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Sheep And Wool-growing








Ours is eminently an agricultural country. We produce most of our Food,
and export much more than we import of both Grain and Meat. Of Cotton,
we grow some Three Millions of bales annually, whereof we export fully
two-thirds. But of this we reimport a portion in the shape of Fabrics
and of Thread; and yet, while we are largely clothed in Woolens, and
extensive sections of our country are admirably adapted to the rearing
of Sheep and the production of Wool, we not only import a considerable
share of the Woolens in which we are clad, but we also import a
considerable proportion of the Wool wherefrom we manufacture the Woolens
fabricated on our own soil. In other words: while we are a nation of
farmers and herdsmen, we fail to grow so much Wool as is needed to
shield us against the caprices and inclemencies of our diverse but
generally fitful climates.

There is a seeming excuse for this in the fact that extensive regions in
South America and Australia, are devoted to Sheep-growing where animals
are neither housed nor herded, and where they are exclusively fed, at
all seasons, on those native grasses which are the spontaneous products
of the soil. I presume Wool is in those regions produced cheaper than it
can permanently be on any considerable area of our own soil; and yet I
believe that the United States should, and profitably might, grow as
much Wool as is needed for their own large annual consumption. Here are
my reasons:

I. When the predominant interest of British Manufactures constrained the
entire repeal of the duties on imported Wool, whereby Sheep-growing had
previously been protected, the farmers apprehended that they must
abandon that department of their industry; but the event proved this
calculation a mistake. They grow more Sheep and at better profit to-day
than they did when their Wool brought a higher price under the influence
of Protective duties, because the largely increased price of their
Mutton more than makes up to them their loss by the reduced prices of
their Wool. So, while I do not expect that American Wool will ever again
command such high prices as it has done at some periods in the past, I
am confident that the general appreciation in the prices of Meat, which
has occurred within the last ten or fifteen years, and which seems
likely to be enduring, will render Sheep-growing more profitable in the
future than it has been in the past. At all events, while our farmers
are generally obliged to sell their Grain and Meat at prices somewhat
below the range of the British markets, it is hardly conceivable that
they should not afford to grow Wool, for which they receive higher
average prices than the British farmers do, who feed their Sheep on the
produce of lands worth from $300 to $500 (gold) per acre.

II. Interest being relatively high in this country, and Capital with
most farmers deficient, it is a serious objection to cattle-growing that
the farmer must wait three or four years before receiving a return for
his outlay. If he begins poor, with but a few cows and a team, he
naturally wants to rear and keep all his calves for several years in
order to adequately stock his farm, so that little or no income is
meantime realized from his herd; whereas a flock of Sheep yields a
fleece per head each year, though not even a lamb is sold, while its
increase in numbers is far more rapid than that of a herd of cattle.

III. Almost every farmer, at least in the old States, finds some part of
his land infested with bushes and briers, which seem to flourish by
cutting, if he finds time to cut them, and which the ruggedness of his
soil precludes his exterminating by the plow. In every such case, Sheep
are his natural allies--his unpaid police--his vigilant and
thorough-going assistants. Give them an even start in Spring with the
bushes and briers; let their number be sufficient; and they are very
sure to come out ahead in the Fall.

IV. Our farmers in the average are too much confined in Summer and
Autumn to salt meats, and especially to Pork. However excellent in
quality these may be, their exclusive use is neither healthful nor
palatable. With a good flock of Sheep, the most secluded farmer may have
fresh meat every week in haying and harvest-time if he chooses; and he
will find this better for his family, and more satisfactory to his
workmen, than a diet wherefrom fresh meat is excluded.

V. Now, I do not insist that every farmer should grow Sheep, for I know
that many are so situated that they cannot. In stony regions, where
walls are very generally relied on for fences, I am aware that Sheep are
with difficulty kept within bounds; and this is a serious objection. In
the neighborhood of cities and large villages, where Fresh Meat may be
bought from day to day, one valid reason for keeping them has no
application; yet I hold that twice as many of our farmers as now have
flocks ought to have them, and would thereby increase their profits as
well as the comfort of their families.

The most serious obstacle to Sheep husbandry in this country is the
abundance and depredations of dogs. Farmers by tens of thousands have
sold off, or killed off, their flocks, mainly because they could not
otherwise protect themselves against their frequent decimation by
prowling curs, which were not worth the powder required to shoot them.
It seems to me that a farmer thus despoiled is perfectly justifiable in
placing poisoned food where these cut-throats will be apt to find it
while making their next raid on his Sheep. I should have no scruple in
so doing, provided I could guard effectually against the poisoning of
any other than the culprits.

In a well-settled, thrifty region, where ample barns are provided, I
judge that the losses of Sheep by dogs may be reduced to a minimum by
proper precautions. Elsewhere than in wild, new frontier settlements,
every flock of Sheep should have a place of refuge beneath the hay-floor
of a good barn, and be trained to spend every night there, as well as to
seek this shelter against every pelting storm. Even if sent some
distance to pasture, an unbarred lane should connect such pasture with
their fold; and they should be driven home for a few nights, if
necessary, until they had acquired the habit of coming home at
nightfall; and I am assured that Sheep thus lodged will very rarely be
attacked by dogs or wolves.

As yet, our farmers have not generally realized that enhancement of the
value of Mutton, whereby their British rivals have profited so largely.
Their fathers began to breed Sheep when a fleece sold for much more than
a carcase, and when fineness and abundance of Wool were the main
consideration. But such is no longer the fact, at least in the Eastern
and Middle States. To-day, large and long-wooled Sheep of the Cotswold
and similar breeds are grown with far greater profit in this section
than the fine-wooled Merino and Saxony, except where choice specimens of
the latter can be sold at high prices for removal to Texas and the Far
West. The growing of these high-priced animals must necessarily be
confined to few hands. The average farmer cannot expect to sell bucks at
$1,000, and even at $5,000, as some have been sold, or at least
reported. He must calculate that his Sheep are to be sold, when sold at
all, at prices ranging from $10 down to $5, if not lower, so that
mechanics and merchants may buy and eat them without absolute ruin; and
he must realize that 100 pounds of Mutton at 10 cents, with 6 pounds of
Wool at 30 cents, amount to more than 60 pounds of Mutton at 8 cents,
and 10 pounds of Wool at 60 cents. Farmers who grow Sheep for Mutton in
this vicinity, and manage to have lambs of good size for sale in June or
July, assure me that their profit on these is greater than on almost
anything else their farms will produce; and they say what they know.

The satisfactory experience of this class may be repeated to-day in the
neighborhood of any considerable city in the Union. Sheep-growing is no
experiment; it is an assured and gratifying success with all who
understand and are fitly placed for its prosecution. Wool may never
again be so high as we have known it, since the Far West and Texas can
grow it very cheaply, while its transportation costs less than five per
cent. of its value, where that of Grain would be 75 per cent.; but
Mutton is a wholesome and generally acceptable meat, whereof the use and
popularity, are daily increasing; so that its market value will
doubtless be greater in the future than it has been in the past. I would
gladly incite the farmers of our country to comprehend this fact, and
act so as to profit by it.

But the new region opened to Sheep-growing by the pioneers of Colorado,
and other Territories, is destined to play a great part in the
satisfaction of our need of Wool. The elevated Plains and Valleys which
enfold and embrace the Rocky Mountains are exceedingly favorable to the
cheap production of Wool. Their pure, dry, bracing atmosphere; the
rarity of their drenching storms; the fact that their soil is seldom or
never sodden with water; and the excellence of their short, thin
grasses, even in Winter, render them admirably adapted to the wants of
the shepherd and his flocks. I do not believe in the wisdom or humanity,
while I admit the possibility, of keeping Sheep without cured fodder on
the Plains or elsewhere; on the contrary, I would have ample and
effective shelter against cold and wet provided for every flock, with
Hay, or Grain, or Roots, or somewhat of each of them, for at least two
months of each year; but, even thus, I judge that fine Wool can be grown
in Colorado or Wyoming far cheaper than in New England or even
Minnesota, and of better quality than in Texas or South America. And I
am grievously mistaken if Sheep husbandry is not about to be developed
on the Plains with a rapidity and success which have no American
precedent.





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