The sheep-breeder may say, “To what good purpose is the consideration of peculiar or out-of-the-way forms of sheep,
which are not likely to produce commercial products?” This shows a want of knowledge of such things as are beyond their immediate range of vision; for in the Bradford wool-market considerable quantities of coloured wools are sold—black, brown, grey, and yellow—imported from the south of Russia and other places. We here only see the wool-circulars referring to our own products or those competing with them.
Suppose we can find a distinct breed of sheep, having such characteristics as lead to the conclusion that they are direct descendants of the original sheep first domesticated. This at once brings us a link in evidence nearer to the sheep's fourtoed fossil ancestor, from which all our domestic animals having double hoofs are considered to have descended. The two immature hoofs at the back of the shank-bone of the sheep, cow, and goat are taken to be rudiments of other two claws or hoofs, which have shrunk to their present diminutive size by generations of disuse, proving of no material service to the animal under changed conditions of life: for instance, when the surface of the earth, or their place of habitation, became more solid to travel over, and so required less spread of foot.
Fossil remains of animal life give evidence that reptiles, and after them animals, all had five toes—at least, on their front feet: one toe after another being gradually lost, in the course of ages, from disuse; the blood, or nourishing agent, flowing naturally by preference to those toes in greater use, thereby the useless members became smaller and gradually lost. In the horse only one toe remains; signs of two others are in the splint-bones at either side of the cannon-bone, hidden beneath the skin. This gives a curious instance of variation working by two different plans to effect the same result: in the horse the atrophy commencing at the hoof, or free end of the claw, and leaving the splints, which are the remnants of the second and fourth supplementary cannonbones; but in the cow, &c., the atrophy commencing from the reverse end, there remain no splint-bones, but two diminutive hoofs, which are of no practical use to the animal. You will the more readily understand this by remembering these bones correspond with those in the human hand between the wrist and knuckle-joints—the two middle fingers agreeing with the bones contained in the two hoofs.
There are six or more animals in a natural state which are classed as sheep, but writers have been unable as yet to trace the descent of the domestic sheep from any one of these wild species: the argali and mufflon in Europe, thär and burrell in the Himalayas, ammon and poli in Asiatic Tartary—this latter named after its discoverer, Marco Polo, one of the earliest travellers who have left fairly reliable records of their
adventures. The bighorn, or Rocky Mountain sheep, of North America, the musk-ox and the yak of Thibet—these two, inhabiting districts right apart, but living close to the regions of perpetual snows, seem connecting-links between the ox and sheep.
In Scribner's Magazine of February, 1889, is a picture, said to be taken from an instantaneous photograph, of the bighorn in their native wilds. In this photograph of a ram and two ewes the ram has a wonderful resemblance to a picture in an illustrated paper of a live specimen of the burrell presented to the Prince of Wales when visiting India some years ago. “The bighorn is in colour a dusky-brown, too nearly resembling that of the rocks through which they move to secure clearness of outline in a picture taken at a long distance.” Unfortunately the tails of all three figures are hidden from view. The ears are broad and rounded at the tip, somewhat resembling those of a calf. The horns of the ram are very thick at the base, inclined slightly outward and backward, with one gradual curve only. The ewes have small upright horns, with the tips slightly turned backward, much the same as those seen in the chamois. The ibex and chamois are by many considered the originals of our domestic goats, or a link between the goat and the deer. Here would come a question whether they shed their horns annually, as do the true deer, or retain them for life.
Of domestic sheep the Wallachian is worthy of remark. It has a pair of upright spiral horns of considerable length, which, when viewed in a direct line, give the animal a great resemblance to the fabulous unicorn. Like the Cashmir goat, this sheep is covered with long, straight hair, having an undercoat of extremely fine wool. This latter is greatly valued.
Here is a lady's description of sheep used in packing goods in the Himalayan mountains, in India, an extract from Chambers's Journal, 2nd November, 1889: “A long string of sheep passes us on their way to the plains, each with its little pack on its back. They have come all the way from Bhotan, across the highest passes of the Himalayas. They carry down borax and salt, and take rice and other grain on the return journey, being altogether about three months on the road.” Perhaps if they grow any wool they will leave that behind also.
This extract from “The Mule-track on the Mountains” gives a good sample of word-painting: “But it is not only still life on my mule-path. Suddenly, perhaps, round a turn in the road, a little flock of sheep comes hurrying down. They are very small gentle creatures, with long soft hair (it can hardly be called wool), dark-brown or cream-white. Their wild-looking shepherd, with his dark Italian face, has a word of greeting for the stranger as he passes by. One day one of
these flocks was led by a tiny child, with cropped head, a frock down to his heels, and a branch of mimosa in his hand. He walked first among the sheep, their little faces crowding and pushing softly round him. He might have been David, leading his father's sheep for the first time out of Bethlehem. Then there are women in bright handkerchiefs, picking up olives under the tree; and one often meets a mule or large ass, the rightful owner of the path, stepping down with a gingerly grace over the stones. He bears on his back an immense load of sticks and grass, or a little barrel of wine slung on each side. He probably has one ear set forward, the other back, to show that no advantage must be taken of his goodnature, and he looks at the stranger with a doubtful, intelligent eye, while his master or mistress gives a friendly nod and ‘Bon jour.’” This is very well described, you will allow, and must be by a lady also, I should think.
The report of Consul-General Playfair upon the commerce and agriculture of Algeria, last year, contains very much interesting information relating to wool and sheep. The following is his description of the wool produced in Algeria: “Algerian wool may be divided into two categories, Arab and Berber. The former is generally of a short fibre, sometimes moderately, rarely, if ever, very long, and regulated by the climatic influence of the localities where the sheep are reared. It is always short on the high plateaux, and becomes longer as the sheep descend into more fertile and better-watered regions, but in both instances it is fine wool of a fine quality, and without any hairy appearance—the relic, it may be, of the now lost Merino stock, supposed to have been introduced by the Romans, and subsequently perfected by the Moors of Venice, who certainly drew their original supplies of wool and of sheep from North Africa. The Kabyle or Berber wool, on the other hand, is entirely different: it is hard, coarse, inelastic, and almost resembles goats' hair. Algerian wool has been much discredited by fraudulent practices to increase its weight; nevertheless it is good in quality, and readily purchased, while the sheep themselves are eagerly sought for in France, where from three to four millions are sent every year. No doubt, neither Algerian wool nor Algerian sheep are of the first quality, but the latter possess qualities which might possibly disappear were the race modified to any appreciable extent. They can resist the greatest extremes of heat and cold, of abundant and deficient pasturage, absolute want of care, and the long fatiguing marches necessary to send them to the port of embarkation.”
A Russian writer says of the Caucasian wool: “It may be divided into four classes. First, fine wool, which has hitherto been disposed of in Moscow, as it is unsuitable for other
markets, being too short in the staple for combing. Secondly, the wool known as Pschawa Touches, and Touchiyi: this description is cleaner than the other kinds, and only comprises 5 per cent. of black and grey; the second clip is more sought after, as being cleaner. Thirdly, Tarakamas wool, which is produced in the Tartar districts, and yields 30 per cent. of white, the rest being black and coarse. This description is mostly bought for America, though a considerable portion of the second clip is retained in the country for making carpets. Fourthly, the intermediary description, more or less white, and comprising less grey than the Tarakamas. Besides those named are the Elisabethpol, which yields about 40 per cent. white; and the Chakcheran, giving 60 per cent. white.”
In the New South Wales Court, at the Dunedin and South Seas Exhibition, held this year, samples of Bagdad brown wool were on exhibit with other wools.
“One of the most striking breeds in the show [Paris Exhibition] was the Solognot, a small, light, and rather leggy sheep, with a long thin tail, and face and legs of a rich red. A pen of Swiss two-shear ewes, jet-black all over, attract attention, mainly by the elongation of the neck and legs.”—Live-stock Journal, 19th July, 1889.
A Five-horned Ram.—“The most interesting thing about the premises of the London Docks on a Wednesday lately was a remarkable ram hidden away in a corner on the deck of a ship. What was strange about the ram was his horns. He had five of them—two gracefully curling from the points which horns usually select as most convenient, immediately below them were two more, and below these one formed a kind of rung which led up to the rest. The ram looked proud of these horns. He held his head aloft, and seemed anxious to have them duly noticed. He was as playful as a kitten, and, according to one of the sailors in charge, takes to rum as readily and as naturally as any one of the crew. He then displays a number of antics altogether out of keeping with his general decorum. He is twelve months old, and comes from the Persian Gulf; he is remarkably small, with wool of exceedingly dirty yellow, and his legs are brown.”— Newspaper cutting.
St. Kilda Sheep.—“In the report of the sheep classes at Windsor, in the new number of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, page 699, is an account by Lord Moreton of the St. Kilda four-horned sheep. He writes: ‘They are said to be descendants of sheep which got ashore from an Armada ship wrecked on the island. Although my sheep have been bred for several generations in England, they are still inclined to be wild. I find the mutton excellent, though the joints are small. I get from 31b. to
41b. of wool of good quality. As a matter of fact, although called black sheep, they are really brown… But it does not seem to be remembered that these sheep have a peculiar habit of feeding freely on seaweed, so maintaining themselves in the winter time. The Armada legend is brought to account for every variation of horse, cattle, or sheep. But there seems little doubt that the St. Kilda sheep represent a descent from the wild Ovis, and therefore may have some capacity for crossing purposes.’”—Signed “G.,” Live-stock Journal, 20th December, 1889.
I therefore wrote to Lord Moreton for further particulars, and he very courteously replied as follows:—
“Sarsden House, Chipping Norton, Oxon,”
12th May, 1890.