How to Grow Sheep

Extract from Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management ~ 1861

The great object of the grazier is to procure an animal that will yield the greatest pecuniary return in the shortest time.

In other words, soonest convert grass and turnips into good mutton and fine fleece.

All sheep will not do this alike. Some, like men, are so restless and irritable, that no system of feeding, however good, will develop their frames or make them fat.

The system adopted by the breeder to obtain a valuable animal for the butcher, or wool mill, is to enlarge the capacity and functions of the digestive organs, and reduce those of the head and chest, or the mental and respiratory organs. In the first place, the mind should be tranquillized, and those spaces that can never produce animal fibre curtailed, and greater room afforded, as in the abdomen, for those that can.

And as nothing militates against the fattening process so much as restlessness, the chief wish of the grazier is to find a dull, indolent sheep, one who, instead of frisking himself, leaping his wattles, or even condescending to notice the butting gambols of his silly companions, silently fills his paunch with pasture, and then seeking a shady nook, indolently and luxuriously chows his cud with closed eyes and blissful satisfaction, only rising when his delicious repast is ended, to proceed silently and without emotion to repeat the pleasing process of laying in more provender, and then returning to his dreamy siesta to renew the delightful task of rumination.

Such animals are said to have a lymphatic temperament, and are of so kindly a nature, that on good pasturage they may be said to grow daily. The Leicestershire breed is the best example of this lymphatic and contented animal, and the active Orkney, who is half goat in his habits, of the restless and unprofitable.

The rich pasture of England's midland counties would take years in making the wiry Orkney fat and profitable, while one day's fatigue in climbing rocks after a coarse and scanty herbage would probably cause the actual death of the pampered and short-winded Leicester.  

Illustration by Richard's Drawing

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