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THE FARMER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 81, 1 April 1880
CANTERBURY HAS A FINE WOOL GROWING COUNTYB. [ln reply to numerous inquiries as to which breeds of sheep are the best suited for Canterbury farmers, we give below, as supplementary to the “sheep-breeding” article by the “Plains Farmer” in our last issue, a letter written by Mr. D. Oliver, of Westcrfield, to a Chr;stchurch paper in 1876, and which speaks for itself.] Sin, —I recently read, with great interest, a paper by J. T. Ford, Esq., on the management and breeding of sheep which appeared in your columns some time ago. It is evident that Mr. Ford must have bestowed considerable care and trouble in the collecting of such an amount of valuable information as is conveyed in his paper, and it is therefore with regret that I, in common with a number of old Australians, see that he has, in my opinion, fallen into an error very common in Canterbury, namely, the belief that the improved Australian merino, the most valuable sheep of its kind in the world, is not the best adapted for this country, as it is not likely to retain its high intrinsic qualities here. This opinion of Mr. Ford’s, published as it is to-the world, many besides myself will consider rather unfortunate, coming as it does from a gentleman known to be one of the best judges of sheep _ in the colony, as undue weight will be given to it by. a great many breeders, thereby retarding lire premier industry of the colony, viz., the growing of fine wool, in one of the most favoured fine wool-grow-ing countries in the world. I think that if Mr. Ford had experienced the varying vicissitudes of a number of seasons in Australia, and witnessed their effects on stock, he would form a much higher estimate of the value of the natural pastures and climate of New Zealand, particularly that of the Canterbury plains. The climate and pastures of Canterbury are eminently suited for the merino sheep. Clad in its dense yolky coat, it is quite proof against any climatic change which takes place in this country, up to an altitude of 2000 f t; and, in fact, from the sea level to the line of perpetual snow, wherever there can be found sufficient food for their support, they will be fou; d to be the hardiest and most valuable animals that the grazier can beconie possessed of, except in heavy damp soil ; and even there, after drainage and laying down of English grasses, they would succeed if an adjoining piece of shingle bank could be afforded them to preserve their feet, and provide a dry bed at night, and they would, in a country where meat can be procured in such excessive proportions to the wants of the population, give - < rguch better returns for actual food conjßjfcSrnsed and other expenses incurred, than v any other domestic animal. I do not ; mean this to apply to the wretched mongrel merino so often seen in New Zealand, bred out and out till its own grandmother would not know it, but to the same animal skilfully bred and liberally fed. Mr. Ford believes that the native pastures of Canterbury, from fheir coarseness, would produce coarse wool. This idea receives no support from modern physiologists who have made sheep and wool subjects for study, and my own observation, extending to nearly a quarter of a century with merinos, leads me to the opposite conclusion ; fatness, however superinduced, brings about coarseness of fibre, and leanness the reverse. Coarse pastures are not so conducive to fatness as fine therefore not so liable to produce coarse wool. The best condition a sheep can be in for producing fine wool is what we call good store condition. Canter- • bury, wisely stocked, is the best place I have yet seen for keeping np this desir- i able condition, and the tendency of the climate, though unappreciable for a long time, will be to give the Aus- ’ tralian merino increased density and fine- i ness of fleece. It is agreed by the best 1 modern writers on the merinos that with ] common care they will thrive and retain s their fineness under all parallels of latitude, from the burning sun of the tropics < to the frozen regions of Norway. Tas- 1 mania, which is in the same latitude as 1 Canterbury, produces some of the most 1 valuable sheep in the world, ■ as instance < the ram Sir Thomas, bred by Mr. James 1 Gibson, which was sold some time ago to ‘ the Messrs. Gumming, of Victoria, for the ‘ unprecedentedly high sum of L 714 ; and i in August last the same breeder sold in ! Melbourne 49 rams and 30 ewes- even in : this bad season—for the handsome total i of L 3,601 10s. Silesia and Saxony, in J Europe, in latitude 51deg., are from seven 1 to eight degrees further from the equator 1 than Christchurch, and those countries, as '< everyone knows, produced some of the i finest merino wool ; and in Sweden, as 1 far north as 60deg., Mr. Lastyree states ’ that he had an opportunity of comparing i a flock of merinos, which had been in that 1 country for fifty years, with a flock of new 1 arrivals, and he found that the wool of • the old stagers was fully as good as that of the newly imported ones. Many years after the merinos were brought to Eng- \ land, their wool w.is compared with the best samples of wool direct from Spain, ; and Youattsays that “it yielded not to them in fineness of felting quality.” The same authority states that in Ireland the quality of the merino wool improved rather than deteriorated. In 1819, the clip of the Nowlan was G-ilb. at 35., amounting to 19s. Gd. per sheep, and it would appear that Randall and others, who have studied the physiology of wool, have, without doubt, arrived at a just and correct conclusion when they assert that wool on the living animal becomes finer in cold and coarser in fine climates. This applies to the hair of other animals as well. Whoever heard of men going to hot countries in quest of fine furs ! Mr. Weld, an intelligent and experienced sheep farmer, writes of the climate as follows :—“ The climate of New Zealand, though one of the most variable within certain limits, is, at the same time, ' perhaps the most strictly temperate, both in summer and winter, of any in the 1 world. As a natural consequence | the growth of grass is never sufii- ' ciently checked to affect seriously the condition of stock. There are no ■ prejudicial extremes of heat or cold, and it naturally results that the increase of a 1 flock is more rapid than is usual in the neighboring colonies, whilst the stock are ; at a|l times in high and thriving condiregard to sheep, this mani- 1 XAgHptself not only by the early age at TPJRnTthey are fit for the butcher, but by : : the length and soundness of the fibre of the wool, and the consequent weight and 1 quality of the fleece. In New South ; Wales 2£lhs. of wool is’ a high average yield for sheep ; in New Zealand a well- : bred merino flock, on a good run, will fully average 41bs. With regard to the quality of the staple, I have the authority ! of some of the first English brokers for i
speaking of it in the highest terms. As yet it has not fetched prices equal to those of the first-class New South Wales wool, because sheep farming being yet in its infancy in New Zealand, the flocks are in most cases of a mixed description, and the sorting and getting up of the wool have not hitherto been sufficiently attended to.” . If the last three winters are fair samples of the seasons in Canterbury, Mr. Weld’s opinion may be endorsed by anyone who has made the management of sheep his study, and to his remarks on the quality.of climate and feed there need be nothing more added, but that the geological formation, and hydrographical system of Canterbury combine to form one of the soundest sheep countries in the world, and its soil, which is purely silicious, is of that description which has been proved to be the best for soft fine wool growing. Mr. Ford's paper on sheep being a comprehensive one, precluded him from saying much about any one breed of sheep. I will, therefore, with your permission, say a few words in behalf of the merino and its value for crossing. We have the written authority of several ancient writers to prove that they existed as a fine wool breed long anterior to the Christian era : indeed, its history runs back into the bane of the remotest antiquity. The belief that they were improved by coarse sheep, from Africa is not grounded on any well authenticated authority, and it would be quite as easy to believe that copper would improve the value of gold as to believe that a union with any sheep) ever found in Africa could improve themeiino. That some breeders may have attempted to do it is very probable ; we can scarcely concede more judgment to the ancienis than we take to ourselves, and to this day some flock owners are to be found who believe they can form an intermediate breed of a fixed type between English sheep and merinos ; but should they pursue it for a lifetime, they will at the end exclaim, like Bolon oii, “it is all vanity and vexation
of spirit,” the ancient blood of the merino utterly refusing to ally itself permanently midway with that of any coarse breed on earth, least of all with that of the artificial Ei 'glish sheep of yesterday. There is, however a safe and profitable course to follow when tbestockownsrhas a flock of indifferent ir erino ewes, from which he would rather not t ilce another merino lamb, that is, to put out with them Lincoln or Leicester ra’ns, as pure as can be got in England. The cross thus got will, in proportion as the merinos are uniform, have wool of a uniform character, and highly valuable from the scarcity of it. The value of such wool for certain manufactures may be inferred from the fact of a lady in England having spun, from a single pound of it, 95i miles of thread, which proves that it rn:st possess great strength and fineness. The animal itself will thrive well on the native pastures of Canterbury, but, on such feed, to make one more cross towards the English sheep would be to commit an e-gegious error, and every other move in the same direction would hut intensify that ciror. To breed back again to the merino would be an absurdity, so the only wise < uirse would be to exclude the ewes from breeding altogether, just taking their wool yearly till they become rf age to bo sold with the wethers to the butcher. This is the full extent to which anyone can cross with profit on the indigenous pastures of this country, and those who are making wool growing their business would be wise never to 'produce a coarser fibre, except on Ibe small flock of pure English sheep kept for producing this cross. The disproportion between the j’»opulation of this island a*'d the meat raised in it is very great, and wjU continue to be so long after the present occupiers have taken leave of sub- • mcry affairs. What then can be the use of rearing, at great cost, a huge animal for li e melting pot, requiring, during his life, twenty times more attention than the ? lerluo, and at least double the money in fences ? And if the owner does not pay costs of attendance in shape of wages, he p«ys it four-f Id to death, the abnormal structure of the improved English sheep ; endoriug him incapable of getting up off’ bis own back, on to which he seems to lave an irresistible tendency to turn. And it must also be remembered that his coarse wool has to find a market in the coarse wool growing countries of the world, where there is already abundance of it f row-'. It has been accurately ascertained that sheep consume food, in proportion to fheir live weight ; thus rue sheep whose live weight is 2001bs, will consume exactly as much food as two sheep of lOOlbs each. J’i point of meat the large animal may give rs good return for food consumed as the •Iwo smaller ones, but the wool growing ®utface on the smaller ones will be very • > uch greater than on the large one ; ami I - it wool, if grown with judgment, tan be much more valuable per pound, as the small sheep may be good merinos or the first cross from them. Tutting cross-bred rams to cross-bred ewes with the hopes of having anything but a progeny showing extreme variability, is an unqualified'absurdity, and the same applies to the indiscriminate use of various descriptions of rams of the same ''■reed, expecting to have uniform wool or sheep. The merino has an almost unconquerable tendency to breed back, and tl'is tendency requires much care in management, even when rams of a uniform. character are constantly used, and the breeding directed by a single intelligent will. What, then, can be expected when Tom, Dick, and Harm's rams, along with their advice, are used alternately, a'd the annual classing of the ewes a thing unheard-of ? This practice, I believe, is too common in this country, as wel 1 as in the Australian colonies, and t’-Is brings me to a vital part of my letter, ■ip-nely, the reason why some stock-hold-ers in Australia can sell their clips even at this bad season to figures ranging beyond three shillings per pound, when their nearest neighbors, in many instances, r...n hardly get two shillings for theirs. Now these neighbors are in possession of precisely the same kind of country, the •.leridiaiial or latitudinal difference between them amounting in many induces to no more than the thickness of a w ire fence. These men started at the same time, and with the same kind of stock as the good, breeders, and if those writers who lay so much stress on climate wore correct, we would expect, knowing that beginnings were equal on each side of the fence, to find equal results ; or if, as other writers assert, all improvement is io be, attributed to the inherent qualities of the animal changing for the better with changed conditions of life, we would still expect that, from the same beginnings in tbe same locality, the same results would ultimately accrue. Lat such is clearly not the case in Australia, as anyone at vey little expense can prove for himself. To what influence, then, is the world indebted for the magnificent sheep and wool produced by such breeders as the Cummings, Dowlings, Currie, and others, of Victoria, and Gibbons and others, of Tasmania 1 Simply to the sound knowledge of those gentlemen, which enabled them to take advantage of the tendency to variability, which is inherent in all reclaimed animals, and the directing of this variability in their flecks to the most profitable end by accumulated selection. Hy the repetition of this process in one direction for a number of years, their improved sheep have now the hereditary power to transmit their good qualities to their offspring, with a force and certainty approaching that of species, and every year this power will become greater, and iheir sheep correspondingly more valuable for improving indifferent stock. The high figures the good breeders of Australia receive for their wool from the British and French manufacturers, the enormous sums they are able to get for
heir sheep, and the high commendation heir wool called forth at the Philadelphia exhibition this year, clearly points out to the intelligent Canterbury breeder that to Australia he must look for his stud stock, and he will be compelled to do so or see himself entirely distanced in the wool markets of the world. The Australian merino has for a long time been improving the flocks of Africa. He is performing the same du :y in the centre of India, and I fearlessly predict that in a very few years, by the proper use of the same animal, some breeders in Canterbury will successfully race the Australian wool growers in the London market. I noticed some very good Australian sheep at Christchurch Show last year, exhibited by -Messrs. Lee and Chapman. I also notice that the Messrs. Parker, of this province, have purchased first-class stud stock in Melbourne a short time ago. These gentlemen are unmistakeably taking “the tide at flood that leads to fortune,” and their spirit in buying such stock will be rewarded in a few years beyond their most sanguine expectations, assuming (and I have no doubt of the fact) that they have the judgment to shape their breeding in the direction the voice of the manufacturing world proclaims to be the right one.—l am, &c. Fine Wool. October 23, 1876.
THE FARMER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 81, 1 April 1880
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