Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meet the Sheep: Bonnie Jane and Daisy

By: Allison Shelly, Farm Programs Intern
There is a tale from a long time ago that tells of a great naval battle. Homelands are to be protected and invaders to be pushed back. Ships crash against waves and fail to see the rocky shore line, breaking into pieces. The surviving crew swim desperately to shore avoiding the dangerous rocks, finally getting precious land under their legs. They struggle onto shore wet and bedraggled to a new life and a new home, a home that their descendants would grow up in and adapt to.

Who would think that this tale of great ships and shipwrecks would have anything to do with The Farmers’ Museum in the middle of beautiful New York, miles from the dangerous seas, but it does. For it was by the shores of Great Britain that the great Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel to attack England, and it was there that the English successfully turned them away. But what of those wet crew members floundering onto shore? Why they were sheep of course! The might even be great great great ancestors of our very own Cheviot sheep, Daisy and Bonnie Jane.
Our two full grown Cheviot sheep, Bonnie Jane (left) and Daisy (right) relax in the field. 
There has long been speculation that Cheviot sheep could have been descendants of the sheep that may have escaped from ships in the Spanish Armada. The American Cheviot Sheep Society includes a brief history of the breed in one of their Flock books and they mention such a story. But they are not completely convinced, saying, “This tale, however, has also been given in explanation of the origin of yet other breeds, so that coming from the sea, we may accept it as somewhat fishy in flavor and quality.” Instead, they feel that the Cheviot’s had been living in the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland for a long time and were originally called “long sheep”. Slowly the name changed to Cheviot sheep, after the Cheviot Hills where they lived.

Whether or not the origins of the Cheviot breed began with heroic sheep swimming ashore or by humbler means, the breed’s introduction to the United States is less mysterious. They arrived later than the Tunis, around 1838, and were imported right into the state of New York by Robert Young of Delaware County. More of the breed entered the United States in 1842, brought by George Lowe, and came to live not far from here in Hartwick. The breed spread into the southern counties of New York, especially our very own Otsego County.

Like the Tunis sheep, Cheviots are listed as a meat breed by the American Sheep Industry Association, but this does not mean that their wool is useless. In fact the historic American Cheviot Sheep Society found great pride in Cheviot wool, claiming that it has fewer oils in it than other sheep and, when washed clean, it is the whitest wool on any sheep. In fact even in the field you can identify the Cheviots by their very white wool.
A close up of Daisy (front left) and Bonnie Jane (front right), with our  Tunis sheep in the background.
Next time you visit the Lippitt Farm, see if you can tell the difference between our sheep. The Tunis has red or light brown legs and face with cream colored wool. The Cheviot has white wool and a white face with no wool on the legs. Any sheep that does not look like these two must be the sheep for the next post, the Delaine- Merinos! So come stop by; Bonnie Jane, Daisy and their lambs always love visitors! 

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