SHEEP

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SHEEP (ovis); a genus of ruminant quadrupeds, differing so slightly in the anatomical structure from the goat, that both genera are by some naturalists united. The principal distinctive characters consist in the absence of a beard, and the form and spiral direction of the horns The wild sheep, or argali (ovis amnion), is by no means the helpless animal we are accustomed to see in a domestic state. (See Argali.) The sheep seems to be the most stupid of all domestic quadrupeds, and is probably the only one incapable of returning to a state of nature, even if placed in the most favorable circumstances. It neither knows how to avoid danger, nor to seek shelter from the changes of the atmosphere, nor even to procure nourishment, except in abundant pasturage. Its habits are well known. Its products are the flesh, milk, skin, and especially the wool (q. v.), which employs a vast capital in the manufacture of clothing. The time allowed for fattening them is about three months before they are sent to market, and when they have attained the age of two or three years; unless the fleece be the object, when it may be delayed to the sixth, seventh, or even the tenth year,in a district where they are longlived. Their ordinary life does not exceed twelve or fifteen years. The fleece is shorn every year, towards the month of May. It is sometimes washed on the back of the animal; but the more usual practice is to shear it without washing, as it then contains an animal oil, which is a great preservative against insects. The sheep require particular attention afterwards, as they, are more exposed to the changes of the weather. At all times they are exposed to numerous maladies. The varieties of the sheep are very numerous, differing in size, the length of their legs, the size and number of their horns; some are covered with hair instead of wool; others have enormous tails; and others, again, pendent ears. The variety most celebrated for the fineness of the wool is the Spanish Merino, as improved in Germany : all the other most approved European varieties are crosses from the Merino. The English sheep is most celebrated for the quantity of its wool. Besides the argali, there is another animal more nearly related to the goat, inhabiting the Rocky mountains, between lat. 45° and 68°. It is more numerous hi the western than in the eastern parts of these mountains, and is found in large flocks, frequenting the summits in the summer, and the valleys in the winter season. It is little known, but in some parts forms the principal sustenance of the natives. It is easily obtained by the hunters, but its llesh is not esteemed, neither is a value net upon its fleece. In size it approaches the sheep, and has long hair extending beyond the wool: the horns are five inches in length and one in diameter, conical, and slightly curved backwards. Ail interest has lately been excited about this animal in England, and the fleece is said to be as fine as that of the shawl goat of Cashmere. It is often called the Rocky mountain SHEEP. SheepRaising. Our limits will not allow us to give in detail the history of this valuable domestic animal, with the improvements which have been made in it at different periods; and we must refer the reader for more information to works which treat particularly of the subject, as Loudon's Encyclopaedia of Agriculture, and the article sheep in Rees's Cyclopaedia, to the time when it was written. In Germany, both governments and individuals have paid great attention to the improvement of the wool, and in some parts of that country it has been brought to such perfection as to surpass that of any other part of the world. Several works in German, on this subject, though referring more particularly to the country in which they were written, would afford important assistance to sheepbreeders in any country. When we look for the origin of the , improvements which have been made in the breeding of this animal, which has become so important an element of national wealth, and the source of so much manufacturing and commercial industry, we are obliged to go back to the Romans. They had made such progress, that the whole system of sheepbreeding, at present in use in Spain, is essentially the same which was introduced there by the Romans. Columella, who lived under the emperor Claudius, gives us interesting information on this point. Among other things, he says that his uncle, who lived in Boetica (which comprehends the present province of Estremadura), procured some wild African rams at Cadiz, of a coarse fleece, but of an admirable color. He put them to some hnewoolled ewes, and, the male progeny being again put to Tarentine ewes, the offspring, with their descendants, united the color of the sire with the dam's softness of fleece. Other agriculturists undoubtedly imitated him, and thus the purest white was communicated to the black or particolored native flocks, which, according to Pliny, were common in Spain. The Tarentine sheep were most celebrated in Italy, and the Milesian m Asia Minor. They were termed pcllita and tectai oves, from the coverings of ski" with which they were clothed, to prote't* the fleece; they were also denominated molles oves,not only from the softness of the fleece, but also from the delicacy of their constitution. The attention paid by the ancients to the sheep was excessive, and £he animal was extremely tender; so that we must account for the transition from the ancient sheep to the Merino, which is a hardy animal, thriving in almost any climate, by supposing that other agriculturists imitated Columella, and by crossing the breed imparted a stronger constitution to the finefleeced, but delicate sheep of ancient Italy. Strabo, indeed, describes the beginning of this improvement as having taken place in the reign of Tiberius. Fine rams were at that time sold at Truditania, part of Bcetica, for a talent, or about a thousand dollarsa price which, considering the value of money at that period, is immense. When the Roman empire was overrun, and almost all traces of civilization swept away, the Tarentine stock in Greece and Italy being very tender, and requiring the greatest care, became extinct; but the regenerated stock of Bceticathe Merinos being able to live in the mountains,.survived the conquest of Spain by the Goths and Vandals ; and from these Merinos are descended those animals which supply all the manufactories of fine cloth in Europe. Care was early taken in Spain that the improved sheep should not mix with the coarse native sheep. The government soon tooklthis important branch of national industry under its protection, and established particular courts to have jurisdiction over all subjects connected with sheep, wool, shepherds, pastures, fcc. The way in which the improved sheep is generally bred in Spain is the following:Whilst the common sheep remains always on the spot where it was born, and is housed in winter, the finewoolled sheep is kept the whole time in the open air, in summer chiefly in the mountainous part of Old Castile or the ^lontaHa, and in the lordship of Molina, in Arragon, which are the highest parts of Spain, containing the finest pasture. The former affords aromatic plants, which the latter does not; these mountains are covered with oaks, beeches, birches, hazelbushes, &c, besides producing all ¦the plants which grow in Switzerland. When a shepherd has driven his flock to the place where they are to remain for the summer, he first gives them as much salt as they are willing to lick. The estimated consumption during the five summer months is 20 cwts. of salt, for 1000 30* sheep (perhaps, however, this estimate is too high). Towards the end of July, the rams are admitted to the ewes, from five to six rams to one hundred ewes ; before and after, they remain separated. The rams yield more wool than the ewTes, but not of so fine quality; three rams or five ewes afford twentyfive pounds. In the middle of September, the sheep are marked on the thigh. Towards the end of summer, the sheep are driven in flocks comprising 10,000 individuals, divided into bodies of 1000-1200, from these mountainous districts into the southern plains of La Mancha, Andalusia, and especially Estremadura. The journey begins at the end of September, and, during its continuance, they enjoy great privileges. Sometimes they travel as much as twentyfive or thirty miles a day, in order to reach a convenient place for halting. The whole journey from the mountains to the interior of Estremadura is reckoned at about 690 miles, which occupies forty days. The shepherd conducts them to the pasture which they occupied the previous winter, and where most of the lambs were born. Here folds are constructed for the sheep, and huts made of branches for the shepherd. Shortly after their arrival in the winter pasture, the birth of the lambs takes place. The barren ewes receive the poorest pasture, the pregnant the next best, and the ewes which have lambed the best. The lambs born latest are put into the richest pastures, to acquire strength for their journey. In March, the shepherds have much to do to the lambscut the tails, mark the nose with a hot iron, saw off the points of the horns, and emasculate those intended for wethers. In April, they return to the summer pastures. The flock at this time shows by its restlessness its wish to migrate; some sheep escape, &c.an interesting fact, considering the restlessness of migrating animals at certain seasons. On the first of May the shearing begins, if the weather is not cold. It is performed under cover. Before shearing, the sheep are put into a building consisting of two apartments, from 400 to 800 paces long and 100 wide. As many of the sheep as are to be sheared the next day, are taken on the evening into a narrow, long, low hut, called the sweatinghouse, where the sheep, being much crowded, perspire freely. The wool thus becomes softer, and is more easily cut. This practice was also pursued by the Romans. The wool is sorted and washed before being sent away. The sheep are carried to another place and marked, and those which have lost their teeth, are killed for mutton. There are now in Spain only about four millions of finewoolled sheep. Sweden early imported Merinos, and greatly improved some of her sheep. In Germany, the first improvement of native flocks by Merinos took place in Saxony. In the Erzgebirge Hungarian rains had been previously introduced; but as early as 1765, above 200 Merino rams and ewes, accompanied by two Spanish shepherds, were imported into Saxony. In 1778, another importation of the finest Merinos, from the best flocks of Leon and Castile, took place, and important sheep farms were established. On that of Stolpen, the first established in Saxony, particular care has always been paid to the sheep, and it still affords extremely fine wool. It is said that Spain itself has at present no sheep equal to the stock imported in 1765 ; and the finest German wool brings a higher price in London than the best Spanish wool. The establishment at Stolpen has contributed greatly to the improvement of the Saxon sheep, and thereby to the promotion of industry in the country. From 1779 to 1811, more than 10,000 rams and ewes were sold there at moderate prices. The original German sheep is at present found hardly any where in Saxony, and a new, finewoolled race has originated from the mixture with Merinos, which is called electoral sheep, and its wool electoral ivool, as the present kingdom of Saxony was, before 1806, the electorate of Saxony.See Von Ehrenfels, On the Elector d Sheep and Electoral Wool (Prague, 1822, in German). Besides the royal breeds, which always have been kept entirely pure, other farmers in Saxony have imported genuine Merinos. At Rochsburg, in the Erzgebirge, the sheep are fed the whole year round in stalls ; and the lambs, at the age of one year, are almost full grown, and therefore yield a considerable amount of very long and strong wool. Prussia has lately made uncommon progress in the breeding of fine sheep, and some of the Prussian wool, particularly that of the Mark and Silesia, competes in the market with the electoral wool. Flocks of genuine Merinos have been imported into Prussia, and the government, some time since, undertook the establishment of a school for shepherds, where young men were to be instructed, at the public expense, in the care of sheep, in health and in sickness, made acquainted with the history of the improvements in the mode of raising them, &c. A similar school was formerly established in Sweden. The Spanish breed of sheep was first introduced into Great Britain in 1787. Some individuals of the black and spotted kinds had indeed been procured and kept in the parks of noblemen previously, but without any regard to the wool ; nor was much interest awakened by the flock imported in 1787. Subsequently great attention was paid to the improvement of English wool; but it was ascertained, that though the fleece of the Merino did not much degenerate in England, it did not much improve, and the carcass, which naturally affords little weight of meat, did not improve; in consequence of which, the fanners have found it for their interest to return to the native breeds and to give up the Spanish sheep. It appears to be sufficiently established, by evidence taken before the house of lords in 1828, and other authorities, that a considerable deterioration has taken place in the quality of British wool, particularly during the last thirty years. The great object of the agriculturists has been to increase the weight of the car cass and the quantity of the wool, and it seems very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish this without injuring the fineness of the fleece. A very great change has taken place within the present century as respects the quantity of foreign wool imported into*i|i]ngland, and the countries from which if is obtained. Previously to ] 800, the average imports did not exceed 3,000,000 lbs., brought mostly from Spain. In 1800, they amounted to near 9,000,000 lbs. They now amount to between 25,000,000 and 32,000,000, the greater part furnished by Germany. The Spanish flocks suffered severely during the campaigns in Spain, and the best Spanish wool does not now bring more than half the price of the best German wool. The breed of sheep that was' carried out to New Holland fmd Van Diemen's land has succeeded remarkably well. The former promises, at no distant day, to be one of the principal woolgrowing countries in the world. The imports into Great Britain, in 1830, amounted to 1,967,309 lbs., while those from Spain amounted only to 1,643,515. According to Mr. Luccock's estimate, which was made with great care, the total number of sheep and lambs in England and Wales, in the year 1800, was 26,148,463. . (See article England, in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.) The num. ber has not probably varied much in the interim. In Scotland, it may be 3,500,000; in Ireland, it is probably under 2,000,000 ;' so that the total number in Great Britain and Ireland may be taken at about 32,000,000, In the U. States, the first Merinos were imported (about 300 in number) in the year 1810, by general Humphreys, American minister in Portugal, and the consul, Mr. Jarvis. General Derby, of Salem, imported as many more ; and,inl825, a great number of Saxonsheep were brought into the country. These contributed to improve the American breed. But the American wool is far from competing with the Spanish or German, for which many reasons may be given, among others, that the high price of labor prevents the existence of a particular class of shepherds. The most improved flocks in the U. States are to be found in Vermont and New York. According to calculations as accurate as they could well be made, there are 20,000,000 sheep, of all kinds, in the U. States. The successful introduction of the Merino at the cape of Good Hope, New South Wales, &c, has proved that it will thrive wherever it receives proper care. In hot climates, however, particular attention is required to prevent the wool from degenerating. The sheep must not be exposed too much to the sun, nor to the dew. (For more information respecting this interesting subject, see Wool.)