Clun History – Article 3
The History of Clun Forest Sheep in North America – R. A. K. Turner
Editor’s Note: In the late summer of 1970, R.A.K. “Tony” Turner, then of Eureka, Nova Scotia, purchased forty Clun Forest ewes and two rams from Ray Williams in Shropshire, England to be part of the largest single importation of sheep from Great Britain to Nova Scotia. Tony, a Welsh shepherd who had emigrated to NS in 1967, wrote at the request of the North American Clun Forest Association, the following history of those Cluns in North America.
Tony’s story is of particular interest for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the following statistic: of the ten original ewes still owned by Tony Turner in the Spring of 1980 (all of those ewes going on 14 years of age), one was empty, three had singles, and six ‘had their usual twins!’
We bought the Cluns from Ray Williams in the late summer of 1970 while preparations were going ahead for the first “great importation” of sheep from Britain to Nova Scotia. Most people bought Scottish Blackfaces either of their own accord or on advice. In fact, about 1,200 of the total consignment of 1,400 were “Blackies.” There were a few other breeds, of course. A small flock of North Country Cheviots for the Nova Scotia College Farm, a few “Bluefaced” (Hexham) Leicesters for crossing with the Blackfaces, and one or two Colbred “improvers” that I believe went on to Ottawa. Most of my friends supposed we would buy Welsh Mountain ewes, but for a variety of reasons I thought the Cluns would be a better choice. So far, I see no reason to doubt the wisdom of this. If you want sheep to thrive on the most inhospitable and barren slopes imaginable – well, the Welsh ewe is unbeatable. But in Nova Scotia, where there is plenty of feed in summer and where the winters can be hellish (and the sheep have to be fed), then I think the Clun is the ideal animal.
I telephoned Ray one evening to ask if he could send forty ewes and two rams. He asked later if we wanted him to send a Suffolk ram as well(!) – not realizing that these would be the first Cluns in Canada. I declined! After all the usual quarantine and testing procedures, these forty-two animals eventually boarded a ship (I believe it was the Shorthorn Express) and left Glasgow in the fall. I believe it was a Dutch ship, with a Spanish crew, carrying British sheep to Canada!
Before the arrival at Quebec, six ewes were to die. The first of these was one of the Cluns. In fact, this was the only one to die for the next three years. (I’m told she had a perforated duodenal ulcer).
Arrival In North America
The consignment arrived in Nova Scotia by Canadian National Train on Armistice Day 1970. A lot of people were very taken by the appearance of the Cluns, but several asked, “Where are the rams?” They were there, but unlike many other breeds of animals, the Clun ram is often little bigger than the ewes. Nonetheless, those two rams, one of Pedwardine breeding, the other a Woodhouse ram, left a wonderful legacy of good, prolific, and hard-working progeny.
Perhaps I should explain that some of the conditions of entry under quarantine rules are that the animals have to be at least three and a half years of age and the ewes must not be in lamb. This naturally made the selection of two “old” unrelated rams from his own flock very difficult for Ray, especially as he was not allowed to go out to acquire any others owing to the short notice and stringent quarantine regulations. In addition, in Canada the sheep and their progeny had to be kept on the quarantine farm until the first lamb was thirty months old, thus effectively making approximately three years in seclusion. Of late, quite unreasonably, the US Government has decreed a sixty-month period. With an extra sixty days added before the imported sheep can move from Canada to the States, this period is now almost six years! (ed. note: as of 1999, live sheep can no longer be imported into the US from Canada unless they were born in Canada). As many people say, “The bloody things will be dead by then!” At nine and a half years old, I suppose a great many might be, except, of course, that their progeny are younger.
The first lamb arrived February 1971 – St. Paul’s 27C. She has just lambed again for the ninth time. This effectively proved that despite man’s efforts, when a ewe and a ram meet, even on the dockside in Quebec, nature has it’s way!
Additional Rams Imported
That first year our lambing percentage was 150%, not too bad considering the lack of flushing and the thousands of miles they had traveled. Over the years, our lambing has not gone below 150% and has gone as high as 180%. Because I’m not over-fond of triplets, I think perhaps 1972 was our best year – 30 sets of twins and nine singles, not counting the yearlings. We’ve had triplets, of course, but much prefer just a nice lot of twins. Actually, the ewes have never really been flushed or fed grain, except at lambing time, because I can’t really see the wisdom of buying expensive feed for an animal that can do admirably on a diet of grass.
A final note on the importation: in addition to the two original rams we brought in then, in 1973 another Woodhouse ram of a different strain was selected for us and sent over by the secretary of the Clun Forest Sheep Breeders’ Society. About twelve years ago, Tom Lloyd-Jones imported a ram from the Knockmaroon flock in Ireland. Thus, when Angus Rouse’s 1977 ram clears quarantine this year, there will be five registered ‘ram lines’ available. I have found, however, that with as few as three sires in use, it is not too difficult to avoid in-breeding, so long as you keep good records on both sides and your fences are reasonably safe! (ed. note: Angus Rouse imported additional Cluns from the UK on two occasions. Those animals were available to US breeders in 1982 and 1993. Since then, semen has been imported and used by a number of breeders.)
The First Sale
In 1973, at the first Nova Scotia Sheep Fair in Truro, we importers had our first opportunity to sell breeding stock. Luckily, the powers that be had permitted us all to dispose of surplus lambs from the three lambing seasons prior to being released from quarantine. This enabled us to realize a small sum to help us wait out the three years’ lack of income. The only other return, had, of course, been the sale of our wool, and we all know what a small percentage of the gross return from sheep-keeping this represents.
Most of the importers sent sheep to the sale and I think everyone was well pleased with the support and interest it engendered. In addition to the Sale, the Fair became from the outset a “Fair” with everything from sheepdog trials to demonstrations (culinary as well as husbandry and breed displays), to craft shows, to shearing competitions, all in addition to the raison d’être – the Sale. Buyers for this were present from many parts of the States and Canada, and indeed I believe they still attend.
We consigned 45 CLuns, of which 35 were Nova Scotian born sheep. Al the ewes were sold and most of the rams. Most went to buyers from the Maritime provinces, but the seeds of the North American Clun Forest Association were planted when two American families bought Cluns at Truro. These good folks were Annette and Warn Menhennett from Pennsyvlania, and Joe Lavieri from Connecticut. One might think that after three years’ supervised quarantine the sheep would have been judged healthy. But no! Those sheep headed for the US had to go back to their NS homes and wait out an additional 60 days for their release from quarantine. Eventually, however, they did reach their new homes and acquitted themselves well.
Founding of NACFA
Four years to the day of the original arrival of the Cluns in Nova Scotia, on Armistice Day of 1974, the North American Clun Forest Association was founded in Harrisburg, PA. Those present were Joe Lavieri of CT elected President, myself elected Vice President, Annette Menhennett of PA elected Secretary, and Walter Maxwell of IA, Tom Lloyd-Jones of NY (who was an earlier importer), and John Ubbens of PA. That year Walter Maxwell came up from Iowa for sheep, and returned again in the summer of 1975, as did Annette Menhennett. After this, the number of breeders increased markedly.
In the intervening years there have been annual meetings in Connecticut, Nova Scotia, Iowa, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Oregon. Joe Lavieri served as Secretary from 1976-78; I was President for those same years, followed by Walter Maxwell as President, with Joan Mueller and Elizabeth Reedy as co-Secretary/Treasurers.
Since the founding of the Association, numbers of breeders and sheep have continued to increase. During the past two years, two major dispersal sales, first that of the Menhennett flock due to health reasons, and most recently my own flock, since my family is returning to Wales, have meant the enlargement of existing flocks and establishment of small new ones. Almost all our sales have been by private treaty, the largest single one being in January of this year (ed. note: 1981) when breeders met in Iowa to collect stock to go to Oregon, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. While we were in Nova Scotia, we sold only a few sheep to Canadians. After moving to Vermont, however, our buyers came increasingly from Canada, and in 1978, for example, we sold five small flocks into PEI, Ontario, and Quebec.
Cluns as Mothers
It would appear now that the breed has certain well-established ‘strongholds’ in North America – New England, the Midwest, the Northwest, and Ontario – with selected other places such as Nova Scotia, and, the Virginias. Breeders are slowly but surely discovering the attributes of the Clun which cau sed me to select the breed for importation ten years ago and which have been yearly reaffirmed over the past decade. First among these attributes for me has been their ability to lamb with ease and without assistance. Over the past nine seasons, with numbers of ewes lambing ranging from 39 in the first year, to over 100, assistance has been necessary an average of only once a year, and twice to the same ewe, each time with triplets, which were in a tangle the second time, but which she went on to raise, as always, without any assistance from us. Generally speaking, lambing has been a pleasure. Clun lambs are very quick on their feet, almost as quick as real mountain breeds like the Welsh Mountains and the Scottish Blackfaces, etc. Also there is virtually none of this business of having to teach lambs to suck, or the ewe to clean off and nurse her offspring, which seems to be such a feature of North American farming. Naturally we have had the odd case of rejection, but almost always with one of twins, but on the other hand, I’ve found the Clun more adaptable than most breeds in accepting an extra lamb if she only had one.
Ideal Mothering Breed
As regards general health, we’ve only had the usual problems. The sheep have grown well and longevity and fertility speak for themselves. We’ve suffered the usual North American problem with vitamin E deficiency in both NS and VT (ed. note: selenium deficiency). Footrot was also a problem in the first year. Apparently some of the 1,400-odd immigrants must have infected the rest, because several other importers ran into this problem. Luckily, however, we were able to get rid of it, perhaps because our farms have been dry ones for the most part.
In all other regards, the Clun has proved in my experience to be the same thrifty breed it is in Great Britain, an excellent forager who actually does better on grass than grain, and as well on clover hay as on alfalfa. New breeders I have talked with over the past few years have made similar discoveries, and in general seem well pleased with their Cluns. We are glad to have played a part in the establishment of the breed in North America and expect to hear much about its growth on this continent. Cluns have been called the ‘ideal mothering breed.’ I only wonder how long it will be before they emulate their record in Britain and become North America’s most popular and widespread purebreed.