Canadian History Sheep Farming in
Canada Taken from the Colonial Advocate,
Thursday, June 3, 1824. Published by W. L. Mackenzie, Bookseller, Queenston,
We were called on some
business conected with our private affairs, to York, in the early part of
May last, and wishing to take the head of lake Ontario in our way, on our
journey home, we returned in that direction, and meeting with indifferent
weather on Flamboro' mountain, we sent the innkeeper's boy back with the
horses, and made up our mind to rest for the night, and enjoy the pleasure
of a chat about local improvements, with our esteemed acquaintance, Mr
Alexander Brown, of East Flamboro'. Disappointment is the lot of man, and so
it fared with us, for Mr. Brown whose plain, sound, Scotch judgement, (as
Mr. Wilberforce would call it) is held in much respect by his neighbours,
was absent acting as umpire upon some dispute which had occured between two
of them in regard to a property. Mrs. B. however, prepared a comfortable cup
of tea, and when her husband resturned, we informed him that, next day we
would desire his opinion on a subject, o which he was well qualified to give
correct information, viz. The rearing of sheep. Accordingly, next morning we
proposed our queries, nearly in the order in which they are now arranged.
Mr. Brown's answers we give entire adding nothing, and we conceive their
publication in every paper in the Colonies, would be a benefit conferred on
the country. We will in future numbers, consider the Canada woolen
manufacture; it is a most important branch of our domestic industry, even
now; and, be it remembered, it is also the principal, and favourite
manufacture of old England.
Question 1. Do you improve your land by keeping sheep, or is it
Answer. Sheep do not hurt a farm, the pasture need not be long if it
is clear; sheep do well enough in summer, though kept on very indifferent
pasture. I do not conceive from my experience that sheep improve a farm.
Question 2. What breed of sheep thrive best in Upper Canada?
Answer. I believe the common sheep of the country, the Cheviot breed
do, but I would prefer the Liecestershire breed, if they could be easily
kept, as being a much heavier sheep, and affording a much greater quantity
of wool, and either I consider more advantageous than the full blooded
merino. I have the full blooded merino, its wool is too fine, and does not
suit the machinery in use in the country, neither will this sheep stand the
winter like the Cheviot breed of sheep.
The merino breed crossed with the Cheviot, if kept carefully during the
winter, are better adapted for this climate, and their wool being of an
intermediate quality, between the former and the latter, is far better
suited to our domestic manufacture.
Question 3. When should the rams be allowed to go to the ewes?
Answer. From my experience, not before the 15th or 24th of November,
because the ewes if not very full in condition, will not nurse or attend
their lambs. In this case, the lambing time will be from the 5th to the 24th
of April, (a sheep going 5 months) and at this period, the season is
becoming daily milder, so as not to chill the lambs, and there is generally
grass enough come up to form a great proportion of sheeps' food. If the
sheep lamb in February or March, we have little chance of succeding in
saving the lambs, ten or eleven out of twelve die, the grass not being
grown, and the weather being too cold.
Question 4. In your knowledge, and with good management, your ewes
being sixty, and taking one year with another, how many lambs wil you have
Answer. I should expect sixty lambs; some of the ewes will be barren,
others will have two lambs, and perhaps a few lambs may die.
Question 5. What is your general method of managing flocks of sheep
during the winter?
Answer. During the winter season, I keep my ewes of two years old and
upwards, with my wethers, in a body apart by themselves, and give them
plenty of good hay, but not red clover hay, which is not good for them. I
have sheds for them at night; when the weather is stormy, and the snow deep,
they are kept in these sheds in the day time; but only in such cases, as it
is of the utmost importance to sheep to have freedom, when the weather
renders it at all possible.
The sping lambs, and the wether sheep, I keep apart by themselves in a
comfortable place, giving them, besides good hay, occasionally a little
grain, oats, pease or maize are good, I do not think much of buck-wheat, but
though I have not had much experience of oil-cake, I know that its mixture
with wheat, or bran, will answer well. I give all my sheep salt, once a
week, two quarts serve 100 sheep.
Question 6. Do you think it advantages to let the spring lambs breed
the first year?
Answer. I do not. In small flocks it cannot be prevented, but I would
advise, where large flocks are kept, that the lambs be weaned about the lasy
of July, or beginning of August, and then kept seperated from the rest of
the flock, until the following spring, and that in no case the rams be let
amongst them. Sheep which are then prevented from bearing lambs the first
year, become much better and stronger, they greatly improve the stock, &c by
weaning the lambs as above. They are no worse, and it gives the ewe time to
get in better order to stand our long winters.
Question 7. How ought sheep to be kept in
I should say, in the open field, or in a large space; sheep kept very close
together at night, become unhealthy.
Question 8. Are sheep liable to many
disorders in this country?
Answer. The worst disorder to which sheep
are here liable, is cold; most commonly caused by over early shearing and
washing. I disapprove of washing before shearing, in general, as it is made
a frolic of; sheep are handled too roughly and are apt to get hurt. The best
time for shearing, if the weather is not too cold, is early in June. I
entirely disapprove of shearing at an earlier period. By this time the new
wool is some grown, the sheep therefore can be easier shorn, and it will
thereafter feel comfortable. An objection has been raised by many, that the
new wool is shorn and intermixed with the old, and that my that means, the
wool is injured in the carding machine. From my experience in this country,
I can say that I have always shorn my sheep late, and that the carders have
assured me that no better wool to work than mine has ever passed through
their hands. I have had 15 years experience in Britain before came to
this country; and in the last five years before I emigrated, I aided and
assisted in shearing 25,000 sheep, yet I never heard a complaint of this
nature made. I know of no other disorder generally affecting sheep in
Canada, unless sometimes blindness - The cure in this case is to let blood
in a small vein in the hollow below the eye, and let the blood run into the
Do you think the risk in keeping sheep is so great here as in Britain?
Answer. I should say, no. As regards
disorders, there are much fewer natural deaths; the risk in winter is less.
But wolves, though unknown in Britain, are very destructive to flocks in
most places in this province, I conceive the bounty offered for their
destruction to be a measure of general utility. There is little risk of
losing sheep in winter, if they are duly attended to.
Question 10. Have you any other remark of
importance to make concerning the improvement of sheep?
Answer. To improve the stock, I would
draw off some of my oldest ewes and weakest lambs and dispose of them to
some one having a smaller stock who could tend them better. The old ewes may
be known by looking in their mouths to see if all their teeth are in good
order. If any of the teeth are lost, or become very long and sharp, I would
put them away, unless in a rare instance of a very good ewe. In all stocks,
change the rams occasionally.
Question 11. You have, doubtless, from
your long experience, a correct idea of the profits to be derived from the
keeping of sheep flocks; state your opinion on the subject?
Answer. I average about 3 lbs of wool
yearly from each sheep. The expense of keeping sheep, taking one with
another throughout the year, I calculate at about a dollar a head. Ewes will
do to keep 9 or 10 years, or till their mouths get very bad, so as that they
cannot eat; but wethers, if they are fat, should be killed at 4 or 5 years,
as they never will be so good food after that age. Even at the price which
wool now fetches in the best settled part of the province, I should say that
it would pay the expenses and risk of keeping the sheep. By keeping on the
stock of wether lambs, and selling the old wethers fat in the spring or
early in the summer at 4 or 5 years, there is a profit; 5 or 6 dollars has
in many cases been paid, (the fleece being on;) the average price is about a
In a flock of
100 sheep, and allowing for all accidents, I should suppose 40 lambs to be
the increase yearly; Iike enough a half would prove to be rams - Twenty
wethers could thus be sold every year, and the stock would still be on the
increase. This gives a profit of twenty guineas, besides an increase of
twenty ewe lambs in one year, after paying all expenses and trouble. The
profit is indeed much greater than this, but I have conceived it best to be
under, rather than over the truth. I think that sheep are the most
profitable stock a farmer can keep in this country, for such as have farms
that will permit the keeping of them."
We informed Mr. Brown that we would publish his
observations in an early paper, to which he agreed; indeed, we have made it
a rule that what we obtain of information, in private, we never shall make
public, using our informant's name, without his consent. We now took our
leave of this worthy and opulent farmer and his family, and descended the
mountain, fully enjoying the beautiful, interesting, and varied scenery,
which the grand amphitheatre around Burlington Bay presents, thinking, all
the while, upon the bonny highland hills, sheep cots, and green knowes of
our native Scotland, and lifting merrily one of those songs of the
inimitable Ramsay, which we had first heard sung amidst the echoes of our
native glens and heather mountains, (and which our readers, if in cheerful
mood, may find the pretty pastoral, "the Gentle Shepherd.") We soon reached
the valley by the narrow craggy road least travelled, and in rather better
than an hour found ourselves in the busy little village of Coote's Paradise,
better know by its other name, Dundas.
[Our thanks to Alan Mackenzie
of Oakville, Ontario, for procuring us a copy of this paper from which the
above article was taken.]
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