Oliver Farming in Mower County, Minnesota (Part I): Purebred Suffolk Sheep Raising

Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota (Part I):

Suffolk Sheep Raising

by

Brian Wayne Wells

Mower County, Minnesota is located on the southern border of the State of Minnesota, adjacent to the State of Iowa.  In 1941, Mower County was a predominately rural county.  Topographically, Mower County is located in a transition area.  Starting in western Mower County and extending into Freeborn County to the west the land becomes very flat.  However the land in eastern Mower County and extending east into Fillmore County the land becomes increasingly more hilly.  Additionally, the soil itself in the eastern part of Mower County is sandy and is not as rich as the darker humus soil in the western part of the county.

Mower County is located on the southern boundary of Minnesota, in a sandy soil part of the state of Minnesota.

 

Located in the extreme southwest corner of Mower County was Lyle Township.  Immediately, to the east of Lyle Township was Nevada Township.  In 1941, on one particular farm in Nevada Township, lived a man and his wife and two adult sons.  Our Nevada Township farmer had lived on this farm all his life.  Indeed, his parents had owned and operated this same farm before him.  As he had come of age on the farm, he had gradually taken over more responsibility for the farming operation from his parents.  In 1919, he had married his wife and together they had moved into the same large house with his parents.  In 1920, when his wife had become pregnant with their eldest son, his parents had decided to officially retire and move into Austin, the county seat of Mower County.  Austin (1940 pop. 18,307) was located in the middle of Austin Township, northwest of Nevada Township and straight north of Lyle Township.

 

Looking north along the main street of Lyle, Minnesota

 

Like many farms in the Midwestern United States, the 160-acre farm on which our Nevada Township farmer and his family lived was “diversified farm.”  Diversified farming operations were those farming operations that raised a variety of crops and animals rather than specializing in only one crop or one type of livestock.  Faced with the typical market fluctuations for the various farm commodities, our Nevada Township farmer, like other diversified farmers sought to avoid “putting all his eggs in one basket.”  Rather than growing only one cash crop or raising only one type of livestock on the farm, our Nevada Township farmer raised corn, oats and hay.  And he milked dairy cows raised pigs, and had about 200 laying hens in his chicken house.  In this way, he hoped that if there was a “softness” or decline in the price of one of these commodity markets, the other commodities would help him maintain a near stable cash income for the year.

With the wooden double corn crib, here on the right side of the photo,  full of ear corn the farmer also fills the cylindrical wire corn crib.   This seems to a bumper crop year.

Traditionally, corn was the main “cash crop” of the farming operation.  However, not all of the corn could be sold for cash.  Some of the corn had to be retained on the farm for animal feed.  First there were the cattle.  In late August, while the corn was still green, a portion of the corn would be chopped and blown into the silo to be fed as “ensilage” to the dairy cows during the winter time.  The rest of the corn was allowed to ripen and the ears of the corn were harvested in October or November each year.

Until 1940 our Nevada Township farmer did all his farming with horses. Here a farmer uses the horses to bring the bundles of corn in from the field, which are then fed into a stationary silo filler. the corn bundles are then chopped and blown into the silo.

 

Currently, there was a neighbor that did custom corn picking for many farmers in the neighborhood.  This neighbor had recently purchased a Wood Brothers Company one-row pull-type corn picker which he used to do the “custom picking in the neighborhood.  Our Nevada Township farmer hired this neighbor each year to pick the corn on his farm.  (Years later another family living in Nevada Township, the Greg and Anita Ferrell family, might have been neighbors of our Nevada Township farmer.  Greg Ferrell is the proprietor of a business dealing in antique tractor parts.  With an inventory consisting of a large number of International Harvester and Farmall tractor parts, Greg Ferrell has attracted the attention of a number of collectors of Farmall tractor collectors including the present author, who has purchased a number of parts from Greg for the Wells family’s growing collection of antique tractors in the years since 2016 after meeting Greg at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet held on April 22, 23 & 24th of 2016 .)

A front view of the Wood Bros. Company one row corn picker.
A front view of the Wood Bros. Company one row corn picker.

Once the corn was harvested, the ear corn was placed in the corn crib where it was allowed to dry all winter in the cold dry air.  In February or March following the harvest the dried most of the ear corn was shelled.  A portion of the ear corn retained on the farm and was ground in the feed grinder—cob and all—to become feed for the milking cows.  The cobs in the cow feed provided a certain amount of roughage for the cattle.  Our Nevada Township farmer provided an additional scoopful of this ground corn to each lactating cow at each milk time.  This small amount of ground corn fed to the lactating cows twice a day allowed the extra calories that the cows needed to continue supplying milk.  Furthermore, since most of the cows were also pregnant, the additional calories in the ear corn also supported the growing unborn calf the cow was carrying.

Part of the ear corn that was shelled each February or March would be stored in the granary to be used as animal feed on the farm.  A portion of the shelled corn would be ground in a feed grinder and fed to the feeder pigs.  Grinding the shelled corn in a feed grinder allowed the pigs to digest the corn easier and more efficiently.  The concentrated calories in corn quickly brought the feeder pigs up to market weight.  Another portion of the corn retained on the farm each year would be fed to the chickens along with some oats.  The calories in corn and the protein in oats would provide a balanced diet for the chickens and kept their egg laying at a maximum.  Because chickens have gizzards, which can digest very coarse food, both the shelled corn and the oats could be fed to the chickens without grinding or other processing.

Our Nevada Township farmer would blend in some oats when grinding the cow feed.  Oats contained less calories and more protein than corn.  Accordingly, the cow feed was not as rich in calories as was the pig feed.  Our Nevada Township farmer did not want the dairy cattle to become fat—like beef cattle.  He wanted a balanced diet.  The milking cows needed more roughage and protein than they needed concentrated calories.  They did not need to put on a great deal of weight like pigs or beef cattle.

Even after sufficient corn had been retained on the farm for all these animals, a large amount of shelled corn remained.  All of this remaining corn would be sold to the Hunting Company grain elevator in the small village of Lyle, Minnesota (1940 pop. 513), located about 9 miles to the southwest of the farm in neighboring Lyle Township.  This corn supplied a large part of the cash income for his farming operation each year.

The Hunting elevator as it looks today.
The Hunting elevator as it looks today.

When our Nevada Township farmer had taken over control of the farming operation from his parents in 1920, horses provided the power for field operations, exclusively.  Accordingly, in addition to feeding the cows, pigs and chickens on his farm, a great portion of the oats and hay, he raised on the farm fed the horses he used on the farm.  Accordingly, one field on the farm had been set aside for raising hay for the horses and the dairy herd.  Although the horses were used primarily only in the summer, they had to be fed all year long.  Additionally, another field had to be set aside each year for the raising oats for feed for the horses, cattle, pigs and chickens on the farm.

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Originally advertised as the Model A 3-5 Plow tractor, the standard four-wheel tractor delivered 28 horsepower (hp.) to the drawbar and 44 hp. to the belt pulley.  Thus, the tractor became known as the Model 28-44.

He had been aware, for some time, that he could increase the efficiency of his farming operation by mechanizing the power source on his farm.  Subsequently in 1940, Our Nevada Township farmer obtained a used 1937 Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor.  This tractor was also called the “3-5 plow tractor.”  The tractor was a “used” tractor, but was only three (3) years old.  The Model 28-44 certainly was a great improvement to his farming operation.  The tractor performed all the heavy duty field work such as plowing and discing much more quickly than with horses.  Previously, these heavy duty field tasks had required the use of four or six horses harnessed together.  As time went by, our Nevada Township farmer even began using the Model 28-44 for lighter duty field work.  He had shortened the tongue on his Oliver/Superior horse-drawn two-row corn planter so that he could use the tractor to pull the planter across the field in the spring.  Our Nevada Township farmer found that he was able to reduce the number of work horses he kept on the farm.  Soon the only field task, which he not able to perform with his Model 28-44 tractor was the cultivation of corn.  As a “standard” or “four-wheeled” tractor, the Model 28-44 was not configured to be fit with a cultivator.  Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer had to retain some of his horses for this single field task—the cultivation of corn.

An Oliver Hart-Part Model 28-44 Tractor plowing in a field.

The cultivation of corn to control weeds was a task that dominated all his summers from June until the latter part of July.  Even now in the post-war era, he was still cultivating corn, one row at a time with his horses and horse-drawn one-row cultivator.  Cultivating corn was the most time-consuming activity on farm.  Hours, days and weeks of time were spent by our Nevada Township farmer riding the cultivator behind the horses watching the tiny shoots of corn pass between the two horses and slip between the two shields positioned on the cultivator to protect the young plants from being covered up by the dirt that was being stirred up by the shovels of the cultivator.  Our Nevada Township farmer vowed each spring to cultivate the entire corn field three times before the middle of July.  First, the corn was cultivated lengthwise.  This cultivation attempted to eliminate the weeds between the rows of corn. Then the corn was cultivated “cross-wise.”

The building in Rose Creek, Minnesota that housed the "Thill Implement Dealership."
The building in Rose Creek, Minnesota that housed the “Thill Implement Dealership.”

Over the winter of 1940-1941, our Nevada Township farmer had come to realize that his old Oliver-Superior horse-drawn Model 5 corn planter was showing a bit too much wear and tear.  Accordingly, he purchased a new Oliver-Superior Model 9B corn planter from his local Oliver Farm Equipment dealership—Thill Implement of Rose Creek, Minnesota (1940 pop. 261).  Last spring our Nevada Township farmer had put the new Oliver-Superior two-row No. 9B check-row corn planter to work “wire check” planting corn.  “Check-wire” planting involved unrolling a wire across the length of the field to be planted in corn.  Every 40 inches along the wire was a button.  The wire was then secured at both ends of the field.  The wire was connected to a mechanism on the side of the planter.  As the planter was pulled across the field, the wire slid through the mechanism.  Every time a button passed through the mechanism, the button would trip the mechanism and both planting units on the No. 9B planter and the seeds of corn would be planted at that location along the wire.  As the planter went back and forth across the field the result was that the entire corn field would be planted in a grid with 40 inches between the rows and 40 inches between the plants within the rows.  Thus, when the corn sprouted up above the ground, our Nevada Township farmer was able to cultivate the corn both lengthwise and “cross-wise” and eliminate the weeds between the hills of corn within the rows as well as between the rows.

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The Superior-Oliver Model 9B two-row horse-drawn corn planter

The first time over the field with the cultivator, our Nevada Township farmer drove the horses and cultivator lengthwise across the field.  The second time over the field, he cross-cultivated the corn, in order to get all the weeds that were growing between the corn plants in each of the rows in the field.  Ideally, the corn should be cultivated a third time.  Every spring our Nevada Township farmer pledged to cover the corn three times with the cultivator.  However, between the slow progress of cultivating with the horses one row at a time and the rainy days and other field work usually made his plans go awry.  Usually by the end of July the corn was too tall to fit comfortably under the frame of the cultivator and besides the corn was already to the “tasselling” stage.  Cultivation at this stage would do more harm than good to the corn.  Most years, our Nevada Township farmer found that the corn was already too tall before he had finished third cultivation.  Thus, our Nevada Township farmer would be forced to cease cultivation of the corn before he was done with the third cultivation.

A field of corn which has grown too large for any more cultivation. Cultivating with horses, one row at a time our Nevada Township farmer ran out of time in the summer of 1940 for the third cultivation of his corn before the corn plants became too tall to fit under the frame of the horse-drawn cultivator.

 

For some time, our Nevada Township farmer had been aware that if he owned a tricycle-style tractor, he could mechanize his entire farming operation—including the cultivation of corn.  He might then have no need for horses at all on his farm.  The elimination of horses from the farm would allow our Nevada Township farmer to decrease the number of acres used for raising oats and hay on the farm.  Thus, more of the arable acreage on his farm would be available for cash crops.  This meant that he could derive more income for his farming operation.

However, in late 1941, about a year and half after he had purchased the Model 28-44 tractor, the United States found itself thrust into the Second World War.  Farm machinery of any kind and especially tractors became extremely difficult to obtain.  All farm tractor production was severely restricted as the industrial capacity of the United States was funneled entirely to the war effort.  Thus, it appeared that for the duration of the war our Nevada Township farmer would have to forego getting a new tricycle-style tractor.  Indeed, it seemed he would have to get by with all the same machinery that he owned prior to the war.

 

An advertisement for the mobilization of agriculture for the Second World War.

 

The war brought about a great number of changes in the rural farm economy.  First and foremost were the high prices that farm commodities fetched during the war.  The United States government bought a great deal of food stuffs as the government attempted to feed its armed forces stationed around the world.  Large government buying in the agricultural products market raised prices of agricultural products across the spectrum.  These higher prices created new opportunities for farmers.  One such opportunity arose because of the disruption of trade between Australia and Great Britain.

Britain has traditionally been known as a nation of meat eaters.  In the pre-war era (before 1939), the average British citizen ate 109.6 pounds (lbs.) of meat.  (From a 1949 document, found on the Internet, called “Australia’s Contribution to the British Diet” by R. H. Heywood.)  By comparison, the average citizen of the United States ate 82.9 pounds of red meat in 1938.  Like the diet of the average United States citizen, most of the meat eaten by the British was beef.  However, unlike the United States, the second meat of choice in the British diet was mutton or lamb, while pork was in third place among meats in the British diet.  In the United States, pork was second behind beef in popularity while lamb fell far behind chicken and even fish in popularity.  (From a United States Department of Agriculture spread sheet called “Red Meat and Poultry per capita availability in the United States” found on the Internet.)  Indeed, citizens of the United States ate twice as much chicken and nearly four times as much fish and shellfish as lamb.  (Ibid.)

This is a “saddle of mutton. the saddle of mutton is a quintessential British dish. Mentioned in the popular BBC series “Upstairs Downstairs,” a fictional account of the Richard Bellamy household in London during the 1890s through 1930s, the saddle of mutton is mentioned by the character–Mrs. Bridges the household cook occasionally as something she loves to prepare. Mutton refers to the meat of a mature sheep. because of the stronger taste of mutton as opposed to the lighter taste of a younger lamb–a saddle of mutton rolled around a core of rosemary and garlic. The saddle of mutton is taken from rear (lumbar) back of a sheep and loins of both sides attached to that lumbar back. The whole de-boned haunch is then the rolled and tied together with a string and cooked like roast in the oven..

 

Time was, when Britain raised nearly all the sheep consumed by its own people.  However, following 1900, the increase the number of sheep in Great Britain did not keep up with the growing of the population.  (“Australia’s Contribution to the British Diet” by R. H. Heywood found on the Internet.)  Consequently, lamb and mutton began to be imported—largely from Australia.  By 1940, one third of all mutton consumed in Great Britain was imported.  (Ibid.)  However, the Japanese conquests of large parts of Southeast Asia and the threats to Australia, had a debilitating effect on Australia’s trade with Great Britain.  Additionally, what trade left the shores of Australia safely faced another difficulty.  The virtual closure of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea for the duration of the war meant that Australian shipping no longer had access to the Mediterranean “shortcut” to Britain.  Trade destined for Britain had to make its way around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa on its way to Great Britain.  This added a great deal to the expense to the price of Australian sheep.  The price of sheep in the United States began climbing as early as February of 1938.  However, in April of 1941, with the German invasion of the Greek mainland and of the island of Crete and the resultant threat on British shipping in the Mediterranean, the price of sheep in the United States rose to $6.40 per hundred weight—a price not seen since 1930.  Consequently, an economic niche opened in the sheep market for the American farmer.  The Midwest family farm was now able to compete profitably with Australian sheep producers for a share of the large British market.

A map shows the central location of the island of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Many British shipping trade routes passed around the island of Crete on their way to the Suez Canal and on to Australia. In April of 1941 the island of Crete was occupied by the Germans. Accordingly, German aircraft were able to patrol the narrows on either side of Crete and attacked any British shipping they found on those patrols. This effectively cut the shipping lanes through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal.

 

In 1941, sheep and lamb production in the United States set a new all-time record of 2.3 billion pounds of meat.  (From an April 30, 1942 document called “Meat Animals—Farm Production and Income 1935-1941 found on the Internet.)  Despite this drastic increase in production of sheep in the United States of America, no glut appeared in the sheep market which might threaten the price.  Indeed the price of mature sheep (mutton) continued on a sharp increase—rising from $3.90 per hundred weight in 1940 to $5.10 per hundred weight in 1941 (a 31% increase in just one year).  (Ibid.)  Spring lamb prices rose from $8.10 per hundred weight in 1940 to $9.58 per hundred weight in 1941 (a 19% increase in one year).  (Ibid.)  The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that the sheep raisers saw a 27% increase in their income between 1940 and 1941.  (Ibid.)  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into the War, mutton prices remained at high levels as the United States put mutton into several C-ration military field kits.  (Many people now allege that putting mutton in military C-rations ruined the market for lamb and mutton for an entire generation of Americans.  After the war, returning World War II veterans absolutely refused to buy or eat lamb because of bad memories they retained of the mutton in the military field C-rations they had been forced to eat during the war.)

Cans of C-rations from World War II with a list of ingredients. Early in the War, whenever the word meat was used in the ingredients it meant the “meat” was lamb.

 

In 1941, however, favorable market conditions in the sheep market were reported over the radio—like WCCO radio out of the Twin Cities—Minneaplois and St. Paul, Minnesota.  Our Nevada Township farmer began think hard about acquiring a small flock of ewes.  He was not alone.  Many farmers in his neighborhood were doing the same thing.  Indeed, for one farm family over in a neighboring township—Austin Township—sheep raising was already a major part of their farm income.  Earl Eugene and Margaret (Stormer) Subra owned a farm containing only 60-acres in Austin Township.  While, the Subra family milked some cows and raise some pigs, they virtually made all their cash income from sheep—pure bred Suffolk sheep.  Born in 1913, Earl Subra grew up on the farm of his parents William J. and Bertha (Dennis) Subra located in Austin Township.  Raised on his father’s farm, Earl had moved to his own farm.  In 1931, he and Margaret Stormer were married.  Earl began raising Suffolk sheep prior to 1940.  He chose Suffolk sheep because of the characteristics of breed.

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Young Suffolk sheep with their characteristic entirely black heads, faces and legs.

The Suffolk breed was born as a result of the cross breeding of Southdown sheep with old Norfolk sheep in England.  Suffolks are not “wool” sheep.  They grow only a moderate amount of wool.  They were a breed of sheep known for their black faces and legs, which were free of wool.  Suffolk sheep were raised primarily as “meat” sheep.  Suffolk ewes (female sheep) were prolific in the production of offspring and were “good milkers.”  Suffolk lambs grew rapidly; they had more edible meat and less fat than other breeds.  Suffolks have excellent “feed conversion characteristics,” which means that Suffolks have the capacity to actively graze and rustle for feed even on dry range lands.  However, this characteristic also means that when Suffolk lambs are raised on high quality feeds, the breed has one of the fastest growth rates of any breed of sheep.  Consequently, Suffolk sheep rapidly became the most common breed in the Midwestern United States.  (Paula Simmons & Carol Ekarius, Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep [Storey Publishing: North Adams, Massachusetts, 2001] p. 74.)

A Flock of Suffolk Sheep grazing in a pasture.

 

Talking with our Nevada Townshhip farmer, Earl Subra noted that Suffolks answered the demands of the market at the current time in 1940.  Meat, not wool, was the main product that was in demand in the current market.  Suffolks had the quality of lean meat that the market demanded.  Furthermore, the short five-month (147-153 day) gestation period plus the rapid growth rate of the individual lambs meant that the farmer could make money faster with Suffolks than with other breed of sheep.  Earl Subra knew that, drawn by the chance for making a good profit, many farmers would be attempting enter the sheep market by acquiring flocks of their own for the first time.  He also knew that many of these farmers would be choosing Suffolks.  Accordingly, in addition to raising and selling lambs to the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin, he felt he could also make a profit selling bucks (male sheep) and ewes (female sheep) to those farmers wanting to start their own flocks.  In this way he would be working with the rising tide of farmers entering the sheep market.  This, Earl Subra thought, was the way he could make a living out of the new situation that was arising.

However, to sell Suffolks to the farmers wishing to start their new flocks, Earl Subra felt that he needed to have a product that would these farmers would buy.  If Suffolk sheep had characteristics that would stand out among other breeds of sheep, then the goal should be to raise Suffolk sheep that would adhere closely to those characteristics and avoid any negative characteristics.  Indeed, there already was an organization in devoted to promoting the best characteristics of the Suffolk breed by educating Suffolk breeders.  This organization was the National Suffolk Sheep Association (N.S.S.A.) which was headquartered in Michigan and later was headquartered in Columbia, Missouri.

There was a reason that Michigan was the first home of the National Suffolk Sheep Association. This is a map of Michigan shows the current density of the Suffolk sheep herds in the state.

 

N.S.S.A. started a registration process by which purebred Suffolks could be registered with N.S.S.A.  N.S.S.A. would mail out a certificate of registration to the owner of the individual registered sheep.  In order to qualify for registration, both the sire (father) and dam (mother) must also have their own certificates of registration.  Theoretically, then every registered purebred Suffolk could be traced back through a paper trail of registration certificates to the original Suffolk sheep which initially defined the breed.  Each certificate of registration would document that the individual sheep was direct descendant of these original Suffolk sheep.

A registration fee was assessed by N.S.S.A. for each and every registration.  Farmers therefore tended only to register the best examples of Suffolk sheep in their flocks. Farmers would register only those sheep that were intended to keep as “breeding stock.”  Any sheep intended for market would not registered.  Usually all those sheep with lesser breed characteristics were sent to market.  These sheep might be purebred sheep, but they were non-registered purebreds.  Suffolks of unknown origin might look very good as far as breed characteristics, but because no paper trail of registration certificates could be assembled to show how they were connected to the original Suffolks, these sheep could never be registered, no matter how good they looked as far as breed characteristics.  These sheep are known as “grade” sheep.  The intended result of this registration process was that registered purebreds with their papers in good order would bring more money at any sale of breeding stock than either grade sheep or unregistered purebreds.

An advertisement of the benefits of registered purebred Suffolk sheep to the typical diversified farm of the Midwest.

 

The N.S.S.A. sponsored judging shows of registered purebred Suffolk sheep to educate sheep growers on the best characteristics of the Suffolk breed.  The N.S.S.A. also promoted the “open class” sheep judging contests at the various state and county fairs around the nation.  Usually 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) classes were also judged at these county and state fairs.  The 4-H class judging contests were open only to young members of the various 4-H clubs in the county or the state.  The FFA class judging contests were open only to the members of the various FFA clubs in the high schools of the county or state.  However, the “open class” show, which was open to sheep growers of all ages.  Within the open class competition, there were many different sub-divisions according to the breed of sheep.  Within each of these breed sub-division, only registered purebred sheep of that particular breed could be entered.  These judging competitions and shows were attempts to educate and sharpen the eye of individual breeders as to fine points of the breed.  The N.S.S.A. defined and evaluated exact standards as to the ideal Suffolk sheep.  Judges at county and state fairs around the nation were provided a “score card” which evaluated the various features of the Suffolk sheep and how many points were to be allowed for each feature.  The total number of points was 100 points of which 35 points were set aside for the rear legs alone.

Even prior to 1939, Earl Subra had been working on developing a flock of Suffolk sheep that reflected superiority in any number of individual features.  Soon his ewes and rams were winning a number of blue ribbons at the Mower County Fair which was held in the first week of August each year.  Earl also began to make a name for himself at the Minnesota State Fair.  Soon breeders from outside the Midwest, and even from Canada, were searching him out to purchase rams and ewes from the Subra flock.  These other breeders saw traits in the Subra sheep that they wished to include in the blood lines of their own flocks.  Consequently, Subra sheep were sold far and wide and Earl Subra became quite famous among Suffolk breeders across the nation.

The Sheep and Poultry barn at the Minnesota State Fair.  Earl Subra of Austin, Minnesota was an institution at the Sheep Barn at the State Fair for decades.  It was a major way to advertise his flock of registered purebred Suffolk sheep.

 

Accordingly, when our Nevada Township farmer began to think seriously about obtaining a flock of sheep for his own farm, he though of the Subra farm located in the next township to the west.  Accordingly, in the fall of 1941, after watching the dramatic increase in the price of sheep over the summer (reaching $7.10 per hundred weight in August of 1941), our Nevada Township farmer purchased eight (8) purebred Suffolk ewes from Earl Subra in September of 1941 and brought them to his farm.  He hoped that adding sheep to his farming operation would be another diversification of the farming operation and the farm income.  He hoped this diversification would further strengthen his family’s financial position.

When our Nevada Township farmer bought the eight registered ewes, Earl Subra supplied him the corresponding N.S.S.A. registration certificates for each individual ewe.  Each registration certificate contained a registration number and was signed by the Suffolk breed secretary—Clare Williams of Michigan.  The registration number was matched to a number on a metal tag in the ear of the respective sheep.  On the registration certificate, were the registration numbers of both the sire (father) and dam (mother) of the particular sheep.  If needed, our Nevada Township farmer could use these sire and dam registration numbers to call the breed secretary and trace the registrations of the sire and dam back in time.

Introducing the ewes to his farm for the first time required that some changes be made to the farm.  The farm on which our Nevada Township farmer and his family lived was established in a series of concentric fenced areas.  Firstly, the entire farm was surrounded by a fence.  Then there were fences which divided the farm into a series of fields.  The entire building site was also surrounded by a fence which separated the building from the fields.  Within the building site, the area behind the barn was fenced off from the yard to keep the cows out of the yard.  Likewise the areas on either side of the hog house were fenced off to keep the pigs out of the yard and the chicken yard next to the hen house was fenced off to keep the chickens out of the yard.  The rest of the building site was called “the yard.”  However, the yard was divided into an “inner yard” and an “outer yard.”  The “outer yard” included the rest of the buildings on the farm, the grove, the orchard and the windbreak running along the north and west sides of the building site.  This outer yard was intended to be the home for the small flock of sheep that he was now acquiring.  There was a fence that cordoned off the immediate area around the house.  This area was the “inner yard.”  The inner yard contained the lawns, the outhouse, dog house, the orchard and family garden.  The legal term for this inner yard is “the curtilage.”  The cartilage was fenced off from the yard to keep the sheep out of the orchard and the family garden

One of the benefits of a flock of sheep would be the fact that they would keep the grass and weeds in all area of the yard under control.  This would save labor and time that the family had, in the past, spent trying to keep these areas mowed and trimmed.  This was one of the advantages that our Nevada Township farmer looked forward to about having sheep on the farm.  However, there were also disadvantages.  One of the most important disadvantages was that all the fences around the yard had to be improved and reinforced.  Sheep were curious and would explore every portion of the area they occupy in order to find vegetation to eat.  First, the fence between the outer yard and the inner yard, or curtilage, needed to be made more secure to keep the sheep from invading the curtilage and, most importantly, out of the family garden.  In the garden, the sheep could make quick work of the young succulent plants the family was trying to grow there.  The lawns inside the cartilage would continue to be mowed by the family, just as in the past.  Likewise the fences around the outside of the yard needed to be strengthened to prevent the sheep from getting into the fields where the farm crops were being raised.

Super Six Loader on the 1950 Farmall M
The gate to the yard of the current author’s childhood home is temporarily open to allow the childhood friends (Raymond “Sammy” Hite in this instance)  to ride bicycles down the gradual slope into the yard. Ordinarily, this gate was closed to prevent the sheep from getting out into the county road and being struck by cars.

Additionally, our Nevada Township farmer needed to take special precautions to protect the sheep.  He installed a gate across the driveway of his farm.  This was to keep the sheep from getting out onto the road and being struck by cars and/or trucks.  Also he obtained an old baby chick brooder house at an auction in his neighborhood.  The old brooder house was in fairly good shape with a shingled roof to repel rain and wooden siding for warmth in the winter and three windows along the back of brooder house to let in light.  These windows could be closed in the winter to keep the sheep warm and opened in the summer to let in the cool breezes on summer nights.  Our Nevada Township farmer wanted to convert this brooder house into a sheep shed for his farm.  The brooder house was mounted on four “six inch by six inch” wooden beams which ran the full length of the small building.  These beams acted as skids and allowed the building to be towed along on the ground by a tractor or team of horses.  Because the auction had been held not far from his farm, our Nevada Township farmer used his Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor to drag the little building back to his own farm.

A secure sheep shed was needed to protect the sheep at night.  The worst predator for sheep on the typical Midwestern farm is the domesticated dog.  With the master and family gone to bed, their pet dog might slip away from his homestead in search of excitement.  Dogs will band together at night and chase and attack anything that runs.  Sheep habitually seek flight from danger by running every time they are chased.  Although thoroughly domesticated as pets, dogs will, nonetheless, revert to their wild nature and join together in packs at night to chase and kill the fleeing sheep.  Most times these are pet dogs from neighboring farms.  Our Nevada Township farmer knew that owners of these dogs, his own neighbors, will passionately deny that their dog ever leaves their own farm, much less has ever killed any sheep.  They just could not believe it about their family pet.  The neighbors would continue in their denials even when shown wool caught in their teeth the next morning, following any such attack.

Our Nevada Township farmer surely could not afford to lose one of these expensive purebred ewes due to a dog attack that could have been prevented.  Accordingly, the only way to avoid problems with neighborhood dogs was to lock the flock up in a secure sheep shed every night.  Thus, locking the sheep in the sheep shed became the last chore that our Nevada Township farmer completed every evening after the milking was done.  Although this chore was usually done after dark when the mid-day heat was past, the fall of 1941 was warmer than usual.  Consequently, on these warm nights, the sheep resisted going voluntarily into the sheep shed.  They preferred sleeping outside on the ground rather than being locked up in the sheep shed.  Accordingly, it took a little effort to round them up and get them into the sheep shed.

 

A chicken house converted to a sheep shed.

 

Our Nevada Township farmer made some improvements to the sheep shed/brooder house by nailing a couple of one inch by four inch boards to the inside frame of the windows.  These boards were nailed over the lower portion of each window in the brooder house no higher than the height of an average mature sheep.  These boards would prevent the windows from being accidentally broken by sheep moving boisterously about inside their new sheep shed during the night.  By protecting these windows from breakage, the windows could be closed in the winter for warmth and opened in the summer to catch the cool summer night breezes.

In one corner of the sheep shed, our Nevada Township farmer fixed a little hay rack to hold a single bale of hay.  With the “killing frost” expected any day, our Nevada Township farmer knew that soon he would have to feed the ewes hay to replace the vegetation that would no longer be available to the sheep after the frost.  He also built a little frame on the floor of another corner of the sheep shed.  This little frame was just the right size for a salt block.  On the next trip to Lyle, our Nevada Township farmer reminded himself that he would have to pick up a block of iodized salt at the Hunting elevator.

A block of iodized salt for the sheep to lick at will during the day.

 

Since dogs only chased sheep in the night time hours, the arrival of early morning brought safety for the sheep.  Accordingly, the sheep could be let out of the sheep shed even before sunrise each morning.  Knowing how the sheep disliked being locked up in warm weather, our Nevada township farmer wanted to let the ewes out of the sheep shed as soon as possible in the morning.  Accordingly, he made sure that his first chore in the each morning was to walk out to the sheep shed and open the door of the shed to let the sheep out for the day.  On his way to the sheep shed, he made his way up the small hill in the back of the house to the windmill.  At the based of the windmill, our Nevada Township farmer unlatched and turned the crank connected to one of the four legs of windmill.  This crank was connected to a cable which ran up the leg of the tower to the head of the windmill located at the top of the tower. Unlatching the crank and loosening the crank allowed the vane of the windmill to swing loose and bring the wind wheel of the windmill around to face the direction of the wind.  Then the wind wheel began to turn and draw water up out of the ground.  Ordinarily, the water would be drawn up from the well and into a pipe that lead to an underground cistern, located next to the windmill on the small hill.  Because this cistern was buried underground on this small hill, the cistern was actually at a higher level than the house and the barn on the farm.  Accordingly water could flow by means of gravity through an underground pipe down to the house and through another underground pipe to the barn.  Being underground the cistern was protected from freezing in the winter.  Therefore, the cistern and gravity provided “running water to both the house and the barn on the farm.  However, by turning a valve at the base of the pump jack, water could be diverted from flowing to the underground cistern and would be pulled by the windmill to the top of the pump jack where the water would flow out the pump jack and fill a tub that was sitting on top of the ground outside wooden fence that surrounded the base of the windmill.  This tub was the watering tank for the sheep.

Sheep needed fresh water available to them at all times.  Fresh water was important to sheep for a number of reasons.  Unlike cattle who can drink water of a wide variety of temperatures, sheep need water of 50°F in order to stay cool during hot weather.  Water also aided the transportation of nutrients around the body of the sheep and aided in the removal of waste matter from the body.  Additionally, water was required for some of the chemical reactions that were occurring inside the bodies of the sheep and water helped keep the cells of the bodies of the sheep hydrated and healthy.  The water now pouring out of the pump jack was of the correct temperature and came from a well that was around 300 feet deep and, thus, was fresh and free of any unhealthy bacteria that might be found in surface water.  After being locked up all night, the sheep came out of the shed in the morning and headed straight for their water tank.  Throughout the day they would find their way back to their water tank for another long drink.

After drinking water, the sheep would begin grazing.  Because they were exclusively plant eaters, the sheep would have to graze most of the day just to gather enough grass and plant life to sustain themselves.  The stomach or rumen of the individual sheep was divided into chambers or individual stomachs.  The rumen is designed to allow the sheep their graze for a couple of hours until their first stomach was full.  Then, they would lie down for about an hour to “chew their cud.”  During this process the “cud” or partially digested material in the first stomach would be regurgitated, a mouthful at a time, back up into the mouth for re-chewing.  After the cud had been sufficiently re-chewed, the cud would be re-swallowed into the second (regular stomach) and make its way through the regular digestive tract of the sheep.   Mouthful by mouthful the cuds would be chewed, until the first stomach was empty.

Cattle have the same type of digestive, however, sheep are much more efficient than cattle.  Any weed seeds that are ingested by cattle will pass through the entire digestive tract and will be discarded on the ground with the manure.  After the manure, has dried out and been incorporated into the soil, the individual weed seed may start growing again.  However, individual weed seeds will not survive the digestive system of the average sheep.  Accordingly, weeds that depend on seeds for propagation will not survive in any sheep yard like weeds in a cow pasture.  Only those plants that propagate from growth of the roots will survive in a sheep yard.

The Suffolk ewes grazed the outer yard and the grove and kept the grass and weeds under control much more efficiently than our Nevada Township farmer could ever have done the lawn mower or the scythe, even if he had had the time to do that chore.  They even ate the grass and weeds down around the old abandoned machinery that was parked in the grove. Evidence of the sheep’s recent grazing location could be seen in the little round marble-sized balls of fresh sheep manure, that could be seen around the yard.  Our Nevada Township farmer always felt that these little “marbles” of dung were neater and less messy than the “cow pies” of cattle.  Additionally, sheep manure was more valuable than cow manure of even horse manure.  Indeed, sheep manure, was richer in soil nutrients than any other manure on the farm.  Sheep manure has almost twice the nitrogen content of horse manure and more than twice the nitrogen found in cow manure.  Accordingly, when he cleaned out the sheep shed once a year, our Nevada Township farmer spread the sheep manure on the family garden rather than taking it to the fields with the barn manure.

 

A flock of sheep have kept this entire pasture clean of weeds.

 

Nonetheless, having sheep in the outer yard took some adjustment of the family’s daily habits.  In the past, they might leave the granary door open as they moved back and forth from granary to the chicken house carrying pails of oats to feed the chickens every morning.  Now they had to be aware that the sheep were constantly watching for an opportunity for a chance to steal into the granary to get a few mouthfuls of shelled corn.  The family had to remember to close the granary door every time they made the short trip to the chicken house with pails of oats and corn for the chickens.  In the past the various gates to the inner yard might be left open for the better part of the day.  Not any longer.  The sheep seemed intent on taking any opportunity to invade the inner yard.  Having done so, they would not content themselves with eating the grass on the lawn, which might have been acceptable.  Instead, the sheep would head straight to the “salad bar”—the family garden— where they could eat all the tender young tops of the carrots or the rows of young, green lettuce plants or the English pea plants or the bean plants.  In a very short time the sheep could destroy the family garden.  Indeed, they were hesitant to leave even under threat of a family member running to the garden with a stick in hand or the rapid approach of the family dog, sent to “sic ‘em.”  They would watch the approach of “danger” with one eye cocked toward the approaching threat.  Their bodies would be leaning toward the gate like a sprinter ready to start a race but still they would continue to eat as fast as they could to get every last mouthful before they were forced to run for the gate as fast as they could go.  Everywhere the family went in the yard, un-noticed eyes of the sheep were watching for any opportunity to pass through an open door or open gate into some forbidden area.  Once the family members developed the consistent behavior of closing all gates as soon as they passed through, the sheep began to settle into their niche on the farm.

Keeping the outer yard clear of weeds and overgrown plant life was just one of the benefits of the sheep, but our Nevada Township farmer also wanted to earn cash income from the sheep.  Although sheep have wool which can be sold as a product on the market, this did not amount to much in Suffolk sheep.  Suffolk sheep had only a moderate amount of wool.  They were primarily “meat sheep” not “wool sheep.”  The most money could be made from the sheep by the sale of their lambs.  Lambs which are fed a supplement of rolled oats and corn could reach market weight in as little as five months.  To be ready for the market in August or September, 1942, the lambs would have to be born in early spring—March or April of 1942—rather than in the late spring—May or June of 1942.  Lambs born in March and April would have the advantage of not having to contend with flies and other insect pests during their early life, as would lambs born in May and June.  From breeding until lambing, ewes have a five month gestation (pregnancy) period.  Thus, in order to have lambs in March, our Nevada Township farmer needed to allow a ram to graze with the ewes as early as early as October in 1941.

Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer made arrangements with Earl Subra to purchase a registered purebred Suffolk ram.  Once again, our Nevada Township farmer received the N.S.S.A. registration certificate for this ram.  If he were to register any of the lambs of his new flock, he would need both the registration numbers of the sire (father) and dam (mother) of the lamb.  He brought the ram to his farm in mid-September, 1941.  However, he kept the ram segregated from the ewes for about the first two weeks on his farm until the first of October of 1941.  Reproductive activity in sheep increases as the days shorten in the fall and winter.  The estrous cycle of the average ewe lasts from 14 days to 19 days.  Accordingly, when the ram and ewes had been together for 34 days, our Nevada Township farmer assumed that two complete estrous cycles had passed.  Consequently, he assumed that by the first part of November, all the ewes had been bred.

A good looking purebred Suffolk ram was introduced to the flock of ewes by our Nevada Township farmer for procreation of good blood lines in the lambs produced by the flock.

 

The unusually warm “Indian summer” type of weather, they had been enjoying that autumn of 1941, ended abruptly during the night of October 26, 1941 when the temperature fell to 26°F.  Now all the grass and green plant life around the yard and in the grove was dead and turning brown.  Now our Nevada Township farmer began to put out a bale of hay every morning for the sheep.

Mild as the winter of 1941-1942 was, it was a dramatic winter in the life of the citizens of the United States.  With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, the United States was suddenly thrown into the World War that had engulfed Europe since 1939.  There very little snow fall accumulation during the winter.  Five inches of show fell in the second week of December, 1941.  However, all traces of this snow were gone in about three days.  Only the one-inch snow that fell on Christmas Eve allowed for “white Christmas.”  However, the additional one-inch of snow on New Years Day, along with a brief cold snap kept accumulations of on the ground until second week of January 1942.  Except for some brief snow falls in February, this was the extent of the snowfall during the whole winter of 1941-1942.

Despite the “open” winter, with very little snow our Nevada Township realized that there existed very little nutritional grazing material around the outer yard for the sheep.  Accordingly, he continued to put out a bale of hay every day during the winter for the sheep to eat.  Also in January of 1942, as his ewes’ pregnancies developed, our Nevada Township farmer began to take a pail of oats with him down to the sheep shed in the morning.  He let the ram out first.  The ram began to walk over to the hay bale in the outside hay feeding rack that our Nevada Township farmer had constructed for the sheep.  Meanwhile, he took the pail of oats inside the sheep shed and dumped the oats into a long low trough for the ewes to eat.

or twining)
Twin births (or twining) in sheep are quite common.

 

Later, in their pregnancy  he supplemented the oats with molasses.  Molasses was sweet and the ewes quickly ate up the oats covered with molasses.  Our Nevada Township farmer made sure that his ewes had access to as much water as they wanted.  As their pregnancy moved into the latter stages, he increased their feed.  Finally, in mid-March of 1942, at the end of the 147 to 153 day gestation period (about five (5) months), the ewes began to deliver their lambs.  When first born, the lamb’s rumen (stomach) still only 10% developed.  At this stage the lambs are unable to digest any cellulose.  This meant that they were totally dependent on their mothers’ milk.  For the first 24 hours of life, the milk that the ewes produced in their udders was colostrum.  This milk was strong in antibodies and nutrients to provide the new-born lamb with a real boost right at the start of life.  Within two or three days after their birth, our Nevada township farmer “docked” (cut the tails short) the lambs.

Newborn lambs. The standing one is so new that he looks as though he is leaning against the wooden fence for stability.  This lamb even retains his long  tail.

 

A short tail, about an inch long, was more sanitary that the long tail the lamb was born with.  Wool grew on the tail and the long tail would accumulate a lot of manure if it were not cut short.  One of the advantages of an early birthing of the lambs was that the docking of the tail was could be done in April when there were less flies and other insect pests that could trouble with the wound on the end of the tail when the tail was cut short.  Our Nevada Township farmer also wanted to castrate some of the male lambs that he wanted to market.  If this could be done in April at the age of two or three days, this procedure could also avoid the flies and insects.  However, at this point he was unable to determine which of the male lambs were “market” lambs and which male lambs that he might want to sell as breeding bucks.  He needed some time to watch their future development to determine which to market and which keep as breeding stock.

A young Suffolk ram which already shows promise and good blood lines.  This buck will not be castrated but will become part of the truck load of rams that our Nevada Township farmer may take to the Omaha Stud Ram Sale later when he matures.

 

Bucks sold as breeding stock, he knew, could bring at least three times as much money as selling the same lamb as a castrated “wether” to Hormel’s for meat.  He wanted to see more of how the young male lambs developed before deciding which to keep and which to market, so he postponed the castration of the lambs until later.

Although totally dependent on their mother’s milk at birth, the average lamb’s stomach develops very fast.  As early as 5 to 14 days after birth, the lambs begin to nibble at some hay and solid feed.  To take advantage of this development, our Nevada Township farmer put up a “creep feeder” for the lambs.  He put fresh hay and rolled oats in the creep feeder.  He wanted this feed to be available to the lambs at all times, and did not want the adult sheep to eat it all up.  Thus, the creep feeder had a limited access entrance.  The entrance to the creep feeder was wide enough to let the lambs pass through and get the feed, but the entrance not wide enough for the adult sheep could not pass through.  Thus, the feed inside the creep was only for the lambs.  Later, he put a little cracked shelled corn in the feed mixture in the creep feeder.  This would add a bit more calories to the feed and would fatten the lambs more and bring them to a market weight faster.

Late April of 1942 was incredibly warm, with temperatures creeping up to 80°F on many days in the last two weeks of the month.  Our Nevada Township farmer began to worry the sheep would begin shedding their wool before he could get them sheared.  He wanted to get them sheared and sell the wool, before the wool was lost through the sheep shedding the wool naturally.  As a consequence, he contacted George (The Bachelor) Wright, a farmer and custom sheep shearer from Beaver Township in neighboring Fillmore County.  Our Nevada Township farmer scheduled a day in the last week of April to have his flock of Suffolks sheared.  George William Wright lived on a farm on U.S. Route #63 south of Spring Valley, Minnesota.  He was a 44 year-old, life-long bachelor (thus his nickname “The Bachelor”) who lived on his farm alone.  He was a professional sheep shearer and he was also the local wool buyer.  He would travel the neighborhood, shearing buy the wool and selling the wool to wholesalers for a profit.

In April of 1942, our Nevada Township farmer was one of those farmers who sought George Wright to shear his flock of sheep.  The price that George Wright paid was less than the market price of the wool.  However, this discount off the market price would pay the expense of shearing the sheep.  Our Nevada Township farmer did not worry about the money that he would receive for the wool.  Wool was nothing more than a by-product of his ownership of the flock.  The real income from the flock was derived from the sale of the lambs either to the market or as breeding stock to other sheep growers.  Anything that he received for the wool was looked upon as surplus income.

Shearing with clippers starts at the neck under the chin and works down to the belly.  Note here the shearer has the front legs of the sheep held securely under his arms to keep the legs from being nicked by the clippers.

 

Accordingly, the last week of April proved to be a week of frequent and heavy rains.  Accordingly, on the day before George Wright was scheduled to arrive on his farm to shear the sheep, our Nevada Township farmer kept his flock enclosed in the sheep shed all day.  He fed the sheep in the shed, that day and made sure that the sheep had sufficient hay and water in the shed all day.  Consequently, he fed the sheep in the shed and made sure they had plenty of hay and water in the shed all day.  He took this precaution to make sure the wool would be dry for the scheduled shearing process.  Additionally, on the scheduled day, because the weather looked like rain, our Nevada township farmer kept the sheep locked up on the morning of the scheduled day.  Sure enough on the scheduled day for shearing, it rained.

Even in the early 1940s the tough little Ford Model T pickups were performing all types of jobs.
Even in the early 1940s the tough little Ford Model T pickups were performing all types of jobs.

George Wright drove into our Nevada Township farmer’s yard just as our Nevada Township farmer was finishing up the morning milking and feeding chores.  His old Model T Ford pickup was a quite dilapidated and was missing the right rear fender in its entirety.  Thus, the right side of the cab and, indeed the entire right side of the truck was covered with more than the usual amount of mud from driving down the dirt roads of the wet spring of 1942.

The sheep shearer grabs a ewe from the flock.
The sheep shearer grabs a ewe from the flock.

Our Nevada Township farmer directed George Wright to sheep shed and returned to the barn to finish up the chores, while George Wright set up his shearing operation in the crowded quarters of the sheep shed full of sheep.  It was a confusing time for the sheep.  When our Nevada Township farmer arrived at the sheep shed after his chores, he helped George capture all the lambs and put them outside the sheep shed to reduce some of the congestion in the shed.

Shearer rolls the sheepup on its rump where it is helpless in the hands of the shearer
Then rolls the ewe up on its rump where the ewe is helpless in the hands of the shearer.

 

Being alone outside the shed the six (6) week old lambs began bleating mournfully for their mothers who were still inside the shed.  As the shearer sheared the ewes one at a time, they were released to go outside to their lambs.  It was expected that with each mother released outside the number of panic-stricken lambs would be reduced.  However, as the mother emerged from the sheep shed, she was un-recognizable to her own lamb in her new shaved appearance.  Thus, the lamb continued to bleat and the mother continued to bleat in response in an attempt to assure the lamb of her identity as the lamb’s own mother.  This trauma continued for a few moments until the lamb start to trust his sense of smell and his hearing more than his eyesight and, finally, accept his mother back again and begin to nurse.

When shearing is done the ewe is quite unrecognizable even to her own lambs
When the shearing is completed the ewe is scarcely recognizable even to their own lambs.

During the shearing process the individual sheep was placed up on its rump with the feet sticking out forward.  In this position the individual sheep tended to be helpless and usually did not struggle.  During the shearing process the fleece fell off the individual sheep and onto the floor at George’s feet.  At the end of the shearing of each sheep, George would release the sheep.  Sometimes he let the sheep fall over from the helpless position and the individual sheep would hit their head on the floor.  Seeing this upset our Nevada Township farmer who saw potential injury to his prize ewes.  Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer made George aware of his displeasure.  As a result, George began to hold the head of the subsequent ewes as they were leaned over from the helpless position and the ewe began to scramble to its feet.

Shearing looks like a process in which a new animal emerges from the mass of wool which is left behind on the on the ground.

 

After the individual sheep was released, George picked up the fleece left behind by the shorn sheep and put the fleece on a collapsible box located on the floor.  This collapsible box had been flattened out on the floor and twine string had been threaded across the flattened out box.  When the fleece was placed upon the flattened out box, George began to pull the various sides of the box up into position, compressing the fleece into a square until the wool fleece bulged out of the top of the box.  Accordingly, George pulled the twine strings protruding from the sides of the box and tied them together on top of the box of fleece.  The fleece was tied and crossed tied at the top of the box.  Thus, when George released the box back to its flattened position, the fleece remained in a tight square bale.  George took the bale outside and put the bale under a canvas tarp which covered the other bales on his Model T pickup.  Then he re-threaded the flattened out box with twine and then grabbed another ewe and set her up on her rump and began the shearing process again.

Some shearers allege that some sheep are so used to shearing that they hardly restraining as the shearing process is completed. Indeed this sheep appears to be enjoying the process and has laid its head right don on floor.

 

The ram was the last sheep to be sheared and released outside the sheep shed.  Just as the buck was released and George packed up all his gear and the bales of wool; paid our Nevada Township farmer for the wool and jumped into his Model T pickup and drove off.  (George Wright continued shearing sheep through the early 1960s until he retired from farming and moved off his farm and moved into the LeRoy Hotel in the nearby town of LeRoy, Minnesota. The LeRoy Hotel had, originally, been built in 1898 and opened to the public by the Sweet family under the name “Sweet’s Hotel.”  On February 10, 1972, merely one day after his 74th birthday, George Wright passed away at the LeRoy Hotel.  Later in 2006, Rick Lamon, a local boy made-good, returned to LeRoy, Minnesota, purchased the LeRoy Hotel and undertook the restoration of the hotel and opened the newly restored hotel to the public under its original name—Sweet’s Hotel.  Part of the legend that surrounds the LeRoy Hotel, and the newly restored Sweet’s Hotel is that the hotel structure is haunted.  It is suspected that because of his death at the hotel, one of the ghosts currently roaming the halls of the at Sweet’s Hotel is George Wright.  The current author, who met George Wright, when he sheared sheep on the author’s childhood farm, has vacationed at the newly restored Sweet’s Hotel in hopes of meeting George Wright again.  However, all attempts at a chance meeting with George Wright have, thus far, proved unsuccessful.)

The Sweets Hotel in LeRoy, Minnesota was very run down in years past. However since 2010 the Hotel has been completely renovated and modernized with its own restaurant on the first floor. Nonetheless, rumors allege that the Hotel is haunted by the ghosts including George Wright, who died there in 1972.

 

Our Nevada Township farmer, pocketed the money he had received from George Wright for the wool from his flock.  Now, it had started to rain again.  The sheep, who had been busy trying to normalize their relationships again and get back to the task of grazing again, suddenly dropped every thing and ran as fast as they could for the shelter of the sheep shed.  This was quite humorous to observe.  Ordinarily the sheep would not be distracted from grazing by any amount of rain, but now, with no wool to protect them, the sheep really felt how cold the rain was and sought immediate shelter from the rain on their bare bodies.

The shearing process causes insecurities in the lambs who can not recognize their mothers by sight any more. Note the lamb on the extreme right side of the picture is looking right at his mother and appears to be lost and will not come too close. However, this situation is soon remedied when the lamb begins to trust his nose and ears more than his eyes and smells her familiar smell and hears her familiar voice. Note the lamb on the extreme left side of the picture has already overcome his insecurities and is getting a lunch from mother.

 

Not only was this behavior strange to the people observing the behavior, but was also strange for the lambs.  The lambs, who had not been shorn, could not understand the panic of their mothers to avoid a simple little rainfall.

During the early part of May, when the lambs were about 45 days old, the lamb’s rumen is sufficiently completed that the lambs could be weaned.  At 45 days of age the lambs were too big to fit through the entrance to the creep feeder.  Thus, to continue them on a rich diet of feed so that they might be ready for market in the shortest amount of time, it might be necessary to isolate them and wean the lambs forcibly from their mothers at this time.  However, our Nevada Township farmer wanted the lambs to get every bit of nourishment out of their mother’s milk, so he let the lambs remain with the flock until natural weaning.  This occurred over the weeks in June, about 60 and 90 days after birth.  During June he noticed that the mothers began to refuse nursing to the lambs.  By this time the lamb’s rumen was fully developed and at this time he isolated the lambs that he intended to finish off for market.  These lambs needed a good thirty days of confinement feeding to reach their market weight of between 103-130 pounds. This meant that the lambs were ready for market in about the middle of August.

There were a couple of ewe lambs among the crop of lambs that he felt were very “good looking.”  From the little that he yet knew about appraising the value of an individual Suffolk ewe while she was still a lamb, he felt that these two lambs should be held back from the market for breeding stock.  If he were right in his evaluation he could  either to sell these two ewes to other breeders or add to his own flock.  In the rising market for sheep that was being created by the war, our Nevada Township farmer knew that he could make up to three times more money by registering and selling the best of his ewe lambs and young rams as registered purebred breeding stock rather than selling them to the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin.  Accordingly, he filled out applications for N.S.S.A. registrations for these lambs.  In the appropriate blanks on the application he filled in the registration numbers of the ram (the lamb’s father) which was taken from the ram’s own registration form which he retained.  He also filled in the registration number of the mother of each lamb from his registration records.  He sent these registration applications off to the N.S.S.A.  Within a couple of weeks, the registrations on these lambs arrived in the mail signed by Clare Williams, the N.S.S.A. breed secretary.

To see if other, more experienced sheep farmers agreed with his appraisal of these two lambs and to advertise and build a name for his  flock of registered purebred Suffolk ewe lambs, our Nevada Township farmer entered the two ewe lambs in the “open class” judging competition at the Mower County Fair in Austin.  The week long fair lasting from August 3-9, 1942, was divided into three different shows.  For the first two days, the 4-H exhibits were judged.  During the second two days, all the Future Farmers of America (F.F.A.) exhibits were judged.  These shows were exclusively for 4-H members and for FFA members respectively.  Finally during the last judging the “open class” exhibits, was scheduled.  At the county fair, many different breeds of sheep were judged each in their own “registered purebred” division or class.  To be exhibited as a “registered purebred” Suffolk, our Nevada Township farmer needed to produce the registration certificates all of the sheep that he was exhibiting at the fair–especially his two favorite ewe lambs.  The registration papers needed to be shown to fair official at the time the lambs were entered in the pure bred Suffolk class.  All sheep of whatever breed without papers would be admitted to only the “crossbred” class at the fair.

Our Nevada Township farmer knew that the open class sheep judging at the Mower County fair was good advertising for his small breeding flock.  Accordingly, in addition to cleaning up the two newly registered ewe lambs, our Nevada Township farmer also cleaned up the ram of the flock and a couple of his best looking ewes.  He wished to discover how the best of his flock compared with other purebred Suffolks in Mower County—especially he wished to see how they compared with the sheep owned by Earl Subra.  If during the fair or immediately there after, if anyone expressed an interest in buying any of his sheep he would strongly consider selling them—if the price was right.

The Main Judging Pavillion on the grounds of the Mower County Fair, where the live stock, including sheep are judged.
The Main Judging Pavillion on the grounds of the Mower County Fair, where the live stock, including sheep are judged.

During the open class judging, our Nevada Township farmer was pleasantly surprised to find that he did get blue ribbons for the ram and one of his favorite ewe lambs.  At the end of the fair, he did receive an offer to purchase his ram.  It was an offer he could not refuse.  Accordingly, he headed home with a little more money than he had expected as a result of the fair.  However, he was now without a ram for his flock for this coming breeding season.  Luckily, he also established some contacts with other breeders at the fair—one in particular from Fillmore County.  When he saw the flock of this Fillmore County Suffolk breeder, he had noticed the heads on a great number of his Suffolk sheep had a good form, a better form than was present in a lot of the lambs born to his flock.  This was one of the favored judging features of Suffolk sheep that he had learned from his experience at the Mower County Fair.

In the weeks following the Mower County Fair, our Nevada Township farmer purchased a ram or buck from this Fillmore County Suffolk breeder.  This ram seemed to have a very good “head.”   A good shaped head was the trait that our Nevada Township farmer wished to introduce into his flock.  Our Nevada Township farmer received the registration certificate for the new ram from that breeder.  This was proof that the ram was a registered purebred ram.  Thus, our Nevada Township farmer felt that he was back on track again for the next crop of lambs to be born in March of 1943.  By the simple addition of a new ram to his flock, our Nevada Township farmer would change 50% of the genes of the new 1943 crop of lambs as opposed to the 1942 crop.  This new ram would be the father of the whole crop of lambs born in 1943.  If he ended up breeding the two ewe lambs from the 1942 crop, our Nevada Township farmer would begin to the new ram would be contributing half the genes to the whole crop of lambs.  Thus, the trait of a well-shaped head from the bloodline of the new ram should be plainly evident in new crop of lambs to be born in 1943.  If our Nevada Township farmer did not sell the two new ewe lambs from his 1942 crop of lambs and kept them for his own breeding stock, at least some of their offspring should represent the best features or traits of the old ram and the best features of the new ram.  This crossing of the bloodlines of the Earl Subra bloodlines with the bloodlines of the purebred flock of the Fillmore County breeder line would begin a unique new bloodline.  This bloodline would be the “creation” of our Nevada Township farmer.  This new bloodline would be “his” bloodline.  Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer would watch the descendents of these two ewe lambs with interest.  Once again, when the new ram arrived on the farm from Fillmore County, our Nevada Township farmer isolated the ram from the ewes of his flock until October, 1942.

While his mind and a most of his efforts had been concentrated on the two ewe lambs that he was registering and showing at the fair, all of the unregistered lambs on the farm had also been confined and were confined and were fattened on a feed containing rolled oats and rolled corn.  When they did go to market in August of 1942, his lambs were part of the new record number of 1,840,000 lambs going to market in a single month.  (From USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service monthly records of “Sheep and Lambs Slaughtered Under Federal Inspection found on the Internet.)  Despite the new record number of sheep going to market that price of sheep remained at high levels.  Our Nevada Township farmer received $6.80 per hundred weight for these lambs at the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin.  However, even this was not the high tide.  It seemed that, each new month in 1942 saw another new record in lamb production across the nation.   In September, 2,223,000 lambs came to market and in October of 1942, 2,344,000 lambs were marketed.  (Ibid.)  However, despite this record number of lambs in the market, there was no glut created that might have caused the prices to topple.  With the great amount of government buying of lamb for C-rations for the thousands of troops around the world, sustained the price of lamb throughout 1942.

The winter of 1942-1943 was one of those “closed” winters with a great deal of snow fall—and it was cold.  The snow accumulation did not come from huge blizzards.  Rather the snow accumulations were the result of a continuous series of small snow falls.  Starting in the middle of December, 1942, and continuing through to middle of February, 1943, there were consistent small storms and cold temperatures.  Along with the snow, the winter of 1942-1943 was cold.  In the middle of January the temperatures reached down to -31°F.  There were no intermittent warm days which might allow for the melting of some of the accumulated snow.  The snow just kept piling up and piling up.  For the whole period between mid-January and mid-February, 1943, there was more than 12 inches of snow on the ground.  Our Nevada Township farmer and his wife were caught in the grips of “cabin fever” after having spent too much time hunkered down on their own farm with no social interaction with the neighbors.  Thus, when an opportunity arose in late February to go to an auction in the neighborhood, both he and his wife attended the auction.

 

An Oliver Hart-Parr Model 18-27 with rubber tires in front.

 

It was a warm day with temperatures reached up to 40°F.  The sun was shining down on the glistening snow.  It felt good to get out among people for a while.  At the auction, there was a 1935 tricycle-style Oliver Model 18-28 tractor.  This tractor was usually designated as the Model 18-27 (dual wheel), to distinguish it from the single front-wheeled Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 18-28 tractor—the first row crop tractor that the Oliver Farm Equipment Company had ever produced.  Although this particular Model 18-27 (dual wheel) was already eight (8) years old, our Nevada Township farmer was greatly interested in the tractor.  Nobody had been able to obtain new tractors of farm machinery since the start of the war.  Yet with prices for farm products at record highs, our Nevada Township farmer was desperate to get a tricycle style tractor to modernize his farming operation.  A tricycle-style tractor would allow him to totally convert to mechanized power for all his farming operations.  This included the cultivation of corn—the only field task for which he still used horses.  Ever since he had acquired his Model 28-44 standard four-wheel tractor in 1940, he had greatly reduced the number of horses on his farm.  He had noticed that he did not need to raise as much oats and hay on his farm as in the past.  A tricycle style tractor would allow him to eliminate all horses on his farm.

Not only that, but this particular Model 18-27 (dual wheel) was being offered at the auction with Oliver two-row mounted cultivator which belonged to the tractor.  This cultivator would allow him to cultivate his corn two-rows at a time and cultivate taller corn at faster speeds than with the horses.  As he looked over the Model 18-27 (dual wheel), our Nevada Township farmer recognized several features which were similar to his Model 28-44 at home.  Both tractors shared the Donaldson oil-bath air cleaner, and an American Bosch U-4 magneto.  Indeed the Ensign KZ carburetor on the Model 18-28 seemed to be a smaller version of the Ensign K carburetor found on his Model 28-44 at home.  This Model 18-28 (dual wheel) was fitted with steel wheels all round.  The rear steel wheels were the self-cleaning very narrow steel wheels which Oliver advertised as the “Power on Tiptoe” wheels.  The front gangs of the mounted cultivator were attached to a round steel pole that fit through a round hole on the frame of the tractor.  The gangs were then bolted onto this steel pole.  This is how the cultivator was mounted each time the cultivator was put on the tractor.

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The Oliver Model 18-27 (Dual Wheel) Row Crop tractor with its mounted cultivator attached.

The auction was well-attended and it was clear that many other people were also happy to get out and as the bidding started on the tractor and cultivator, it was also clear that our Nevada Township farmer was not the only person at the sale with the idea of finding a tricycle style tractor to mechanize their farming operation.  Bidding went higher than our Nevada Township farmer had expected.  He stayed with the price as it rose and in the end, he was the owner of the tractor and cultivator.   He used the money he had made from the sale of his lamb crop to pay for the new tractor.  This most recent addition to his farming operation had paid off.  It was the sheep that had allowed his to purchase the tricycle style tractor.  He felt that he had probably paid more for this eight-year old tractor than he should have, but the tractor would mean a real improvement in his farming operation.  He now had a promise of getting his cultivation completed in 1943 much faster than ever in the past.

Indeed our Nevada Township farmer held great hopes for the coming growing season of 1943.  No changes appeared evident in the sheep market in the immediate future and he was now not only well-situated to sell lambs to market but also to sell registered purebred stock to breeders.  With the promise not having to feed horses all year around, he would have more acreage to devote to the production of cash crops.  He might be able to plant more corn.  However recently, his attention had been drawn to a new product for his farm which offered more diversification of the family farm income—the soybean.  (Our Nevada township farmer’s foray into soybean raising is contained in next article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part II]: Soybeans.)

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