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Canadian History
Sheep Farming in Canada
Taken from the Colonial Advocate, Thursday, June 3, 1824. Published by W. L. Mackenzie, Bookseller, Queenston, Upper Canada.

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 rendered poorer?

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 each season?

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 the summer?

Answer. 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 eye.

Question 9. 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 guinea.

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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