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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72



Following the order of diseases in the sequence of age is that known as lungworm, and this disease developes itself in lambs or hoggets sometimes shortly after weaning, and sometimes at a greater interval, according to the climatic conditions of the autumn or winter. In a dry season there is a total or almost total absence from it, but in a wet time it is especially virulent. On damp land the disease is most active, though on dry sound land in certain seasons it is very destructive. As is the case generally with diseases, it most readily attacks lambs of delicate constitution, and in low condition. The healthier and better conditioned lambs are those that are least liable to it, and the more frequently survive an attack. The consideration then is how to build up and fortify our lambs against the disease—that is to say, make them as little susceptible to it as possible. In the first place something may be done by the selection of rams which display indications of great strength of constitution. But though this is a point of no small importance, it is secondary to that of establishing the constitution and condition of the young animal by a liberal supply of food from its birth. The constitution of any animal may be strengthened or weakened, according to the sufficiency or insufficiency of nourishment. It is a matter of great regret, and I may say of shame, and also of false economy, that so many sheep breeders persist in overstocking their pastures. Such sheep farming really comes under the heading of cruelty to animals, and is nowhere so prevalent as among the inexperienced sheepowners of the colonies—men whose pursuits were in other lines, or not in the practical management of stock before embarking in their new occupation. Many of these sheepowners look on numbers of sheep as the one desideratum, regardless of all other considerations. With such men, the circumstance of a blade of grass being as they think, wasted, is pain and anguish. But the fact is, no page 29 stock can be kept in proper condition if compelled to eat out every growth of coarse and unpalatable food. It is in this matter of feeding that the secret of condition in sheep, and greatly so of constitution, depends. "Who has not seen flocks which were originally almost all that could be desired, degenerate after a few years of semi-starvation into absolute culls? A general deterioration has taken place, and even the characteristics of the breed have become lost. Conversely, if such degenerated sheep pass into the hands of a skilful breeder, in a few generations the characteristics are restored. It is in attention to careful feeding that immunity from disease must chiefly be looked for. Build up the constitution and vigour of the sheep by an ample supply of natural food. I do not mean pampering with high artificial feeding,—that course in itself brings a certain form of delicacy of constitution—but of natural and wholesome food there should be no stint. If any breeder desires strong and healthy lambs, he will not get them in any other way. But what I have always considered as a great help to strength and vigour is, that lambs should be dropped as early as the climatic conditions of a farm will permit. The earlier lambs are dropped the more robust are they, and the more capable of enduring the hardships of the first-winter, and it is advisable, I think, that on front country the lambings should be as early as possible. An early dropped lamb has this advantage over a late dropped one that it has the benefit of the first flush of spring grass, which increases the milk supply of the ewe, and maintains it till the dry weather of summer sets in. By that time the lambs are pretty well independent of the mother, and are able to shift for themselves, even though the grass may be somewhat withered up. They suffer something however in these circumstances; and, if it can be arranged, the lambs should be weaned on to clover or rape, on which food their condition will be sustained, and it may be improved. Clover or rape are healthier foods than grass for weaning on, and if possible the lambs should be kept on such food till late in the autumn, and then put on to turnips of some soft kind, when the roots are ripe enough, but before they have lost their sappiness. If the feeding of turnips is postponed till most of the sap is gone lambs do not take so kindly to them, nor do they make so quick a start in improvement. Turnips are excellent feeding for hoggets, and it is doubtful if the crop can be used more profitably. If neither clover, rape, nor turnips are available, the lambs must take their chance; but if they have thriven well during the suckling period, and ordinary care is taken to keep them on the page 30 best grass the farm affords, there should be no great mortality from lungworm. Clover and rape are sounder feeding than grass, particularly if the latter is an old pasture. Corn and chaff as auxiliaries to grass during the winter are very beneficial to the health of sheep, but I do not look upon them as within the scope of practical sheep farming in anything like a large way.

The question of lambing a month or two earlier or later may seem a small matter, but in reality it makes an immense difference to the lambs powers of vitality if it has a month or two advance of age. Lungworm is a disease that is almost confined to lambs or hoggets. I understand that older sheep are sometimes affected with it, though I have never seen an instance; whether older sheep are liable to it or not there is no doubt that hoggets are the most liable, and if a month or two of age can be given by an early lambing the liability to disease is diminished, and the lambs go through the winter with greater freedom from any ailment or weakness. It is the same with other animals. Take the case of an early calf and a late one, both equally well reared, and note the difference in the two during the first winter. The older calf has a great advantage over the younger, much more than the mere fact of a slight advantage of age should apparently give. He has had the advantage of a full summer's grass before the winter begins. This is what gives him the hardiness to stand the winter well. So it is with lambs. It is as important to the lamb that it should have a full summer's grass as it is to the calf. These two qualities of good condition and early spring birth are the best resistants to disease, and it is possible to improve the condition of the lamb yet further, by shearing it at a suitable time, say in January. Lambs, like sheep, improve fast after the burden of the fleece is removed from them.

I cannot impress upon sheepowners too much the wisdom of treating their young stock liberally in the way of food. I do not say it is an absolute preventive of the disease we are speaking of, but it is a great safeguard, and quite apart from a reduced liability to sickness—it is wisdom on the score of general profit. An early lamb well fed becomes a marketable sheep at the age of 15 or 18 months, and sooner still if needed. It is large enough for every export or local purpose, and it is certainly something that a sheep should be sufficiently matured for slaughter at so early an age.