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Ewe know it makes sense.

As he continues his trip around his farm, Old Macdonald wants to tell you about his sheep now. Everyone knows that sheep provide both clothing and food, not by popping down Tesco’s to collect stuff for you, but from their wool and their meat (though this latter information he keeps from his own flock to avoid upsetting them!) However there is much sheepish information about which you may not be aware.

Sheep were domesticated 10,000 years ago in Central Asia, but it wasn’t until 3,500 B.C. that man learned to spin wool. Sheep helped to make the spread of civilization possible. Sheep production was well-established during Biblical times. There are many references to sheep in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.

Sheep production is man’s oldest organized industry. Wool was the first commodity of sufficient value to warrant international trade. So the sheep can tell our goats that they have a longer history!

In the 1400′s, Queen Isabella of Spain used money derived from the wool industry to finance Columbus and other conquistadors’ voyages. In 1493 on his second voyage to the New World, Columbus took sheep with him as a “walking food supply.” He left some sheep in Cuba and Santo Domingo. In 1519, Cortez began his exploration of Mexico and the Western United States. He took with him sheep that were offspring of Columbus’ sheep. These sheep are believed to be the descendents of what are now called “Churros.” The Navajo Churro is the oldest breed of sheep in the U.S. Despite efforts by the U.S. government to eradicate the breed, Navajo Churros are still raised by Navajo indians. The Gulf Coast (or Florida) Native is another breed of sheep believed to be directly descended from sheep brought to the New World by Spanish and French explorers.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, England tried to discourage the wool industry in the American colonies. Nonetheless, colonists quickly smuggled sheep into the States and developed a wool industry. By 1664, there were 10,000 sheep in the colonies and the General Court of Massachusetts passed a law requiring youth to learn to spin and weave. Imagine that, knitting as a GCSE subject!

By 1698, America was exporting wool goods. England became outraged and outlawed wool trade, making it punishible by cutting off a person’s right hand. The restrictions on sheep raising and wool manufacturing, along with the Stamp Act, led to the American Revolutionary War. Thus, spinning and weaving were considered patriotic acts. Even after the war, England enacted a law forbidding the export of sheep. George Washington raised sheep on his Mt. Vernon estate. Thomas Jefferson kept sheep at Monticello. Presidents Washington and Jefferson were both inaugurated in suits made of American wool. James Madison’s inaugural jacket was woven from wool of sheep raised in his home in Virginia. President Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the White House lawn.

Sheep raising has played a role in several historical conflicts such as the “Highland Clearance,” American range wars, and the English “enclosing of the commons.” The Highland Clearances consisted of the replacement of an almost feudal system of land tenure in Scotland with the rearing of sheep. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.

In the U.S. range wars, violent conflicts erupted between cattle ranchers and sheep herders as both competed for land to graze their livestock. Britain’s close of the commons was similar to the Highland clearance; open fields were enclosed into individually-owned fields for sheep farming, displacing many subsistance farmers.

So when you look at Old Macdonald’s lovely and peaceful flock, just think what trouble their ancestors caused in Scotland and in America! Wool I never.

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