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Earlier Stock Breeding

( Originally Published 1912 )



The first notable achievement in adapting animals to human needs as related to our present-day industry was the development of the Arabian horse. The occupation and manner of living common to the Arabian tribes rendered them dependent upon the fleetness and stamina of their horses. Shorn of all exaggeration and romance which literature has attached to these horses it is undeniable that for their time they were well calculated to be at once the wonder and despair of other peoples. Realizing the great advantage enjoyed in the superiority of their horse, the Arabs very cleverly and wisely surrounded his rearing with an atmosphere of mystery and guarded against his dissemination so as to long retain for themselves the blood which had taken them so long to purify from the coarseness and variableness of its ancestors.

The peculiar location of France caused its early monarchs to especially interest themselves in the horse stocks of their dominions. Because of the probability of being on unfriendly terms with adjoining countries from which the French soldiery would naturally be horsed it was endeavored to encourage and facilitate the rearing and maintenance of superior horses in order that they might be available for the armies in times of war. Though seriously interrupted at intervals this national assistance to French horse-raising has been continued and was never more efficient nor extended than at the present time. With the exception of some aid to the improvment of fine-wooled sheep, similar aid has not been extended to the other classes of stock. The blood of the Arabian was considerably used at an early date to refine the coarser native stocks, but a principal factor in production of existing types of horses has been the demands for special types of service and the use for breeding of those horses found most suitable to the demands of the prevailing kinds of labor. In later years the Arabian horse has been used but little.

England also drew from the stock of the Arabians in her work of perfecting the light horse for racing purposes, and the work was encouraged by King James I, who imported horses from the Orient in the early part of the seventeenth century. The succeeding reign saw other and more numerous importations of eastern stock, but it was the performance of Eclipse, foaled in 1764 and a great-great-grandson of a horse imported in 17o6, which marked the supremacy of the British-bred horses on the race course. The progeny of other horses of the same period showed that, though indebted to the Arabian, the skillful methods of selection practiced by English breeders had produced a much superior animal for their purposes.

Whether or not early improvers of farm stock profited by the work of the horse breeders we cannot tell, but it was in the latter part of the eighteenth century that there was inaugurated a most notable improvement of British farm stock. This era of stock improvement resulted in the origination of over a score of separate and distinct useful breeds of horses, cattle, 'sheep and swine, all well known in America today. American agriculture has drawn mainly on Britain for its live stock. That this is not due to an unreasoned preference for institutions of the mother country is shown by the patronage of continental breeders of Percheron horses, Holstein-Friesian cattle and Rambouillet sheep. Inasmuch as we still import from that small island, the area of which is scarcely equal to that of an average state, considerable numbers of six breeds of cattle, four of horses, nine of sheep and three of swine, the foundation of its animal husbandry is of more than ordinary interest. Although our chief interest is centered in events that transpired subsequent to 176o, it is not necessary to assume that animal husbandry was entirely chaos previous to that time.* British agriculturists of that day appreciated the relation of stock feeding to crop yields. It was recognized that the animals of some counties were quite distinct from those of other counties in their rate and manner of growth and fattening qualities. The necessity of using the best animals as breeders was understood and regarded by some, though it cannot be said that there was anything like a general application of that principle.

he development of British breeds of live stock dates from 1760. It was at about this time that Robert Bakewell assumed the management of the estate on which his father and grandfather had resided at Dishley in Leicestershire.

Although his most notable success was achieved with the sheep known as Bakewell or Dishley Leicesters, his work in the breeding of Longhorn cattle has been of inestimable value to all branches of the breeding industry. The practices he relied upon in his breeding of Longhorn cattle are still the mainstay of breeders throughout the world.

The accomplishments of Bakewell served his entire country. His surplus stock became distributed through the adjoining counties, but of more importance than this was the force of his example and the spread of information regarding the marked improvement he had effected and his means of attaining his ends. With the need for stock raising becoming more and more apparent and the more discriminating demands of consumers of meats, the example of Bakewell lent an impetus to British stock interests which resulted in that country's reaching the foremost position which she still occupies.

The earliest Short-horn breeders, the Colling brothers, were students of Bakewell's and aroused world-wide attention by the prices received at their sale in 181o.

On the western side of England the cattle raisers of Herefordshire had produced a class of cattle adapted to their climate and system of raising, but the most effectual improvement was effected by men who were con-temporaries of Bakewell or lived after his time.

In 1822 a start was made in recording the pedigrees of Short-horn cattle and a similar work for the Herefords was commenced in 1846. It was not until 1 862 that Scotch cattle provided registration for their cattle though they had attained more than local eminence prior to that date. The Red Polled cattle of Norfolk and Suffolk counties were first recorded in 1874 and the Devons were recorded in 1851.

The improvement of the sheep stock seems to have followed more closely after the work of Bakewell than did that of cattle. It was upon his Leicester sheep that the fame of this great breeder of Dishley chiefly rested and it is not surprising that the shepherds should have been the first to emulate his example of improvement. Al-though we have a seeming profusion of breeds of British sheep, each was the result of the endeavors of breeders of a particular county to perfect a breed that would be the most economical producer under their conditions of climate and soil and their systems of cropping and feeding. Though there was some use of older breeds in some cases, still the distinguishing characteristics of size and color of face are mainly traceable to similar appearances that happened to be present in the original native stock. Although breeders of Leicesters were working in cooperation prior to the death of Bakewell, the system of registering pedigrees of sheep was not adopted until many years after most of the breeds had been developed and had earned a general popularity in their respective sections.

At an early date Gloucester and parts of adjoining shires has become known for the distinctive characteristics of the sheep native to that section. During the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century this breed, the Cotswold, received liberal infusion of the blood of the more refined and easy feeding Leicester. Considerable numbers of descendants of Bakewell's flock also found their way into neighboring shires to modify some of the weaker features of the stock that had been developed there.

By the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century the farmers of the chalky hill lands of the shire of Sussex had, without resort to other blood, brought their sheep to a high order of utility. John Ellman and Jonas Webb did extraordinary service in the perfection of this breed, the Southdown, and though we cannot say what their familiarity with Bakewell's work was, the product of their efforts has been distributed even more widely than the stock reared at Dishley.

In succeeding years the Southdown sheep made a strong impression on those of Hampshire and still later the stock of Hampshire was drawn upon to mate with Cotswolds for the formation of a type with the most useful combination of characteristics for the agriculture of Oxfordshire, and the sheep bearing this latter name were admitted to separate classification at the 1862 show of the Royal Agricultural Society. Nine years previous the same recognition had been accorded the descendants of the native stock of Shropshire and Stafford, though such descendants owed much to the blood of both Leicester and Southdown.

The practical appreciation of the value of carefully bred stock that prompted the formation of so many breeds has never flagged. The limited size of the country and the large population, in spite of importation of food ma terials, have ensured remunerative prices for animals and their products and the general practice of selling animals rather than crops has sustained the yields from the soil. Practically all animals in every part of the island show a preponderance of ancestry of some of the breeds, and British agriculture is based no less upon the superiority of the farm animals than upon the spirit that would retain or use only the best that could be procured or produced.



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