1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Sheep Breeds (cont.) - (c) Mountain Breeds; (d) Cross Breeds.

(Part 85)


Breeds (cont.) - (c) Mountain Breeds; (d) Cross Breeds.

Mountain Breeds

Chevoits.- As we approached and cross the Scottish border we find a range of hills covered with coarser herbage than the chalky downs of the south and with a climate considerably more rigorous. Here in the Southdown sheep have been tried with but indifferent success. This, however, is not to be regretted, seeing that the native cheviot breed rivals them in most of their goods qualities and possesses in addition a hardihood equal to the necessities of the climate. This breed, beside occupying the grassy hills of the border counties is now found in great force in the north and west Highland of Scotland. In the Caitheness, where they were introduced by the late Sir John Sinclair, they have thriven amazingly, in the hands of some spirited breeders have attained to as great perfection as in their native district. During the last 30 years this breed has undergone very great improvement in size figure, weight fleece, and aptitude to fatten. In proof of this it is enough to mention that the Cheviot wether lambs are now in the border counties brought to market weaned, and are transferred to the low-country graziers, by whom they are sent fat to the butcher at sixteen months old, weighing them from 16 to 18 lb pre quarter. This is particularly the case in Cumberland, where Cheviot lambs are preferred to all other breeds by the low-country farmers, by whom they are managed with great skill and success. It is not at all unusual with them to realized an increase of 20s. to 25s per head on the purchase price of these lambs, after a twelve month keep. This fact is peculiarity interesting from the proof which it affords of a hitherto unsuspected capacity in Cheviots, and probably in other upland breeds, to attain to a profitable degree of fatness and weight of carcase at almost as early an age as the low land breeds when the same attention and liberal feeding is bestowed upon the them. There is no breed equally well adapted fore elevated pastures consisting of the courses grasses with a mixture he heath; but when ever, from the nature of the soil or greater elevation, the heaths unmistakably predominate, a still hardier race is to be preferred , viz.-

The Blackfaced or Heath Breed.- They are accordingly found on the mountainous part s of Yorkshire, Lancanshire, Cumberland, and Westmoreland; over the whole of the Lammermuir range, the upper part of Lanarkshire, and generally over the Highlands of Scotland. Both male and female of this breed have horns, which in the formerare very large and spirally twisted. The face and legs are black on specked with black with an occasional tendency to this colour which the fleece; but there is nothing of the brown or russet colour which distinguishes the down breed. The choicest of these sheepare found in Lanarkshire and in the Lammermuirs, where considerable pains are now bestowed on their improvements. Their chief defects are coarseness of fleece and slowness of fattening until their growth in matures. In most flocks the wool, besides being open and coarse in the staple, is mixed with Kemps or hairs, which detract from its value. Rams with this defect are now carefully avoided by the best breeders, who prefer those with black faces, a mealy mouth, a slight tuft of fine wool on the forehead, horns flat, not very large, and growing well out from the head, with a thickset fleece of long, wavy, white wool. Greater attention is now also being paid to their improvement in regard to fattening tendency; in which respect we do not despair of seeing them brought nearer to a par with other improved breeds. Whenever this is accomplished we shall possess in the breeds now enumerated, and their crosses, the means of converting the produce of our fertile plains, grassy downs, rough upland pastures, and health-clad mountains, into wool and mutton of the best quality, and with the utmost economy of which, the circumstances admit.

In the higher grounds of Cumberland, and also in Westmoreland, Lancashire, and parts of Yorkshire, two varieties of the heath breed of sheep are found, viz., Herwicks and Lonks --- which, with a general resemblance to the blackfaced Highland breed, differ from it in having a close-set fleece of fine soft wool. They are sometimes described by saying that they have "fleexe of a Cheviot on the carcase of a Highlander; but the Herdwicks are so small, and both breeds are so inferior to the blackfaced in aptitude to fatten, that they are losing ground in their native districts, were the blackfaces are spreading rapidly, being in great repute for breeding crosses to long-woolled rams.

Cross Breeds

We have thus enumerated the most important of our pure breeds of sheep, but our list would be defective were we to omit cross-breeds which are acquiring increased importance every day. With the extended cultivation of turnips and other green crops there has arisen an increased demand for sheep to consume them. Flockmasters in upland districts, stimulated by this demand, happily be thought them of putting rams of the improved low-country breeds to their Cheviot ewes, when it as discovered that the lambs produced from this cross, if taken to the low country as soon as weaned, could be fattened nearly as quickly, and brought to easily as good weights, as the pure low-country breeds. The comparatively low prime cost of these cross-bred lambs is a farther recommendation to the grazier, who finds also that their mutton, partaking at once of the fatness of the one parent and of the juiciness, high flavour, and larger proportion of lean flesh pf the other, is more generally acceptable to consumers than any other kind, and can always be sold at the best price of the day. The wool, moreover, of these crosses, being at once long and fine in the staple, is peculiarly adapted for the manufacture of a class of fabrics now much in demand, and brings in consequence the best price of any British-grown wool. The individual fleeces, from being close set in the pile, weigh nearly as much as those of the pure Leicesters. On all these accounts, therefore, these sheep of mixed blood have risen rapidly in public estimation, and are produced in ever-increasing numbers. This is accomplished in several ways. The occupiers of uplying grazings in some cases keep part of their ewe flock pure, and breed crosses from another part. They sell the whole of their cross-bred lams, and get as many females from the other portion as keep up the number of their breeding flock. This system of crossing cannot be pursued on the elevated farms, as ewes bearing these heavier crossed lambs require better fare than when coupled with rams of their own race. The surplus ewe lambs from such high-lying grazing are an available source of supply to those of a lower range, and are eagerly sought after for this purpose. Others, however, take a bolder course. Selecting a few of the choicest pure Cheviot ewes which they can find, and putting these to a first-rate Leicester ram, they thus obtain a supply of rams of the first cross, and putting these to ewes, also of the first cross, manage in this way to have their entire flock half-bred, and to go on continuously with their own stock without advancing beyond a first cross. They, however, never keep rams from such crosses parentage, but always select them from the issue of parents each genuine of their respective races. We know several large farms on which flocks of crosses betwixt the Cheviot ewe and Leicester ram have been maintained in this way for many years with entire success; and one at least in which a similar cross with Southdown ewes has equally prospered. Many, however, prefer buying in females of this first cross, and coupling them again with pure Leicester rams. In one or other of these ways cross-bred flocks are increasing on every side. So much has the system spread in Berwickshire, that whereas, in our memory, pure Leicesters were the prevailing breed of the country, they are now confined to a few ram-breeding flocks. The cross-breed in best estimation in England is that betwixt the Cotswold and Southdown, which is in such high repute that it is virtually established as a separate breed under the name of Oxford Downs. In Scotland the cross betwixt the Leicester ram and Cheviot ewe is that which seems best adapted to the climate and other conditions of the country, and is that accordingly which is most resorted to on farms a portion of which is in tillage. On higher grounds a cross betwixt the Cheviot ram and blackfaced ewe is in good estimation, and has been extending considerably in recent years. This cross-breed seems to equal the pure blackfaced in hardiness, and is of considerably greater value both in fleece and carcases. This cross-breed is known by the name of Halflangs. As in the case of the Leicester-Cheviot ewes, flocks are maintained by using rams of the cross-breed.

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