Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/617

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General Observations on the various breeds, Colonial Sheep, manner of cutting up, table of prices, etc.

The origin of domesticated sheep is by no means clear, although much pains has been taken by naturalists to trace their history. In the exhaustive treatise on sheep by William Youatt, published in 1837, an interesting account is given of both wild and domesticated sheep, and the reader is carried back to the time of Abel, who sacrificed "the firstlings of his flock." The constant allusions to sheep in the book of Genesis are remarkable, and the patriarch Jacob was a successful breeder. The whiteness of the wool is emphasized in several passages of the Old Testament, and Gideon's fleece was used as a prophetic sign. Homer sang of sheep, and Moses attended the flocks of Jethro. The shepherd kings conquered Egypt, and the patriarchs were warned by their brother Joseph to speak of themselves to Pharaoh as understanding "cattle" because "every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians." Nevertheless a few verses on we read that when Pharaoh asked "What is your occupation?" the honest reply was "Thy servants are shepherds, both we and also our fathers." Sheep in that early period were in many respects similar to what they are now. The most esteemed wool was white, the lambs and rams were fat, the flocks were tended, washed, shorn and milked. Lambs without spot or blemish were sacrificed to Jehovah, and rams' skins dyed red were used in embellishing the Tabernacle of the congregation.


Truly wild sheep such as Ovis ammon or argae, Ovis musmon, etc., do not appear to be the progenitors of Ovis aries or the domesticated sheep, the wild types of which seem to have disappeared completely. The great naturalist Darwin was unable to throw any light on the origin of our sheep, and despairingly remarks: "Most authors look at our domestic sheep as descended from several distinct species. Mr.