sheep-farming. Merino mutton was not suitable for the Home markets—at all events not so suitable and profitable as the breeding of a larger sheep; besides, it came into competition with the River Plate and Australian mutton, with the result that it made a very low price, and, in consequence, judicious crossing, as already stated, was tried, with eminently satisfactory results.

In the most mountainous districts, pure-bred Merinos are still kept, and ewes of this breed, when three or four years old, always command very payable prices for crossing with the long-wool rams on the downs and low-lying lands. In some districts the cross-between the Leicester (especially the Border Leicester) and Merino ewe is found 'most suitable; in others, again, where the climate is wetter, the Romney Marsh cross is regarded as best; whilst on heavy rich lands some prefer the Lincoln cross, and, on high cold country, the Cheviot cross i; regarded with much favour by others.

The result of this crossing is a sheep which, if nourished well during lambhood and afterwards kept on good pasture until after first shearing, is considered, so far as quality of mutton is concerned, equal to the best Welsh and Scotch. [See account of "Interesting Experiment by the Earl of Onslow," on page 27 under heading of Frozen Meat.]

The weight of these half-bred sheep at two-tooth varies, According to feeding and breeding, from 56lb. to 65lb. The Border Leicester cross, maturing earlier than the others, gives the best return at two-tooth, if the climatic conditions are favourable. From the wool-producing point of view, the half-bred sheep is the most profitable; at all events, it has been so for many years. Of course, the weight per fleece is much less than in the case of long-wools, but this deficiency is more than page 15 counterbalanced by the extra value of the staple. Given two flocks of equally well-fed two-tooth sheep, on properties suitable to each breed—one for instance Lincoln, and the other the half-bred, by Border Leicester rams from Merino ewes—and the result, according to present values, would approximately be this, viz.: Lincoln, two-tooth, clipping 12lb. wool at 6d. = 6s.; half-bred, two-tooth, clipping 9lb. wool at 9d. = 6s. 9d.

Again, the pure-bred sheep would probably have the advantage in weight per carcase to the extent of 4lb. or 5lb.; but the extra value of the half-bred mutton at Smithfield, or any other of the meat-markets—say, ½d. per pound—would give the finer (or half-bred) sheep a further advantage over its coarser competitor of 10d. or 1s. per carcase or, say, a total of 1s. 7d. or 1s. 9d. per sheep.

Another advantage that the breeding of half-bred sheep possesses is that there is a market in the colony for all the wool of that description that is produced, and the growers, in consequence, very often obtain at their doors more for their wool-clip than they would realise in London, without incurring the very heavy charges incidental to sending it there. American buyers, too, visit the colony annually to purchase this class of wool, and, as it is produced nowhere else in the world to any great extent, New-Zealanders may be said practically to have the trade in this class of wool in their own hands.

Two other important points in connection with sheep-fanning in New Zealand call for the special notice of the would-be colonist—namely: (1) the low cost of the production of mutton, (2) the high percentage of natural increase. Respecting the first point, it has been proved beyond all doubt that, under ordinary conditions, the very choicest of mutton can be produced so as to pay the grower handsomely when sold at 2d. per pound for the carcase at the nearest shipping-port. To the British sheep-farmer this statement, of course, is valueless by itself; but, when we add that this mutton would only cost the London butcher, delivered ex-steamer at the docks, 8½d. per pound, he will be able to realise in some measure what a wonderful grazing-country New Zealand is, and he will be able to understand how it is that men of the right stamp who have come to the colony have done so well. Then, with regard to the high percentage of increase, there need only be cited a few average returns from well-known flocks to show what excellent lambings New Zealand farmers obtain under good management.

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Lambing Returns.—Averages.
Locality. Breed of Hock. Breed of Bams. Breed of Ewes. No. of Ewes. Percentage of Lambs. Remarks.
North Island Lincoln Lincoln Lincoln 7,517 81.04 Land merely surface-shown in English-grass pasture.
North Island Lincoln Lincoln Lincoln 5,301 85.05
North Island Lincoln Lincoln 7/8 Lincoln 12.177 100.00
North Island Romney Romney Romney 1,141 96.17
North Island Lincoln S'uthd'wn Lincoln 2,033 94.71
Middle Island Merino Merino Merino 14,765 75.36 Mountainous country in native pastre, unimproved.
Middle Island Merino B. Leic'str Merino 4,235 88.94
Middle Island Cross-bred B. Leic'str Cross-bred 8,624 80.82
Middle Island Half-bred B. Leic'str Half-bred 2,747 82.79
Middle Island B. Leic'str B. Leic'str B. Leic'str 778 90.77
Middle Island Lincoln Lincoln Lincoln 452 88.08 In English grass pasture.
Middle Island R. Marsh R. Marsh R. Marsh 253 111.46
Middle Island E. Leic'str E. Leic'str E. Leic'str 464 93.34
Middle Island Shropsh're Shropsh're Shropsh're 168 97.41
Middle Island S'uthd'wn S'uthd'wn S'uthd'wn 114 96.87

The above returns are fair average ones, but much higher might have been exhibited if exceptional cases had been selected.