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THE EARLY MATURITY OF LIVE STOCK.
By HENRY EVERSHED,
The well-known Author of various articles, papers, and pamphlets on Agricultural Crops, Stock, &c., in the “Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England,” the Agricultural Newspapers, A’ertiews, &c.
Most persons are aware that the cattle and sheep of three hundred years ago were exceedingly diminutive compared with those of the present day. They were slow, too, of growth. Even a hundred years ago, notwithstanding the improvement of breeds which had at that time been effected, sheep and cattle were rarely killed until they had attained the age of three or four years. An erroneous notion seemed to have prevailed that an animal must have attained its full growth before it could be profitably fattened. The great breeders of the modern epoch were Bakewell, the brothers Colling, and John Ellman, who respectively turned their attention to Longhorns and Leicester sheep, Shorthorns and Southdowns, and under their skilful management, by cross-breeding and selection of the most fit, their representatives of these various breeds assumed the shape which, in all animals of their order, is associated with rapid growth and early maturity—the square figure, the deep chest, the round and spreading carcase, the rotund belly, and mild countenance. Under Ellman's care the little Southdown of old times, with its small carcase, flat sides and light fleece, became the most useful and famous of short-woolled sheep. The better breeds replaced the older sorts throughout the country, as Mr. Youatt observes in his work on sheep, where he states that certain “disgraceful breeds,” as he terms them, had been replaced by better stock. It is true that in many cases the size of the animals was diminished. When the great, clumsy Teeswater sheep, for example, was crossed with Ellman's Dishley—Leicester—the effect was the production of a sheep of diminutive size, now known as the Wensleydale sheep. There is still a superstition on this point and a leaning to mere size. But when a smaller sheep is rounder and more compact than another, it comes to maturity sooner, and it makes better use of its food than a bigger and coarser animal of inferior build. The same remark applies to cattle. On the principle that “like produces like,” the habit of quick fattening and early maturity is transmitted to the offspring; and the breed, with proper care, becomes permanently improved. The period of the great breeders whose names have just been mentioned, may be called, with accuracy, the golden age of discovery in the breeding of live stock; and if we refer to Youatt's Synopsis, in the Complete Grazier (1846), we shall find that subsequent breeders kept in view the aims of their predecessors, and that continuous progress has been effected up to the present time, as a comparison of weights and ages at different periods shows. Seventy years ago the average weight of Southdown wethers was nine stone, and at that time they were usually fattened at two years old. Before Ellman's improvements the sheep of the older Southdown breed were rarely fattened until three years old. They are now commonly brought to market at a year old, weighing nine to ten stone each. Other sheep have been improved in proportion; so that by virtue of earlier maturity those stock farmers who maintain superior sheep of the best breeds, and who practice scientific methods of feeding, can reap the fruit of a hundred years' discovery and progression. They can produce their beef and mutton at a cheaper rate, or in other words, each acre of their turnips and forage crops yields a greater weight of meat; and, more than that, they can afford better cultivation of the land, and a greater production of green crops by means of higher farming. It is obvious, too, that the corn crops are rendered more productive under this system, owing to the increased fertility of the soil, cattle being the cheapest source of good home-made dung, while “muck” is, as an old saw has it, “the mother of meal.” It was formerly asserted by theorists that, as maturity implies complete growth and development, which neither cattle nor sheep can reach even in two years, that fattening at thirty months old must be a more natural and profitable system than the production of year-old mutton and “baby beef.” Young meat, it was said, must necessarily be inferior. This, however, may be doubted. It is admitted that young meat costs the least, and as to which is the best, consumers have declared their preference for that which is tender and digestible, and for small joints not too fat. According to the experience of Professors Simonds and G. T. Brown, who have written on dentition, the teeth of cattle, sheep and swine are developed at earlier periods than those stated by Youatt, and this earlier development appears to have been induced by the improved systems of breeding and feeding. Hence it is thought that it may be possible to induce the animals of the farm to produce their young at an earlier period than was formerly their habit. This has in fact been done under the Hampshire system, of using ram lambs for breeding purposes, and in the practice of those who, like Mr. de Mornay, of Wallingford, obtain from the ewe four instead of three crops of lambs in four years, and also by those numerous breeders of cattle who arrange for the first calf, when the heifer is two-and-a-half years old, or about six months before the completion of permanent dentition. Whatever theories may be in vogue, it is certain that within the past thirty years a great advance has been accomplished by expert farmers in the ripening of cattle for market, when young. The taste of consumers has completely altered. Even ten years ago the marketing of young bullocks at sixteen to twenty months old was rarely practised. It is now common; one hears everywhere that old-fashioned feeders who have brought their prime, ripe, three-year-old bullocks to market, have found to their disgust—especially in summer—that the young bullocks are much more saleable than their own, and fetch higher prices—small joints of beef being preferred to large ones. In the county of Surrey, which shares with Sussex the honour of having introduced this plan of rapid ripening of cattle, an accomplished agriculturist has reared at home and fattened, in a single year, one hundred and seventy young bullocks, which were sold at from fourteen to eighteen months old, at an average weight of sixty-five stone of eight pounds each, the average price being 4, 17 15s., so that the animals must have brought their owner, after paying for the calf, 4s. 7%d. per week. Young bullocks will gain eight pounds per week in weight from birth till eighteen months old, and it appears that a skilful feeder, having good-sized and well-bred animals to deal with, may vie with the experts who prepare animals for the shows; the gain of bullocks
under two years old exhibited at Islington not having exceeded 91.0 lb. per week. A slow breed cannot of course be fattened rapidly, and slow breeds, or inferior animals of all breeds, are at present only too common ; but in the case of fairly good specimens of the improved breeds it is now recognised that early fattening is mainly a question of good feeding. It cannot be said, at present, that the majority of farmers are experts in the feeding of stock; on the contrary, there is no branch of farming so much neglected, especially by the lesser farmers. Passing now from beef to mutton, the management of sheep is nowhere better understood than on the great sheep farms, tenanted by capitalists, in Hampshire and the adjacent counties, the home of the famous Hampshire Down sheep, which holds the first position, for early maturity, of all the breeds in the world. The system of early fattening pursued by the skilled agriculturists of this district has altered the management entirely. The breeding-farms have ceased to be breeding-farms exclusively, and the great farms where the lambs were formerly disposed of as stores, to be fattened in other counties, have been replaced, to a great extent, by auction marts, where the wether lambs are sold, fat, to butchers from London and elsewhere. On the farm of an eminent breeder and feeder the wether lambs, born in January, will be found, on September 1st, feeding on rape, with plenty of cake and corn, and weighing at seven months old not less than eight or nine stone each, the whole flock averaging ten stone when sold as mutton under one year old. Even these results, great as they are, have been exceeded, as shown in the following extract from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society. In an article