Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
On the Border Leicester Breed of Sheep

By David Archibald, Awa Moa, Octoga, New Zealand.
[PremiumTen Sovereigns. ]

This breed of sheep is one whose history is specially interesting, both because of its development being due in rather a remarkable way to the skill of one man, and of its existence forming a striking illustration of what can be done by selection in the breeding of animals.

Hitherto it has always been admitted that it is to the well-known Bakewell that the credit of forming the type is due; and probably no claim for distinction was ever put forward on behalf of any man upon clearer grounds. There is, no doubt, mention made by Youatt of an attempt having been made before Bakewell's time to improve the sheep then native to Leicestershire; but this attempt was a comparative failure. "It is," this writer states, "commonly believed that a farmer, named Allom of Clifton, possessed a superior breed of long-woolled sheep, and that the neighbouring farmers and many from a distance purchased rams from him, for which they paid the extravagant sum, at that time, of two and three guineas per head." Owing, however, to some cause—most likely to the absence in Allom of that force of character and extraordinary skill that were characteristic of his great successor—this effort, as has been said, fell away without producing, so far as can now be ascertained, any permanent results. But, as soon as Bake-well took the matter in hand, the lines of reform were at once well and surely laid. This eminent man, for as such he must always be spoken of by sheep-breeders, was born in the year 1725, and being the son of "a considerable farmer," was trained for an agricultural life. At Dishley, in the county of Leicester, he began his experiments in 1755. In regard to the way in which he worked there has all along been much speculation; for the very good reason that any opinion formed on the subject must be founded altogether on inference, and cannot be based on actual knowledge, Bakewell having been to the last studiously reticent as to his system, and this probably because he had very little that he really could have told. First of all, there has been much dispute as to the breed with which he began his improvements. By some it is insisted that he started by crossing the native sheep with Lincolns; others hold that there was a dash of Romney Marsh introduced; and a third opinion is, that it was exclusively with the old Leicesters that he worked. In an angry correspondence which passed between Bakewell himself and Mr Chaplin of Tathwell, Lincolnshire, published in Arthur Young's "Annals of Agriculture in 1788," the cause being that Bakewell had ventured to inspect Mr Chaplin's stock in the absence of the owner, he makes the following statement:—"I have not used any Lincolnshire rams for twenty years past. Why have you, at different times from the year 1773 to 1786, hired from this county?"To show his dislike, however, to that breed of sheep, it is told of him that when last in the county of Norfolk he ate a neck of mutton at an inn, which afforded him a bone that he considered a curiosity, and therefore kept. It was fully twice the size of that of one of his own sheep, which had 4 inches of fat on it. He made inquiries of the butcher where the sheep came from, thinking it might be a Lincoln, but it was clearly ascertained to be a true Norfolk. Writing in the "Farmers' Magazine" in 1803, the "Northumberland Farmer"—whose statements are always worthy of being considered—also speaks of there having been tups of this breed at Dishley. "At that time," he says, "Bakewell was allowed the pick of all the principal flocks of ewes in his neighbourhood at the rate of 20s. or 21s. per head; but when the price was advanced upon him to 42s. he gave up, as by that time he had possessed himself of the best ewes in that part of the kingdom. As for tups, he also bought them wherever he could meet with the most proper for his purpose; and, indeed, I have been told that those from whom he derived the most benefit were from Lincoln." These, it will be seen, are opinions to which much importance is not to be attached, as it may be guessed that had the admission by Bakewell given any really valuable information it would not have been made, while the "Farmer's" opinion is confessedly founded on hearsay. There is, on the other hand, obtained from Parkinson, who was an intimate friend of Bakewell and a frequent visitor at Dishley, an account of what happened, which is both trustworthy in itself and explains the other statements. What Parkinson says (writing in his "Treatise on Live Stock ") took place is this, that Bakewell first brought a tup from Lincolnshire at the price of 50 guineas, when the best rams in the country were selling from 10 to 15 guineas, but that he soon discovered his mistake, and shortly afterwards bought a ram from Mr Stow for about 15 guineas, and that from this sheep he raised his noted stock. This ram is afterwards identified as being one of the old Leicester kind; for Parkinson, in another part of his book, when he is again describing the Dishley sheep, says "their wool is hairy, and probably at the time I saw them they would not be more than a double cross from the old Leicester, from which he chiefly bred his flock with the sheep he bought of Mr Stow." It is therefore reasonable to suppose, as this testimony is the best that can be got, that it was his native county stock that Bake-well made the basis of his improvements. This question is, however, one of little practical moment; what it is of importance to notice is, that it was by ever watchful selection and careful in-and-in breeding that the new type of sheep was created, the fact being that, without a certain amount of close or "sib" breeding, it is impossible to form a distinct sort of sheep or any other animal, that in crossing would be at all impressive. The object that Bakewell set before himself was to work up to an animal with the greatest aptitude to fatten, and which would produce the greatest amount of mutton with the least consumption of food and the least amount of offal. With reference to size and wool he was indifferent; his great point was early maturity; and in this respect he effected so great an improvement that, whereas the old Leicesters were usually three year old before they were fit for the butcher, the new breed could be fully fed in half that time. One event that was almost necessarily coincident with the introduction of this type of sheep was the successful cultivation of turnips. Dishley was one of the first places at which this crop was drilled instead of being sown broadcast—a proof of which is that Dawson, a well-known Roxburghshire farmer, went to Mr Bakewell's farm as a servant, to learn how turnips were grown under the new system, returning after he had acquired this knowledge to Scotland, where, on his farm of Frogden, he sowed his first drill crop in 1763. By means of this root crop an abundant supply of food was obtained on which to keep the sheep thriving " from their birth to their death;" and with one of his great practical difficulties thus provided for, Bakewell seems to have got rid of the other difficulty in his way—the ever recurring tendency of the stock to revert to former and less desirable types—by the only way in which indeed it could have been met, the constant and consistent striving after a model, the general form of which he developed in accordance with the experience that he was continually gaining. That in-and-in breeding was much relied on to produce the desired result has already been said, and this opinion is confirmed by several reliable writers. Sir John Sebright, for example, says, in his work on improving the breeds of domestic animals, that "Mr Bakewell effected his improvements by breeding from the same family." Youatt makes a similar statement. "Bakewell did not object," he says, "to breeding from near relations, when by so doing he put together animals likely to produce progeny possessing the characteristics that he wished to obtain"; and by way of showing the great changes that can be effected by selection, he adds, referring to the flocks of Mr Buckley of Normanton Hill and Mr Burgess of Holmepierpoint, that these sheep had been purely bred from the original Dishley stock for upwards of fifty years, but that the difference between the two flocks was so great that they had the appearance of being quite distinct varieties. Culley too, who, as will afterwards be seen, was intimately associated with Bakewell, says that the latter had not crossed with any other blood than his own for upwards of twenty years; that the best stock had been produced by the nearest affinities, and that the sheep had nevertheless not decreased in size, neither had they become less hardy or more liable to disease—a statement which is perhaps in the latter part a little extravagant, but which in any case it is important to have from one who is so much heard of among Leicester breeders.

All the light that it is possible to get has now been thrown on the origin of the breed, and it may next be inquired how Bakewell brought his sheep before the farmers of his time, and what success he met in doing this. A proof of his remarkable shrewdness is found in the system upon which, from the very outset, he appears to have conducted his commercial dealings. Instead of selling the rams which he bred, he introduced the practice of letting them out only for the season. The advantages he gained by this practice are obvious: it enabled him to keep a much larger number of rams than he required for his own use, giving him consequently greater choice in the selection of animals from which to breed. Then—and this was the more important consideration—it never allowed an animal to go out of his possession, the great advantage of which was that when he had ascertained that a sheep had proved of value to him, he had the opportunity of again using it. It also provided a larger experimental field than could have been found at Dishley; for when the tups were out on hire, their owner had constant opportunities of noticing and hearing what effect they had produced on the different stocks to which they had been put. How the letting was gone about in Bakewell's time is described by Marshall in his work on the "Midland Counties," from which it appears that the proceedings were very similar to those at other places where the practice was carried on within living memory, and where the occasion had very much the character of a small fair, the company gathering at the breeder's farm, going over the rams, which were all numbered, and then in the event of several persons wishing to bid for one particular sheep, taking a ballot as to who should have precedence, with the result, of course, that whoever was prepared to give the highest sum closed the bargain. Like many other "original men," as an old writer says, Bakewell was at first sneered at by his neighbours, who could not understand the lines on which he was working, and were surprised at his neglect of size and wool.

It was about the year 1760 that the first Dishley ram was let on hire. The man who got this sheep was Mr Wilbore of Illson-on-the-Hill, and the price paid was 17s. 6d., at which figure it is mentioned other two rams were immediately afterwards let. For twenty years the great breeder continued steadily to improve his stock, meeting little encouragement from his neighbours; for it was only in rare cases during this time that he obtained as much as two or three guineas for the use of a sheep, but apparently confident that success would ultimately come, In 1780, twenty-five years after the flock had been established, the turn of the tide came, and then all Bakewell's hopes must have been more than fulfilled. During this season he easily obtained ten guineas for some of his best rams; but this was only an indication of the rush of prosperity that was to follow. Within four years from this time the letting value of his best rams rose to one hundred guineas, and fancy prices were thereafter the rule. In 1786 a ram was let for one season for two hundred guineas, on condition that he should serve at Dishley a third of the usual number of ewes shed to one tup; and the amount realised for the whole of that year's letting was one thousand guineas. This, however, was far surpassed by the following seasons, for in 1789 twelve hundred guineas were paid for the use of three rains, two thousand guineas for seven others, and three thousand guineas by the Dishley Society, which had by this time been formed, for the rest of the stock. The most remarkable success was that of a favourite ram called "Two Bounder," for the use of which Mr Bakewell one year received eight hundred guineas from two breeders, while he reserved one third of the animal's services for his own ewes. In addition to this hiring of rams, ewes were received at Dishley to be put to particular sires, at charges ranging from ten to sixty guineas per score. Some six or seven years before his death, which took place in 1795, Bakewell formed a small association of breeders, which was called the Dishley Society. In the institution of this Society, which consisted of twelve members, who paid an entrance fee of ten guineas, and were pledged to secrecy, the founder has generally been supposed to have had some selfish motive. It is, however, difficult to see how a man, with the reputation which Bakewell had gained, could be in any way benefited by associating himself with other breeders in the neighbourhood. The reasonable supposition, therefore, seems to be that he was more anxious to see his new breed firmly established than for any additional personal gain; and that he intended the Society as a set off against that which the Lincolnshire breeders had already organised for the purpose of fostering their type of sheep. The rules of the Dishley Society were rather curious in their character, and as they have not been often seen in print, it may not be out of place here to quote some of the principal of them:—

"1. No member shall hire or use a ram not belonging either to Mr Bakewell or to one of the members of the Society.

"2. No member shall give his rams, at any season of the year, any other food than green vegetables, hay, and straw.

"3. No member shall let more than thirty rams in any one season.

"4. No member shall let a ram for less than ten guineas to any person, nor for less than forty guineas to any person who lets rams.

"5. No one ram shall be let to serve the flocks of more than two persons.

"6. No member shall let a ram to any one who lets or sells his rams at fairs or markets.

"7. No member shall take in ewes to be served by more than one ram, at his own residence, in any one season, unless they belong to members of the Society, nor to be served by any ram he uses for his own flock, with the same exception.

"8. Mr Bakewell engages not to let any ram for less than fifty-guineas to any person residing within one hundred miles of Dishley.

"9. No member shall let a ram to any person residing within thirty miles from Leicester, and not being a member of the Society, who shall have hired a ram of Mr Bakewell during the preceding season.

"10. No member shall sell any ewes or rams of his own breed, to breed from, unless he sells his whole flock of sheep, except to members of the Society.

"11. From the 1st to the 8th of June the members shall not show their rams except to one another. They shall begin their general show on the 8th of June, and continue to show their rams till the 8th of July, from that day until the 8th of September they shall not show them to any one, but shall then open their show again, and continue it until the end of the season.

"12. On the 8th and 9th of June, although the rams may be shown, no rams shall be let or engaged to be let, nor shall the price which will be required for him be mentioned by any one.

"13. Every member refusing or neglecting to abide by the rules of the Society, or withdrawing himself from it, shall no longer be considered a member. From that time he shall not be permitted to hire any ram or share of a ram from any of its members until readmitted into the Society at a general meeting."

Of this Society, one of the members was Bakewell's shepherd, John Breedon, the one man perhaps who was conversant with the system of management practised at Dishley, but who never communicated anything to the public.

From about the time of Bakewell's death dates the divergence of the sheep into the two district breeds, which are now known as the Leicester and the Border Leicester. The former are, no doubt, descended from the stock which, when Dishley •came to be cleared out, went to the relations of the former owner, Mr Smith and Mr Honeybourne. By these gentlemen the animals were afterwards sold to Messrs Stubbins of Stone Barford, Mr Paget of Elman, and Philip Skipworth the elder. By the purchase of the last named was laid the foundation of the Aylesbury flock; and from Messrs Stubbins' sheep was descended the once celebrated stock which was in 1814 divided "between the nephews of Mr Nathaniel Stubbins, Joseph and Robert Burgess, the former of whom was succeeded at Holme-pierpoint in 1834 by Mr Sanday, senior.

But it is in regard to the Border Leicester that most interest will be felt by Scotch breeders. In the development of this animal, the men who, after Bakewell, did most service were the Culleys, Matthew and George, the sons of the proprietor of Denton, an estate of considerable extent in the county of Durham, where the two brothers started farming on their father's death. Hearing of what was being done at Dishley, Matthew went there in 1762, and George followed in 1763, and the outcome of these visits was the formation of an intimate friendship between Bakewell and George, and the introduction of Dishley rams to Denton, where they were put to cross the Teeswater breed, which, it is stated, were so heavy that they weighed from 40 to 50 lbs. a quarter. It is mentioned, however, in Arthur Young's "Annals of Agriculture," that the Culleys at no time purchased Leicester ewes, but continued hiring rams, and thus, by a long series of crossing with the Teeswater stock, succeeded in establishing them as Leicesters. Maintaining all along the valuable friendship of Bakewell, with whom George travelled repeatedly to visit different stocks, the Culleys, in 1767, took the farm of Fenton, near Wooler, some 1100 acres in extent, and subsequently they added Wark and other places to their holdings, till they were paying an annual rental of £6000. In their treatment of sheep they adhered closely to the principles adopted at Dishley, and though a breeder named Charge had previously brought the new blood into the north of England, this introduction was a failure; and the Culleys' stock has therefore come to be regarded as that through which nearly all Border Leicester stock is traced back to Bakewell. From their flock, many sheep were hired for use throughout the border districts on both sides of the Tweed. Among the first to have dealings with them was Mr Robertson of Ladykirk, who, by these and other purchases from Bakewell's disciples, including Mr Thomson of Chillingham Barns, formed a flock in 1789 that was kept together till 1830, when it was dispersed. In 1796, another flock, which, however, has not been broken up, was established by Mr Thomson, Bogend, whose first step towards improvement was the hiring of a tup from Wark for fifteen guineas; this being followed in 1797 by the purchase of 90 ewes from Mr Robertson of Ladykirk, his proprietor. For several years after this, Mr Thomson continued, in conjunction with his laird, to hire tups of Dishley blood, and among others from Mr Stone, Quorndam. The sheep that still represent this stock are now in the hands of Mr Thomson, Mungoswalls, Berwickshire. The stock which were thus supplanted by the new type on both sides of the Tweed were the mug sheep. From what can be learned of the character of these animals, it is not surprising that the change was so readily welcomed. Speaking of them, the "Northumberland Farmer" says:—"I found them truly mugged. They were grown with wool all over their faces so that I could scarcely see their eyes. Indeed, among all the numerous bad breeds then to be found, and which are still to be met with in various districts, I do not remember to have seen any one so completely ugly. Their wool grew down to their very toes ; their loins were high and narrow ; their shoulders sharp and hollow behind; their sides flat; their wool short and not at all fine." Such a mis-shapen, unprofitable animal could not of course hold its ground against the skilfully developed Leicester. During the first thirty years of this century, the new type of sheep became the universal breed in all low country farms in the district in question. These flocks were, as might be guessed, of very various degrees of purity, many men taking every pains to have them good, and others using tups from their own flock or any that they could procure at little cost., But soon after the period named, Leicesters, except for tup-breeding, disappeared from the district, being supplanted by Leicester and Cheviot crosses, which were found to be hardier, more prolific, better nurses, and to produce a quality of mutton more palatable to the consumers.

In the year 1806, after a most successful career, the Culleys retired from breeding, and sold off their stock at Eastfield, near Berwick. For the 420 sheep exposed, an average of £5, 7s. 3d., or £2253 in all, was obtained. At this sale, one of the principal purchasers was Mr Ralph Compton of Learmonth, who afterwards took a high position as a breeder, and with whose stock are connected the two outstanding flocks of the present day, those at Mertoun and Mellendean. Of these flocks, Lord Polwarth's may be ranked first in respect of the extent to which it has impressed its character on by far the greatest number of the most fashionable stocks now in the country.

As to the precise date at which it was founded there seems a little uncertainty. In Wight's "Tour on Husbandry," which was published in the year 1778, it is stated that, prior to that early period, Mr Scott of Harden, the then proprietor of Mertoun, had been aiming at the improvement of his stock. He had, it seems, first obtained sheep from Bammershire, in Northumberland; but the progeny of these animals were not found to be suitable for the high districts of Scotland, and were therefore put aside. "His next trial," Wight says, "was with Culleys' noted breed. He procured the best ewes of the breed, for which he gave 3 guineas, and 10 for the use of a ram for a single season." With this experiment, Mr Scott, according to this authority, was so successful that his rams came " to be not inferior to the sheep of Mr Bakewell." This account, as will be seen, carries back the Mertoun sheep to be contemporaneous with those at Dishley and Wark. Lord Polwarth, the present owner of the flock, who . certainly deserves the thanks of breeders for the care he has taken to secure the purity of blood, is not inclined to go further back than 1802. In that year, his Lordship states, the Mertoun flock was begun by his grandfather, Mr Hugh Scott of Harden. The first purchases made were from Mr Waddell of Mousin, Belford, Mr Burn of Millfield, and Mr Robson, and to these he soon afterwards added a number of ewes from Mr Jobson of Chillingham, Newtoun. The early rams were from the Culleys, to whom as much as 100 guineas were paid for their hire for a season; while other strains were subsequently introduced from Mr Riddell, Grahamslaw; Mr Compton of New Learmonth; Mr Marshall, Heatherslaw; Mr Dunning, Newlands; Mr Smith, Old Learmonth; and Mr Taylor, Presson. Since the flock was thus made up, no change has taken place in its constitution.

Some sheep, it is true, were afterwards taken from Mr Dunning, and from Mr Thompson, Haymount; and when Andrew Paterson went as shepherd to Mertoun in 1856, his small pack of thirteen were added to the breeding stock. These additions, however, did not interfere with the purity of the flock, as all the animals were clearly of Bakewell descent, Paterson's pack being of the Haymount breed, which in turn were descended from Compton blood through the Heatherslaw sheep. For the last twenty-four years no strange blood has been introduced, for though once or twice ewes and rams have been bought they have not been used in the flock or retained, all the rams used having been bred on the ground. If there has been one sheep more than another that has given the Mertoun stock the character that has made them so popular, it was perhaps a ram added to the flock about the year 1856. This animal was bred at Haymount, from which place he was first sold to go into Northumberland. When there, however, he was heard of at Mertoun, and soon afterwards he was bought for Lord Polwarth, in whose possession he afterwards remained, doing good service in developing individuality of type among the stock.

The Mellendean flock has not been so long in existence as Lord Polwarth's; but it, also, has a historical interest attached to it. The farm which has given its name to this stock was entered by the late Mr Thomas Stark more than forty years ago. Immediately after the lease was begun a number of sheep were purchased from Compton, and the foundation of the flock thus laid. In the development of this stock, one of the most generally interesting features is the way in which there was introduced the celebrated Wellington strain—a strain which, up to the present time, has produced some most valuable animals, as, lor example, "Grand Duke," the animal that figured so well in the Highland Society's yard two years ago. By this family, the Mellendean sheep were connected with the small but rather celebrated flock, of which Mr Wilson, late of Edington Mains, gives an interesting account in a valuable article which appeared in the "Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society." Writing in 1862, Mr Wilson says, "That thirty-five years ago, and for many subsequent years, there existed a small flock of Leicesters, the property of Mr Luke Scott, formerly tenant of Easington Grange, near Belford," and then he goes on to describe the circumstances under which this flock was reared. Mr Scott, though getting the character of a steady and upright man, in the course of time got into difficulties, and had to leave his farm. This, however, did not lead to the dispersion of his flock. Clinging to it with an almost romantic attachment, he travelled with his small stock—which consisted of some twenty ewes and their progeny—from place to place, shifting from one farm to another as opportunity occurred, and thus obtaining a somewhat precarious subsistence for his sheep. So long as Mr Thomson of Chillingham Barns continued to breed, Mr Scott used only his rams, and after the retirement of this breeder, he continued for about twenty years, as Mr Wilson says, to maintain his stock, using entirely his own rams. Mr Scott, it is stated, let out on hire as many of his rams as he could, but never sold either male or female except to be slaughtered. Among the characteristics that are mentioned as belonging to his flock, which was separated by only one intermediate link from Bakewell's, were their white faces and legs. Owing to their own purity of breeding, they possessed in a remarkable degree the capability of imparting their own characteristics to every flock into which they were introduced. Mr Wilson states that "Mr Scott never had many ram-breeders as direct customers, as they objected to the comparative want of size of his sheep; but I have the best means of knowing that most of them freely availed themselves of his blood by hiring rams from those who did deal with him directly. So much was this the case, that there is probably no Leicester flock in the borders of any considerable reputation that has not this blood largely in it. The comparative want of size to which I have just referred always appeared to me to be less an inherent quality than the inevitable consequence of long continued hardships." From this little flock the Wellington strain was obtained; nor was this the only important service Mr Scott rendered, for one of the principal sources to which the improvement of the Compton flock was attributable was the introduction of rams belonging to Mr Jobson of Chillingham, who in turn is said frequently to have used sheep of Mr Scott's breeding.

After living to see his skill and enterprise widely recognised, Mr Stark died at Mellendean in 1866, but the flock is still maintained on the farm, the management having been in the hands of the shepherd, Thomas Thomson, down to Whitsunday 1880, when he was succeeded by Andrew Paterson from Mertoun.

Besides these two flocks, there are, of course, many stocks of more or less reputation throughout what may be called the Border counties. In 1776, sheep of the Bakewell blood were introduced to East Lothian by Mr W. Brodie, then tenant of Upper Keith. By and by Mr Brodie's example was followed by others, until early in the present century the rivalry among breeders became so keen, that it led to the first show of sheep ever held in the county. A question, it is said, arose in July 1808 between the farmer at Linplum, Mr Bogue, who had purchased ewes and hired rams from the Culleys and others, and Mr Brodie, Scoughall, who had immediately before made some purchases at the Culleys' sale, as to who had the better class of sheep. The two very naturally declined to abide by one another's judgment, and the result was an agricultural gathering so great, according to the opinions of the times, that the writer, whose duty it was to describe the proceedings in "The Farmers' Magazine," could compare it to nothing less remarkable than the flight of Johnny Cope's army after the battle of Preston-pans; though in what respect there was any resemblance between the two events, he does not trouble himself to say. Whatever it was that led to this strange idea, the gathering undoubtedly was an important one, for it brought the farmers of the county, who assembled at Linplum in a large company to see the sheep examined, into contact with such an eminent breeder as Mr Matthew Culley, who, along with Mr Brodie of Upper Keith, was elected to give the award. The judgment was given in favour of Mr Brodie's rams, which were said to be "constitutionally disposed to fatten faster than the others."

Of late years, East Lothian breeders have collectively taken a higher place in the show-yard than those of any other district, though, on the other hand, the average price realised for their rams at the Edinburgh sales have always been beaten at Kelso— a fact which is probably due to this, that the East Lothian sheep seem to come out better earlier in the season than those from Roxburghshire and elsewhere, but that later in the season their rivals are then at their best. No exhibitor—no matter from what county—has ranked higher of late years in the Highland Society's yard, or met with greater success at the Edinburgh sales, than Mr Clark, Oldhamstocks. At the start Mr Clark was greatly indebted to a Polwarth ram, descended from the Haypount sheep, which was first brought from Mertoun by Mr Ainslie, Costerton, whose flock at one time was very successful. This tup he purchased at the dispersion of the Costerton flock, and working with it among others, and with ewes that were partly of Mellendean blood, he at once stepped into a good, position. Another East Lothian farmer, who has recently carried on breeding with a good deal of spirit and success, is Mr Andrew Smith, Castlemains; and two of the proprietors of the county, the Marquis of Tweeddale and Mr Balfour of Whittinghame, have also formed flocks, the representatives of which generally make a creditable appearance when shown in public. In Mid-Lothian no one has, considering the large-numbers which he breeds, taken so high a position as Mr Melvin, Bonnington; while going to the Border district, it may be said that Mr Thompson, Bailieknowe, has of late years stood out very prominently, as have also Mr Torrance, Sisterpath; Mr Jack,, Mersington; and Mr Nisbet, Lambden. In Northumberland, the two principal flocks have perhaps been those of the late Mr Forster, Ellingham, which was founded with cast ewes from Mellendean in 1867 and 1868, and dispersed in 1878; and of the Rev. R. W. Bosanquet, The Bock.

The north of Scotland is pretty well represented by Mr Ferguson, Kinnochtry, and Mr Purves, Thurdistoft, who began ten years ago; and from the west, good sheep have repeatedly been exhibited by Mr Wallace, Auchenbrain, notwithstanding the disadvantages of climate and soil that he has to contend against.

There is now a great difference between the English Leicester and the Border Leicester; but both, as has been shown, can be-clearly connected with Bakewell's stock, there being put aside, as unsupported by any reliable evidence, the opinion that has. been advanced by some, that the present character of the latter has to a large extent been formed by a Cheviot cross. The two types have, of course, been brought about principally through selection, the influences of soil and climate, as well as of taste, having no doubt tended to determine the lines on which the breeds have been developed. The relations in which the different stocks now stand to the original Bakewell type are, that the Border Leicester has alone preserved the white face and clean legs, but that the English animal more resembles the progenitors. in his small and more compact body.

The latter, as is well known, is generally either blue or dun. faced, and is covered with wool both about the legs and face, whereas Bakewell's sheep are repeatedly described as white-faced. In our national shows the two classes are now very properly kept distinct from one another; but it was only at a comparatively recent date that this was done. Up till 1869 the English and Scotch breeders were left to fight out their differences in the show-yard as best they could. If south country judges predominated, the preference was given to the few English Leicesters that chanced to be on the ground; if, on the contrary, north country men had their way, the Border Leicesters were brought to the front. In the year in question, however, matters were put to rights, to the satisfaction of every one, but more especially of the Border men, whose entries that season numbered 104, as compared with 13 of the others.

A perfect Border Leicester should have the following characteristics:—The head should be of fair size; the nose—as Mr Usher, Stodrig, points out in a very complete description of the animal in an article recently published—should be slightly aquiline; the muzzle full; the nostrils wide; the ears erect; and the eye bright. The face, as well as the legs, should be covered with clean white hair, any blueness about the head being objectionable, as denoting weakness of constitution. The neck should be full, with the vein strong and well developed. The chest should be deep and broad, the breast should come well forward, and the shoulders broad. The ribs should be widely arched, the spring being, as Mr Usher says, "more remarkable for its width than its depth, showing a tendency to carry the mutton high, with belly straight, significant of small offal." The back should be broad and well covered with mutton, giving a firm muscular touch; and the back bone should be well laid in flesh, so as not to present any hardness to the handling. The loins should be broad, the quarters lengthy and well fleshed down to the hocks; and the body thus made up, and nicely set upon flat clean legs, should be covered with fine curly wool. In his carriage the animal should move with his head well up, and should be full of life and action.

The most important events of the year to Border Leicester breeders are the Kelso and Edinburgh sales. At the former, which is often the occasion of upwards of 2000 rams being disposed of, the leading place, as has been indicated, has been taken by the Mertoun and Mellendean sheep. The former, whose special character is gaiety, but whose value as sires is proved by the mark they make wherever they are used, were first exposed at Kelso in 1852, when the average price obtained for the lot was £4, 8s. 7d. For the last twenty years, excepting 1869, when he was surpassed by Miss Stark, Lord Polwarth has uniformly topped the averages. During this period the most successful year was 1873, when the average price rose to £44, 15s. 2d., one of the lot going to Mr Clark, Oldhamstocks, for £195, the highest figure that has ever been paid for a sheep in Scotland. For the last few years the averages have usually ranged between £30 and £40. The Mellendean stock, whose strong points are their substance and wool, and whose value as sheep to breed from has also been widely recognised, were sold at Kelso in 1843. For that year the average is not given, but the highest priced sheep was £4. At the next sale, that of 1844, however, the average is given at £4, and the highest price was £6, 6s. In 1859 the rams from this flock topped the sale, with an average of £12, 4s. 8d., and in 1869 they again, as has been said, came to the front, though averaging only £16, 9s. 4d., as compared with £34, 3s. in 1865 and £25, 15s. in 1866.

Leicester sheep in their management and their diseases do not differ much from the general park stock of the country. The tups are generally put to the ewes at the beginning of October; and during winter the breeding stock get a few turnips on grass. At the lambing season the ewes are supplied in addition to turnips, if necessary, with a little oats or some other hand feeding. The clipping takes place about the end of May; and the lambs are spained from the mothers in the middle of July.

In regard to diseases the only peculiarities of the breed are that they are perhaps a little more liable than others to inflammation of the udder, or what is known amongst breeders as "udder clap;" as well as to inflammation of the lungs, and that among tup lambs there is after spaining a greater tendency to scouring. For the treatment of inflamed udders, the best mixture is probably one of carbolic acid and oil. The weakness in the lungs is ascribed by some to the effects of long continued in-and-in breeding, and there can be little doubt that where sufficient attention is not paid to a proper development of the chest, nothing is more likely to perpetuate this bad characteristic than in-and-in breeding, though on the other hand, provided the chest be wide to begin with, a certain affinity of blood will not induce any weakness. For the prevention of the scouring, the only thing that can be recommended is the removal of the lambs to clover stubble, and the supply of some dry feeding such as oats.

The value of the Leicester sheep lies not in its own qualities, but in its importance for crossing purposes. In constitution it is a comparatively delicate animal; the ewes are bad nurses, and the mutton is too fat to bring a good price per lb. When, however, they are considered in reference to their merits for crossing, they deserve a very different character. There is, perhaps, no type of sheep that has conduced more to the prosperity of the agricultural or pastoral farmer than the Leicester. Most of the breeds of long-woolled sheep have benefited from an infusion of their blood. In the south the breed has, when used upon the Downs, produced a stock that has been found admirably suited to that part of the country. In Scotland the Border Leicester has exerted a remarkable influence, for over the whole of the better cultivated districts, nearly the entire sheep stock are either half or three parts bred,—the first, a cross between a Leicester tup and Cheviot ewes, and the second between a Leicester tup and half-bred ewes, produced by the former cross; while a cross between the Leicester tup and blackfaced ewes occupies a wide stretch of country in the midland and south-western counties. These crosses have, of course, increased considerably the demand both for Cheviot and blackfaced ewes and ewe lambs, and have consequently raised the prices of those stocks. Nor have their benefits been confined to these islands, they having been largely used in almost every part of the world, and particularly in the British colonies, where they have effected marked improvements upon the merinoes. In regard to the lines of their future treatment little can be suggested, except, as need scarcely be said, that the perfect type should never be lost sight of. If there be one point as to which special attention seems to be called for, it is the neck. In too many flocks there is a prevalence of faulty, weak necks; and it should therefore be made matter of care by every breeder to see that this point be fully developed. The wool might also be improved in quality and more uniform in its covering; while a deficiency in the thighs, which is much too common, ought to be remedied. Of one feature in the tup trade, which, seeing that these sheep are so entirely produced for crossing other breeds, constitutes the most important branch of Leicester breeding, mention may also be made. Every day complaints are heard of tups being injured by excessive feeding, and no doubt there is a good deal of ground for these, the Leicester being constitutionally disposed to fatten more readily than any other Scotch sheep, and therefore more liable to have its usefulness interfered with in this way. This is, however, a matter which buyers have in their own hands. So long as the preference is given at sales to highly fed tups, and animals, no matter how well bred and how good in character, are neglected solely because they are not burdened with fat, the breeder cannot be blamed for producing the only sheep that will find a market. It is therefore the purchaser and not the exposer who is the real offender; and as soon as this fact is recognised, and selections are made in sale rings only for valuable breeding points, breeders will at once find it to their advantage to reduce their feeding. Provided that no constitutional defect—such as in all animals is only too ready to occur, unless the work of selection be always closely attended to—is allowed to detract from the character of the breed—and of this there surely need be no fear—it will be long before a sheep better fitted than the Leicester to realise profit to the farming community will be found.

Return to our Agriculture Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus