Of the 40 odd traditional breeds in England, the Lincoln is possibly the largest, has the heaviest carcass and yields the longest, strongest and heaviest weight of wool. Unfortunately it is now obsolete and listed as a rare breed in both England and Australia, but 100 years ago it was by far the most popular British sheep in New Zealand, the Argentine and Australia. It is one of several Longwool types which had thrived in the midland counties of England since Roman occupation, and was a major contributor to the prosperity based on wool production and manufacturing, which for many centuries made England both rich and powerful.
Prior to the latter part of the 18th Century, the Lincoln was described as having "a long weak frame", its only purpose being to produce wool. From about 1770 it got caught in the great movement to make British sheep produce more mutton, and selection for better fleshing soon established the Lincoln as having the heaviest carcass.
However, its destiny of fame lay, not in England, but in the New World
Arrival in Australia
It is possible that the Lincoln arrived in Van Diemans Land (Tasmania) in about 1838, but its most significant entry into Australia took place in 1858 when Dr. Browne of Moorak near Mount Gambier, South Australia introduced Lincolns to cross with his Merino flocks. They were described as being "as big and almost as wide as Shetland ponies" and they immediately demonstrated that the cross produced more wool and yielded more meat than any other Merino combination.
However, it was in Victoria that the Lincoln was to find favour and be multiplied in an almost incomprehensible fashion. William Rutledge, and Thomas and Albert Austin, imported from leading Lincolnshire studs in 1865, and many more introductions followed in the 1870s. Neil Black brought in 30 in 1873 but was overshadowed by the pastoral potentate of the same period, C. B. Fisher, who imported 192 Lincolns in the same year.
It was not till after 1880 when the new technology of refrigeration allowed meat to be shipped to Europe that the full thirst for Lincoln genes was evidenced in the New World. In the previous decades Australia had certainly made good use of several British sheep, notably the Leicester, but we now had a new phenomenon, a British bred boom, a Lincoln euphoria. It would last 50 years and see hundreds of sheep come from Lincolnshire, thousands of Lincolns multiplied in Australia and millions of Lincoln-Merino cross on Australian sheep stations. The Lincoln-Merino cross would be fixed and become a new breed, the Corriedale, which would populate the grazing plains of South America in tens of millions. The intense, almost fanatical interest in Lincolns would provide the stimulus for the publication in 1898 of Australia's first permanently successful flock book, and the foundation of the Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep. Volume 1 of the flock book recorded 11,000 Lincolns in 71 flocks with other breeds contributing only about 15% of the total.
Three Victorian flocks founded in 1873 are still in existence. Two belonging to members of the Christie family of the Hamilton area, the third to Richardsons of Newlyn.
By about 1920 the markets of Europe were demanding better quality in both meat and wool. Unfortunately the Lincoln was a specialist in quantity; for discriminating markets its wool was too strong and its meat too fat. It went into a rapid decline accelerated by the popularity of its prodigy, the Corriedale.
Description of a Lincoln Sheep
Head: Ram handsome and masculine in appearance, not too wide and coarse between the ears, with typical wool to the ears and with well defined forelock.
Face: Clean and white, except for black nose.
Eyes: Large, bright, expressive.
Ears: Medium size, white, blue-black spots not objectionable (pink ears and nose very objectionable)
Neck: Medium length and good thickness, well set into shoulders
Shoulders: Wide sprung and well set back
Chest: Wide and deep
Back: Straight and broad, covered with thick, firm handling flesh
Ribs: Well sprung and deep
Hind Quarters: Broad, square and deep. Leg of mutton must be full and plump.
Legs and Feet: Legs of medium length and strength, giving a steady appearance, well set apart. Feet straight under legs and not too long in fetlock. Hoofs black in colour.
Skin: Soft and pink
Carriage: Standing wide and square on his legs, displaying plenty of bone, his carriage should be free and bold.
Fleece: Very weighty and of good strength, showing character; wavy, golden bright, of intense lustre. Evenness over all the body, belly and points. Long in staple with a broad, firm handling lock, running out to the tip without being wasty or pointed. Soft or what is termed 'spongy' wool objectionable. Suggested wool count 36s - 32s.
General Appearance: Of good constitution
Sire of first cross ewes.
Heaviest and longest staple of any breed with a dense broad, lustrous, crimp. Traditionally used for roller wrapping in wool scours and also for wigs in the legal profession.
Number of registered flocks in Australia
Number of registered ewes joined in 2008
For further information on Lincoln sheep
Heritage Sheep Australia
11 Mona Place
South Yarra, Victoria 3141
Phone: 03 9820 4172