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Sheep Husbandry in Canada
By the Canadian Department of Agriculture


THE sheep industry in Canada dates back almost to the beginning of her agriculture, for the first settlers, as soon as they were able to do so, established little flocks of sheep to supply both food and clothing for their families. The first sheep to come to Canada, according to record, were brought from France in the middle of the seventeenth century. Others followed from time to time during the French regime, but for nearly one hundred years afterwards no other sheep were brought in. These French sheep were small, and are said to have much resembled the Cheviot in size and conformation, particularly in the shape of the head, while the quality and weight of the fleece were much the same.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, colonies of United Empire Loyalists that settled in the Maritime Provinces, Quebec and Ontario, brought with them from New York, Pennsylvania and other Eastern States, such sheep as were common in the districts from which they came. These, as a rule, were grades of the leading English breeds in those days, including Cotswold, Leicester, Hampshire and Southdown. As early as 1830, British immigrants commenced to bring small stocks of sheep, and by these the quality of the established Canadian flocks was improved. About the year 1842, a small number of Leicesters and Cotswolds were imported from England, and a few years later, Southdowns began to appear. From that time onward, shipments were landed almost every year. A report of the first provincial exhibition held in Toronto in 1846 states that the exhibits of Leicesters and Southdowns were of excellent quality and well adapted to the country. Two years later, in addition to the two breeds already named, Merinos were shown at the provincial exhibition. The numbers increased year by year, until the exhibit at London in 1854 amounted to 400 head, divided as follows: Leicesters, 200; Southdowns, 44; Cotswolds, 30; the last named being newly imported by George Miller, of Markham. In addition to a small exhibit of Cheviots, made that year by George Ruddick, of Northumberland county, the remainder consisted of grades. The following year the show of Leicesters was not quite so large but the entries of Southdowns, Cotswolds and Cheviots were more numerous than heretofore. The prize winners were as follows:

Leicesters.ó Chris. Walker, London; Wm. Miller, Pickering; Geo. Miller, Markham; and Jas. Dickson, Clark.
Southdowns.óJohn Spencer, Whitby; R. W. Gordon, Paris; R. W. Stanley,
Haldimand; Richard Coats, Oakville, and A. Burroughs, Brantford.
Cotsiuolds.óJohn Snell, Edmonton, Ont.; Wm. Smith, Clark; Wm. Miller,
Pickering; F. W. Stone, Guelph, and Geo. Miller, Markham.
Cheviots.óWm. Ruddick, Markham.

A number of these men occasionally showed at the New York State Fair and brought away much of the prize money competed for. The entries of purebreds kept up well. In 1858, the show of Leicesters numbered 188; Cotswolds, 39; Cheviots, 15; Southdowns, 49; Longwools, not pure-bred, 68; Merinos, 29 and fat sheep, 19. The Longwools, including grade Cotswolds, Leicesters and Lincolns, were magnificent sheep, equal in many respects to the pure-bred classes. The Merinos and Cheviots did not gain ground, but all of the other breeds improved, multiplied and increased in popularity until the sheep industry of the country in the early 'sixties had become a very popular and profitable branch of farming.

To encourage importation, the Board of Agriculture of Ontario in the early fifties resolved to double, and a few years later to triple, the amount of any first prize won at the provincial exhibition by an animal imported during the year. An increasing number of enterprising men, year after year, took advantage of the opportunity to introduce improved blood into their flocks, which by this time had grown numerous and many of them fairly large. County agricultural societies also took a keen interest in stock improvement by purchasing and distributing improved males among their members. For example, in 1854, Grey County Society bought ten rams and sold them for $285. Three years later the Kent County Society paid $320 for twenty-one rams and sold them for $175. Much good resulted from this public-spirited effort.

As early as 1883, sheep were introduced into Manitoba, when the Hudson's Bay Company was commencing to develop the country. Governor Simpson of that Company, with the object of benefiting the little band of settlers that comprised the Selkirk colony, organized a joint stock company and sent agents south into the United States to buy sheep. These agents went first to Missouri and then to Kentucky, where they purchased 1,745 sheep at about $1.50 each, and started to drive them back to the colony on the banks of the Red river. Through bad management most of the sheep died on the journey, only 251 arriving at their destination. Subsequently the shareholders of the company quarrelled and the Governor took over what was left of the flock. These were sold at auction, and brought as high as $2 each, a high price in those days. Somewhere about 1840, the Hudson's Bay Company is said to have brought from England some pure-bred rams for the improvement of the sheep of the colony.

A few years later, sheep arrived in the Pacific province under somewhat similar circumstances. The Hudson's Bay Company, and later the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, the latter composed of Hudson's Bay employees, established farms at Fort Nisqually, on the plains of what is now Washington state, a few miles distant from the city of Tacoma. At that time this territory was under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company, the international boundary between the United States and the British possessions on that part of the continent not having been decided. Sheep driven from California were purchased by the agents of the companies, until in the early 'forties the flocks numbered some thousands. The quality of these sheep was improved by the importation from time to time of well-bred rams from Great Britain, via Cape Horn on sailing ships, which brought for the companies their annual mail and fresh stocks of goods. When the boundary line was finally agreed on, these flocks were disposed of, a large number of sheep going to Oregon, where they played an important part in forming the great sheep industry of that state, and from there were scattered over the neighbouring states. It will thus be seen that the early British settlers were among the first promoters of improved sheep husbandry in the Pacific northwest.

On the establishment, in 1843, of a Hudson's Bay post on the site of the present city of Victoria, British Columbia, at the southern end of Vancouver Island, farms were located by the two above-named companies and sheep brought from Fort Nisqually to stock them. These sheep were principally of the Merino. Southdown and Leicester blood, and were the foundation of the sheep-breeding industry in that province. They did well, and, in 1849, numbered several hundred head, in spite of the depredations of panthers, wolves and bears, and occasionally of vagrant dogs. The sheep were herded by armed Indian shepherds in the day time and corralled at night. Indians from early times showed their appreciation of a change of diet from fish and venison by occasionally raiding flocks. This love of mutton made a little British Columbia historv in the early 'fifties, when a warlike band of Indians swooped down from their village a short distance up the coast to Victoria, and raided a flock, murdered the shepherd, and carried off a number of sheep. Their village was visited by a British gunboat from Victoria some time afterwards, and the murderers were captured and hanged on a tree nearby. The first experience of British justice made a deep impression on the natives, which was shown by their carving and painting a large figure of a British marine standing at attention. This adorned a prominent spot in the village for years afterwards.

The Hudson's Bay Company continued to assist the farmers in this province by establishing small private flocks near Victoria. These were owned and kept by employees of the Company. This Company, as well as the Puget Sound companies and private individuals imported improved rams from Great Britain for the use of the Pacific coast settlers.

As early as 1671, Acadia (Nova Scotia), is credited with 407 head of sheep. Eight years later, New France (Quebec) had 719 head. One hundred years later, Quebec flocks contained 84,696 head, which after another sixty years had increased to more than 600,000 head. The adjoining province of Upper Canada (Ontario) at that time supported about 500,000 sheep. In 1851 Lower Canada (Quebec), is credited with about 650,000 head and Nova Scotia with 282,000. Ten years later Upper Canada had 1,170,000 head and Lower Canada 683,000. The sheep in those days corresponded closely with the number of cattle kept, which was considerably more than either the hogs or the horses maintained on the farms.

While sheep raising is carried on chiefly with small flocks along with other stock in "mixed" farming, it is also conducted under the ranching system in Southern Alberta, where it has reached its greatest development, as well as in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Ranch flocks vary in size from one thousand up to twenty thousand head in a few cases. The foundation of the stock making up the ranching bands came largely from the adjoining states of the American Union, and was chiefly of Merino breeding. The original stock produced small carcasses and heavy fleeces of fine wool. In order to increase the weight of carcasses and lengthen the wool staple Down and Longwoolled sires have been introduced. The bands are grazed under the care of herders the year round. In winter the sheep are expected to "rustle a living," which they can usually secure with a little assistance on the part of the shepherd, who, when necessary, by the use of a snow plough, breaks the crust uncovering the grass, and at times provides an allowance of fodder put up the previous season. The produce of these bands, finished on screenings and other suitable foods, develop a very high quality of fleece and carcass.

With the exception of the Rambouillet, the sheep that have been imported into Canada are of the British breeds, and comprise Shropshire, Lincoln, Cotswold, Oxford, Leicester, Dorset Horn, Suffolk, Hampshire, Southdown, Cheviot, Romney Marsh, and Corriedale. For all these breeds pedigree registration has been established under the National Live Stock Record system.

You can download this book here in pdf format

Visit the Canadian Sheep Federation Web Site

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