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XI. On a new Variety in the Breeds of Sheep. By Colonel David
Humphreys, F. R. S. In a Letter to the Right Hon. Sir
Read January 14, 1813.
In the year
Humphreysville (in the State of Connecticut), Nov. 1, 1811. I
PROPOSE to give some account of a new variety in the breeds of sheep, which has lately sprung up in America.
Seth Wight, who possessed a small farm on the banks of Charles river, in the town of Dover and State of Massachusetts, about sixteen miles distant from Boston, kept a little flock composed of fifteen ewes and one ram. 1791, one of the ewes produced a lamb of singular appearance. By the advice of some of his neighbours, he killed his former ram, and reserved the young one for breeding. The first season, two lambs only were yeaned in his likeness. In the following years, a number more, distinguished by the same peculiarities. Hence proceeded a strongly marked variety in this species of animals, before unknown in the world. It has been called by the name of the Otter breed.
This name was given from a real or imaginary resemblance to that animal, in the shortness of the legs and length of the back; by some supposed to have been caused by an unnatural intercourse; by others, perhaps as fancifully, from fright during gestation. It is only certain, that otters were then
sometimes seen on the banks of this river. They have since disappeared. The
person, who was the first to dissect one of these sheep for the purpose of ascertaining the properties and qualities which distinguish them from our common breed, has added the appropriate term of Ancon.
The singularity of form seems to be confirmed in the blood. Experiments, in crossing, have changed the strain, or, if I may be allowed so to express it, amalgamated the qualities of this with those of other breeds, so as to produce a mixed or mongrel race, in too few instances to form an exception to the theory.
When both parents are of the otter or ancon breed, the descendants inherit their peculiar appearance and proportions of form. I have heard of but one questionable case of a contrary nature,
The small number of cases where the young are said to partake in part, but not altogether, the characteristics of this breed, will not invalidate the general conclusions, established on experience in breeding from a male and female of distinct kinds.
When an ancon ewe is impregnated by a common ram, the increase resembles wholly either the ewe or the ram.
The increase of a common ewe, impregnated by an ancon ram, follows entirely the one or the other, without blending any of the distinguishing and essential peculiarities of both.
The most obvious difference between the young of this and other breeds, consists in the shortness of the legs of the former; which combined with debility or defect of organization, often makes them cripples in maturer age. MDCCCXIII.
Frequent instances have happened where common ewes have had twins by ancon rams, when one exhibited the complete marks and features of the ewe; the other of the ram. The contrast has been rendered singularly striking when one short legged and one long legged lamb, produced at a birth, have been seen sucking the dam at the same time.
The facts respecting the fleeces have not been so well ascertained. They have been judged by some to be finer and heavier than those of our common breed; by others, of a medium fineness, but possessing more uniformity of pile on the same, and on different sheep of this kind. I have seen instances of their varying considerably from each other.
One case, where the young assumed the perfect likeness of the ewe, together with a meliorated pile apparently derived from the ram, is too interesting to be omitted. The inclosed specimen of wool, No. 1, is from an ancon-Merino: that is to say, the offspring of an ancon ewe and Merino ram. Its shape is the very image of the former: its wool, which covers almost the whole face, and extends quite down to the fetlocks, of a pretty fine quality (a common sign of the best blooded Merinos) partakes the silky feel and felting quality of the latter; with, I judge, about the same portion of fineness as the fleeces, which my quarter-blooded Merinos ordinarily carry. The locks, No. 2, 3, and 4, were clipped from a wether, ram and ewe descended immediately from ancon parents on both sides. The fleece of the former weighed four pounds and a half: those of the two latter somewhat rising three pounds each.
The ancons have been observed to keep together, separating themselves from the rest of the flock, when put into inclosures with other sheep.
The lambs are remarked to be less capable of standing up to suck without assistance, when first yeaned, than others.
Although they arrive somewhat later at maturity, the sheep are said to live as long as those of our common breeds; unless in some cases, where by reason of their debility and decrepitude, their health is impaired and their lives shortened.
To whatever cause it may be attributed, whether arising from defect in vertebræ, muscle, joint, or limb, it is certain that they can neither run nor jump like other sheep. They are more infirm in their organic construction, as well as more awkward in their gait, having their fore-legs always crooked, and their feet turned inwards when they walk. According to some information, the rams are commonly more deformed than the ewes.
Sprung from an individual, remarkable for what might be called a caprice of nature, * it is not one of the least extraordinary circumstances, that this misshapen and feeble race should propagate their own deformity and decrepitude until these characteristics have become constitutional and hereditary.
It may be asked with reason, why such a breed should have been continued ?
The expectation of advantage, particularly in one way, doubtless prevailed over slighter considerations. We cannot boast of being such neat farmers, or of being so much attached to fine shapes in animals as the more skilful graziers and breeders in Europe ; consequently the prospect of gain in soine useful quality, or even of exemption from inconvenience, would more readily recompense us for the want of beauty, or reconcile us to the sight of what, to more acute or
fastidious spectators, might be considered its opposite. The unfavourable appearance of Merinos, according to the generally received ideas of handsome proportions in sheep, is understood to have operated considerably in retarding their spread in France and England, as well as in a sinaller degree in the United States of America.
The breed of ancons was expected to be a valuable acquisition, on account of their being less able than others to get over fences.
In New England, beyond which they have rarely migrated, there are few commons: no hedges: no shepherds : and no dogs, whose business it is to watch flocks. The small freehold estates are enclosed by fences of wood or stone. These are frequently too low to prevent active sheep from breaking out of pastures, into meadows, or grounds under cultivation. Crops are injured. Farmers discouraged. Hopes were entertained that this evil would be remedied. It has been in part.
To countervail this advantage, the drovers have complained of the great difficulty of driving these cripples to market; and the butchers, that the carcase is smaller and less saleable, than that of our common breeds. Perhaps, it is commonly not so fat. I have perceived little difference in the taste of the mutton; and
presume, if served at table in equal condition, it would hardly be distinguished by better judges. They have been remarked not to fatten so easily, possibly owing to less facility or industry in gathering food, or to some fault in the organic system.
Since the introduction of Merinos, which are equally gregarious, quiet, and orderly, probably better feeders, and with greater disposition to take fat, and more highly recom