National Geographic : 1952 Jan
America's "Meat on the Hoof" For some three-quarters of a century they have herded America's sheep. When immigra tion laws prohibited their entry into the United States after World War II, a decided shortage of herders developed. Many sheep men insisted this was the principal reason for the decline in our sheep population. Now that the laws are relaxed for the Basques, ranchers are hopeful of acquiring new herders. Lambing on the range in midwinter is mostly a thing of the past in the West. Today the flocks are brought in to huge lambing sheds, about the end of February in the Twin Falls region. At the Clyde Bacon ranch be tween Ketchum and Twin Falls the ewes are driven into a big corral. When the lambs start to arrive, feverish activity marks every hour of day and night. Men attend the ewes, and, when a lamb is born, they immediately place it on a wheelbarrow and start for one of a series of tiny sheltered pens. The mother sheep instinctively follows. Prime duty of the attendant, once he has reached the pen with his charge, is to see that the lamb begins to suckle. Then, with a belly full of warm milk, and curled up at its moth er's side in the shelter of the pen, it is ready to withstand below-zero temperatures, bliz zards, sleet, or anything else climatic. Within 24 hours mother and offspring are moved to a larger enclosure to make room for another ewe and its newborn. By the first of April the flock is ready to return to the range. Shipping Time Is Hectic Lamb shipping time is another hectic ex perience. At Ketchum huge shipping pens have been built alongside a Union Pacific Railroad spur. A flock of ewes and lambs is driven into the main corral. Then, one by one, ewes followed by their lambs go down a narrow passageway with a fork at the end which leads to two enclosures. At the fork is a swinging gate. As ewes and lambs approach, a keen-eyed, fast-moving sheepman swings the gate back and forth, sending the lambs into one enclo sure, the ewes into the other. Then the lambs are led up chutes into double-decker stock cars to go to market; the ewes go back to pasture. Nine British breeds of sheep (Shropshire, Hampshire, Oxford, Lincoln, Cotswold, South down, Cheviot, Dorset, and Suffolk), the French Rambouillet, which is related to the Spanish Merino, and the New Zealand Cor riedale are recognized at the International Live Stock Exposition. This annual classic of the livestock world brings together the Nation's best purebred cattle, sheep, and swine. Under its president, Dr. J. C. Andrew, La Fayette, Indiana breeder of Aberdeen-Angus cattle and Shropshire sheep, it sets purebred livestock standards. But none of the purebred sheep are entirely suited to the western ranges, so sheepmen con stantly seek crosses which will have the meat properties of the British breeds, the wool qualities of the Rambouillet, and the hardiness which range foraging requires. The U. S. Sheep Experimental Station at Dubois, Idaho, has developed a breed known as the Columbia which has become popular on the ranges. Foundation stock was a cross between the Lincoln and the Rambouillet. Experiments with Multinippled Sheep Near the close of the 19th century Alex ander Graham Bell, the inventor, turned his versatile mind to sheep breeding and initiated an unusual experiment. He wanted to breed ewes that would bear twins and triplets con sistently. He knew that, among many ani mals, those with a larger number of mammae produced more offspring at a single time. At his summer home in Beinn Breagh, Nova Scotia, he began to build a flock of multi nippled native sheep, including rare 6-nippled specimens. At the time of Dr. Bell's death in 1922 the ewe flock was producing multiple lambs in more than 50 percent of the births. After Mrs. Bell's death a year later the flock was turned over to the New Hampshire Experiment Station. Since Dr. Bell had not yet been able to concentrate on improvement of mutton or fleece quality, this step was taken next, and the Beinn Breagh sheep were mated with a Rambouillet-Southdown cross. The high twinning capacity was retained, and by 1939 nearly 80 percent of the ewes had mul tiple births. But later the experiments came to an end with the transfer of the. flock to another station. Last January the first Merino sheep ex ported from Australia to any country other than New Zealand for the last 25 years ar rived at the University of California College of Agriculture. Three rams and nine ewes from the best strain of Australian Merinos, finest wool-bearing animals in the world, were added to the University's breeding project and shipped to its field station high in the mountains. The object of the program is to put better wool on the backs of American sheep. The Merinos were sent under an exclusive grant by the Commonwealth of Australia. Elko, Nevada, lies in the heart of the West's range country. The cattle population of Elko County is almost as large as the human popu lation of the entire State. Here survives the spirit of the Old West. Cowboys with their high-heeled boots go to movies on Saturday nights, chiefly to see Western films.