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Friday, 30 September 2011

Livestock and a few terms and sayings surrounding them

Everything you never wanted to know about sheep.

Sheep are not just sheep.
That is to say, there is a wide range of terminology connected with sheep according to their age and gender [including the gender ‘gelding’] before you even get to technical terms in shearing.
There are some excellent shearing videos on YouTube so I’m not going there.  Here however is a table of  the names given to sheep at various ages.
Age
Male
Female
Gelded
Generic name
Tup/Ram
Ewe
Wether
Until weaned
Lamb
Lamb
Lamb
Up to first shearing
Tup-hogget
Ewe-hogget
Wether-hogget
After first shearing
Shearling
Gimmer
Dinmont
After 2nd shearing
Two-year tup
Ewe
Wether
After 3rd shearing
Tup
Twinter-ewe
Wether

In addition, when a ewe is past breeding age she is said to be a draft-ewe.
The Bellwether of the flock was a steady creature who wore a bell to attract the attentions of the other members of the flock to lead them home; in the Middle Ages and after it was also a jocose but deprecating name given to a man of decided opinions and tendency to try to lead the opinions of others.
Another term with implications attached if used descriptively was free-martin; this referred to an ewe who displayed masculine behaviour and generally lacked functioning ovaries.

The fleece of a hogget at its first shearing could yield 15lb of wool; the average weight of wool from an ewe was 4-5 lb though this varied from species to species and long staple sheep gave more.

Ah yes, staple – this refers to the length of the wool.  Long staple wool was in demand for weaving the warp of a bolt of cloth and the often very fine short staple wool for the weft.  This is a simplification!

Another Medieval term that might be used in a derogatory sense to describe appearance was to say that someone had dag-locks.  The dag-locks were the matted and soiled locks of wool around the sheep’s rear end.  Dag-wool was refuse wool

What have sheep in common with sherry?
Up to the 15th century the wool of the merino sheep was rather coarse, and not much prized.  It came under the attentions of Spanish monks who produced the forerunner of the breed as we know it today, with long lustrous wool that is of good fineness.
The Spanish monks were very good at selective breeding; as well as the merino they also developed the famous Andalusian horse and the grapes for the wine of Xerez, otherwise known as sherry.

Little boy blue come blow up your horn
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
Where is the boy that looks after the sheep
He’s under a haystack fast asleep
MAY be a satire on Thomas Wolsey, little boy blue [blue being heraldically associated with his home town of Ipswich] and referring to him being the son of a grazier [and butcher], and doubtless expected to care for the animals in his youth.   If it was meant as a satire on him, it would be suggesting that he abrogated his responsibilities as Lord Chancellor by ignoring the needs of the people in putting the wishes of the king and his own ambitions first. 

I am not about to go into breeds but an excellent article is the PDF available online by AK Copus ‘Changing Markets and the development of Sheep Breeds in Southern England 1750 – 1900.

Everything you never wanted to know about swine

Age
Male
Female
Gelded
Generic name
Boar
Sow
Hog
Under a year
Pig/pigling/piglet
Pig/pigling/piglet
Pig/pigling/piglet
Young

gilt [before first litter]

3 years old
Hog-steer



Note that pig iron was so called because it ran into ‘pigs’ bars of iron side by side coming off the stream of melt because it was said to represent pigs suckling a  sow.  The term pig was in use for a young hog well into the early years of the 19th century.

A Tantony Pig is a corruption of ‘St Anthony’s pig’.  A tantony pig is one of the terms of the runt of the litter [the other being cab pig as devotees of 101 Dalmations will know].  St Anthony is patron saint of pigs and runt pigs were given to the monks hospitallers of St Anthony, to be reared as free range pigs. They were free to roam and would follow anyone who looked likely to give them a choice morsel, hence the term ‘to follow someone around like a tantony pig’.  As the swine wore small bells to identify them, a tantony also came to refer to a small ring of bells.

A pig in a poke – in the middle ages sucking pigs were sold in sacks, or pokes.  The unscrupulous would sell a sack in which was a cat or dog not the pig that was expected.  It is a warning against purchasing without checking the goods first.

Tom, Tom the piper’s son, he stole a pig and away did run
The pig was eat, and Tom was beat, and he went roaring down the street
This nursery rhyme is often illustrated with Tom carrying an actual piglet under one arm, but actually referred to a confectionary not as large as a pie and containing apple or dried fruit.



Everything you never wanted to know about cattle AKA kine

Age
Male
Female
Gelded
Generic name
Bull
Cow
Ox
Unweaned
Calf
Calf
Calf
Young [under three years]

Heifer [or before first calving]

mature
bull
cow
Bullock
The word cattle is a corruption of the Saxon catel, which also gives us the word chattel, or property.
Ox [plural oxen] are generally geldings used as draught beasts.
Young cattle may also be referred to as veals if destined to become veal meat, even as meat cattle are sometimes called beeves.
An old term for a bovine is a neat, which survives only in neatsfoot jelly and neatsfoot oil made from the hooves and lower legs of cattle.
The term free-marten is used for cows as well, typically of females born as twins to males, and which are always infertile.
Cattle of course come in two varieties, beef and dairy, and what is food for one is generally less good for the other.  Dairy cattle needing fine grassland led to the rise in prices of dairy produce during and immediately following the Napoleonic war owing to the need to turn over more land to arable farming, initially to have enough bread for domestic consumption and subsequently as a result of the Corn Laws which forbade the importing of cheap foreign grains. 

Everything you never wanted to know about horses

Age
Male
Female
Gelded
Generic name
Stallion
Mare
Gelding
Under a year
Foal
Foal
Foal
One to two years
Yearling
Yearling
Yearling
Two to four years
Colt
Filly
Gelding
Over 4
Stallion
Mare
Gelding

The Heavy Horse for draught work appeared in several different places in Europe around the beginning of the sixteenth century, the first recorded Suffolk Punch being in 1511.  It has been postulated that as knights in armour became obsolete the destrier was bred into the general stock which increased the strength and size of working horses.  The main reason for the change from oxen to horses as draught beasts was more to do with improved agricultural practices than with anything else, because horses could be sustained on improved fodder since a horse costs more to keep than an ox [an ox costs about 70% the cost of a horse to feed].  Horses tend to live longer than oxen, but the main advantage is their versatility and ability to perform more than one basic task; they also do not churn up the land as much with their feet. Oxen tended to be used in the north of England where fodder was less rich and where too the heavy lands needed their superior stamina.  Horses were used in the south west as early as the fourteenth century.  The advent of the heavy horse brought a superior stamina to the farm.
[for greater detail on the economics of horses versus cattle in depth see John Langdon ‘The economics of horses and oxen in medieval England’ available online as a PDF]

May I just add, as a matter of general livestock interest,  a link to Mike Rendell's blog 'The Musings of Richard Hall'  where the activities of Mr Robert Bakewell of Dishley are chronicled and his ground-breaking selective breeding.
http://georgiangentleman.posterous.com/73297943
There's a link there to the New Dishley Society and I've put it on my list of favourite places too


4 comments:

  1. This is wonderfully informative...especially the references to fairy tales, and colloquial phrases from English farm days that have even crept into American...

    Clio1792

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good work, Sarah! Where does 'gilt' fit into the pig part?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Michael, your post isn't showing up here, but thanks for the comment that it is easy on the eye. I used the book background that Blogger provides, but my banner is my design as I am a graphic designer...

    ReplyDelete