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The plate on previous page is a very good likeness of a French Merino ram, the property of Silas M. Burroughs, of Medina, Orleans county, N. Y. This buck was imported in 1850, by John A. Taintor, of Connecticut, from the celebrated flock of M. Gilbert, of Rambouillet, France, and exhibited at the State Fair at Albany, the same year. This sheep is believed to be one of the largest, and carrying as heavy if not the heaviest fleece, of any of this class imported from France. A brief description of the French Merinos is annexed.
At several annual exhibitions of this society, Merino sheep imported from France, have attracted much attention, and inquiries are frequently made as to the origin and character of this peculiar variety. It is generally known that this family of sheep was originated in Spain, but in what manner first bred there, is not precisely known. Of thieir character and origin, the Hon. Robert R. Livingston, in his “ Essay on Sheep,” published under the patronage of the Legislature of the State of New York, in 1809, thus speaks :
“ As the Merino sheep are greatly superior to any other in Europe, it has naturally led to an inquiry into their origin, and the time of their introduction into Spain. On this subject, history does not afford all the light we could wish, Many suppose that they were originally introduced from the coast of Barbary, by Don Pedro the IVth, who ascended the throne of Castile in the middle of the fourteenth century. Others again attribute their introduction to Cardinal Ximenes, who became Prime Minister of Spain in the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Yet it is certain that fine wooled sheep were found in that country at a much earlier period. Strabo, speaking of the beautiful woolen clothes worn hy the Romans, says, that the wool was brought from Truditania, in Spain. After the conquest of that country by the Romans, colonies were planted there, who carried with them the arts and love of agriculture which distinguished that nation of warriors. Columella, (uncle of Columella who has left us an excellent treatise on agri
culture) a rich colonist who lived at Cadiz during the reign of Claudius, and made agriculture his pleasure and his pursuit, was struck with the beauty of the wild rams that were brought from Africa to be exhibited at the Roman games. He coupled those with Terentian ewes which were celebrated for the softness of their wool, and procured by this means a race whose fleeces resembled that of their dam in softness, and that of their sire in the color and fineness of the wool.
Pedro the IVth, more than thirteen hundred years after the death of Columella, revived his experiments on an enlarged scale, and introduced a great number of sheep from Barbary. His efforts were crowned with success, and Spain became in the fourteenth century what she had been in the time of the Romans, famous for the fineness of her wool. The race was again renewed from Africa by Cardinal Ximenes, two hundred years afterwards. From these circumstances it is highly probable that Spain owes her Merino race to the mixture of her native sheep with those of Barbary.
of the introduction of Merino sheep into France, Chancellor Livingston says: “It having been fully ascertained by a variety of experiments patronized by the administration, aod conducted by enlightened agriculturists, that the Merino sheep might be acclimated in France without any change in their wool, application was made by Louis XVI, to the king of Spain for permission to export from thence a number of Merinos. This was not only granted, but orders were given by the Spanish monarch that they should be selected from the finest flocks in old Spain. In the year 1786, four hundred rams and ewes arrived in France under the care of Spanish shepherds. These are said to have been so much superior to any that had before been introduced, as not to admit of any comparison between them, which will easily be credited by those who know the difference between picked sheep and a whole flock taken together, even when the sheep are of one race. Having mentioned the superiority in size and beauty of the national flocks of France, it may be satisfactory to know the quality of their wool.
This is given from the report of M. Gilbert, one of the mem bers of the National Institute of France.
“ The stock from which the flock of Rambouillet was derived, was composed of individuals beautiful beyond any that had ever before been brought from Spain ; but having been chosen from a great number of flocks in different parts of the kingdom, they were distinguished by very striking local differences, which formed a medly disagreeable to the eye, but immaterial as it affected their quality. These characteristic differences have been melted into each other by their successive alliances, and from thence have resulted a race which perhaps resembles none of those which composed the primitive stock, but which certainly does not yield in any circumstance to the most beautiful in point of size, form, and strength ; or in the fineness, length, softness, strength, and abundance of the fleece. * * * * * Almost all the fleeces of the rams of two years and upwards, weigh from twelve to thirteen pounds, but the mean weight taking rams and ewes together, has not quite attained to eight pounds, after deducting the tags and the wool of the belly, which are sold separately."
The following account of the French Merinos was prepared by the editor of the American Agriculturist, and published July, 1813, after having expended much time in examining them, and was copied into the “ American Shepherd, being a history of the Sheep-by L. A: Morrell,” published in 1950, page 80.
“The result of our observations, and the information we obtained with respect to these Spanish Merinos from the royal flocks of Rambouillet, and the produce bred from them in this country, is :
“1. They possess as good constitutions, and are as thrifty and as hardy as any native or imported sheep whatever.
“2. They attain a great age having been known to reach twenty years, and may be depended on as good breeders till twelve or fourteen years old.
“3. They have large loose skins, full of folds; especially around the neck and below it, on the shoulders, and not unfrequently