(Reprinted from Paddocks and Perches, no. 6, December 2002)
MUCH IS MADE of the breeds of fowl that fell from favour and died out in the mid decades of the twentieth century, in fact there is currently a strong push to recreate phenotypic copies of them. A number of sheep breeds have also become extinct, one possibly even during the nineteenth century. Rare breed enthusiasts may like to know a little about these long lost purebreds.
The Cotswold, North Devon and Teeswater were large framed fleece breeds that contributed to the development of the Australian sheep industry. They still exist today in Britain, their homeland.
The Cotswold declined to very low numbers in Britain in the early twentieth century and while a resurgence of interest has occurred, the breed is categorised vulnerable by the English RBST (Rare Breeds Survival Trust).
The North Devon has successively been renamed the Devon Longwoolled and more recently the Devon and Cornwall Longwool, after amalgamation with another West Country breed. The Devon and Cornwall Longwool produces a lustrous strong wool used in carpet making and furnishing fabrics while its lambswool is sought for knitwear and dress fabrics.
The Teeswater enjoyed decades of use as a terminal sire over hill bred ewes, producing lean prime lamb, plus it has been one of the breeds used to form the Masham, a sheep much used for first cross ewes, with male lambs consistently fetching good prices in the marketplace. The breed is classed Endangered by the RBST.
So what were the contributions of these breeds to the Australian sheep industry? The Teeswater was one of the first purebreds in Australia. It arrived in 1804, three ewes and a ram being sent out to Major Johnstone from his patron, the Duke of Northumberland, and publicised in the Sydney Gazette of September 9 of that year. Southdown arrived around the same time, their presence in the colony substantiated in a letter written by Reverend Marsden to Sir Joseph Banks in 1805: ‘We have got sheep of the Spanish, Southdown and Teeswater breeds’. (1)
Offspring of the original Teeswater imports were taken to Tasmania around 1806, to the new settlement at Port Dalrymple. There they were used for crossing with Cape and Bengal sheep to improve fleece and carcase size. They were a thickbodied sheep that laid down much meat and fat, producing a fine grained carcase. They also had a reputation for fecundity, far ahead of that of the new Leicester and the Lincoln, popular breeds of the period.
The Teeswater greatly improved the early colonial sheep. Surveyor General G W Evans made the observation that at Port Dalrymple weights of wethers of 70-80 pounds were common as compared to Port Jackson where they weighed no more than 40 pounds. Repeated crossings had led to ‘the greater part of the sheep (at Port Dalrymple) having become…nearly all of the pure Teeswater breed’. (2)
Teeswater played a major role in improving the quality of sheep in the years when meat for feeding the new settlements was a priority. By 1819, flock numbers in Tasmania had increased to the point where supply outstripped need, and the first consignment of wool could be exported.
The Teeswater may have been the first breed to disappear from Tasmania. ‘Once the sheep breeding industry started to take shape, the Teeswater seems to have been discarded and it would be safe to assume that few, if any, importations took place after 1825’. (3)
The North Devon was known as both the Devonshire Nott and Bampton Nat at the start of the eighteenth century. The breed was native to the moors of Devon and farmed for its wool. It was not dissimilar looking to the Teeswater or Leicester, and experimentally minded gentry had brought in and crossed new Leicester rams over local Notts, but the latter ‘appear to have derived no permanent benefit’. (4)
Little is known about the North Devon in Australia, but Albert Hawkesworth wrote in the third edition of his book Australian Sheep and Wool, that ‘this is a breed of sheep which has come into great prominence…it is little known in these states, its introduction being in the experimental stages which so far give such excellent results that it only requires Mr Carter, Mr A A Dangar’s manager at Mooki Springs, to continue his successes with his North Devon sires on the Merinos…to induce many farmers to fall into line’. (5)
Mr Dangar allowed the NSW Department of Agriculture to carry out tests
in the 1920s using North Devon rams so they could evaluate the breed’s
performance alongside that of other purebreds. The findings possibly hold
the clue to the breed’s demise in this country: ‘It furnished
what appears to be a serviceable class of sheep, which, on average, are
slightly lighter in body weight than similar types by the Border Leicester,
but heavier than the progeny of the Lincolns and
Leicester. The wool is a useful class but not equal in weight to the other three breeds.’ (6) No further mention of the breed occurred in twentieth century sheep books so it can be presumed that it dwindled in numbers and soon died out.
The Cotswold also disappeared around this time. Despite centuries of dominance as a fleece sheep in England, it failed to find a niche in the evolving wool industry in Australia. Flocks had been established by the Van Diemans Land Company in 1827 and taken on by leading island breeders, including the Archer family. A comparison of sale prices at the Sydney Sheep Show and Sale in 1894 highlights the popularity of Lincoln, Romney and Southdown, with rams averaging between three and a little over five pounds against the one pound ten shillings average of the Cotswold rams. (7)
‘The Cotswold is described as being massive and having a grand frame…they were the appropriate breed to counter the diminutive size of the founding sheep.’ (8) They followed the foundations laid by the Teeswater, but were too similar to both the Lincoln and Leicester to find a special niche. They were useful for furnishing a serviceable dual purpose sheep when mated to Merinos, but being a large headed sheep, ‘the progeny naturally incline that way so that the ewe has great difficulty in giving birth to the lamb, and thus many ewes lose their lives…the selection of large plain bodied Merino ewes is necessary to be profitable’. (9) It has been suggested Cotswolds died out in the 1930s.
Occasionally mention of one of more of these breeds pops up in books or magazine articles, but the chance of remnant stock still existing is exceedingly low.
Last updated 6 January, 2005