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The Herds Shot Round the WorldNative Breeds and the British Empire, c. 1800-1900$
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Rebecca J. H. Woods

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469634661

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469634661.001.0001

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Much Ado about Mutton

Much Ado about Mutton

(p.52) Chapter Two Much Ado about Mutton
The Herds Shot Round the World

Rebecca J. H. Woods

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines the fraught attempts to acclimatize Spanish merino sheep in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Proponents of the merino were motivated by the commercial value of merino wool, which is and was exceptionally fine, but the debate over the merino’s place in Britain ultimately came down to its flesh. The breed’s opponents argued that merino mutton was inferior to that of British breeds like the New Leicester, and further that the fineness of merino wool was dependent upon Spain’s climate and environment. The long and acrimonious controversy which attended the merino’s attempted naturalization in Great Britain revealed the degree to which competing understandings of the relative influence of climate or environment and anthropogenic selection in sheep-breeding unsettled the very category of breed itself. Ultimately, attempts to acclimatize merino sheep in Britain failed, as its wool (although finer than that of “native” British breeds) grew coarser under Britain’s damper climate, and its leaner carcass offended the proud palates of British diners.

Keywords:   Merino sheep, New Leicester sheep, Acclimatization, Mutton, Wool, climate, anthropogenic selection, native breeds

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