-- --
(29) Berriarah, sheep, mode of fattening them [[159-163]]

[[159]] The berriarah, or gurrearah, devotes his life to tending sheep and goats; and, in most situations beyond the metropolis, [[160]] obtains a place among the servants attendant upon the out-door concerns of a family.

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((288)) This [=the use of shepherds as general outdoor servants] is not owing to the scarcity of meat, but to its bad quality; there being plenty of sheep in India, which, however, are rarely slaughtered for table expenditure, even by the natives; who very justly consider it to be an unclean animal, feeding on all kinds of filth. This occasions them to prefer the meaf of a castrated goat, commonly denominated kussy, which is certainly not to be despised; though its taste is somewhat strong, and the meat itself rather coarse, and dark colored: but it abounds with fat, and is very juicy.

Be it good or bad, prejudice has proscribed it from the tables of persons in respectable stations, or in easy circumstances; ((289)) a joint of bazar mutton, that is, such as the butchers sell in the market, being considered no treat, and proving extremely obnoxious to the generality of delicate persons: though I have frequently seen them partake of a joint of kussy when palmed upon them as home-fed wether, in such style as led me to believe that the imagination was a principal agent in condemning the unfortunate goat-mutton. I do not mean to deny that a certain difference exists; but when the former could not be had, I rarely failed to make an excellent meal off the latter; while some of my more fastidious friends have been grievously disappointed of their dinners.

"Sheep," says Captain Williamson, "may be sometimes purchased in tolerable good condition, especially during the hot season, when they nibble the short stems, and even the roots of the finer grasses: yet those procurable in the villages are usually mere skeletons, and their fat, if any, is of a bad colour. Gentlemen are therefore obliged to keep small flocks, perhaps from thirty to sixty, according to the average expenditure; which, among officers in the army, may amount to one sheep in fifteen or twenty days. The meat is seldom good, nor the animal better for his keep, till put up for three or four months.

"The most approved mode of fatting sheep is to have about a dozen on full feed, allowing as much gram as they can eat; which is about two pounds daily for each. Another dozen should be upon half feed, having an allowance of very fine chaff to complete their diet; or perhaps some cut grass, such as is brought in for horses. All these twenty-four sheep should be confined in an area enclosed either by mud walls, or by railings of a suitable height; taking care to allow them access to sweet water, and to salt, of which a small quantity should be provided in a flat vessel.

"Thus they will fatten admirably in the course of six or seven months; their flesh becoming fine grained, juicy, and high flavoured. Besides these, about as many more, kept on a small allowance of gram, should be suffered to graze, in company with half a dozen milch goats and their kids, under charge of the berriarah, in some place remote from any camp or town, so as to insure their feeding clean; for all sheep, especially those of India, are apt to feed on any excrements which they find in their way."

[[161]] Within the last twenty years, great improvements have taken place, not only in rearing sheep for domestic expenditure, but also for the public markets, all over the country, wherever there are a number of respectable Europeans at one station. The great evil now is the over-feeding [of] butcher's meat by private families, whence it is often too fat and bilious for a warm climate.

The dress of the berriarah is usually similar to that of the cooly, with the addition of a substantial blanket, on account of the oppressive heats at one season, the heavy rains at another, and the sharp cold during three months. This blanket is generally black, the ordinary colour of the sheep. In the hot season, it serves to repel the heat; during the rains, to keep the berriarah dry; and in the winter, to keep him warm.

As any cross folds or pleats would rather retain, than cast off, the rain, these people have an effectual mode of managing the blanket; tying it together very regularly, after puckering the longest side, and placing that part over their heads. Whatever moisture may lodge within the short pleats above the ligature, cannot sink downwards, if it be properly made; while all the pleats below it, being in a perpendicular direction, serve as channels, to carry the water downwards. The blanket, indeed, becomes a bell-tent, of which the inhabitant is himself the pole.

The wages of the shepherd are usually from three and a half to four rupees monthly; but some gentlemen regulate them by the number of sheep maintained. This by no means answers their expectations; for if the number be great, one or two deficiencies, imputed to the wolves, are rarely noticed; arid if the flock be small, a shepherd is tempted to take a fat sheep to his own use. No sheep can be fatted, taking all things into consideration, under four rupees, equal to about ten shillings, including the original [[162]] price; which has risen of late years to about a rupee per head, for such as have six teeth. All below that age are generally rejected, because their food increases their growth rather than their flesh; which is seldom of a good colour, but retains a certain light hue, like very young beef, after the second year.

The wool of the Bengal sheep is coarse and lank, more resembling dog's hair than a fleece, and by no means valuable as an article of commerce. The natives manufacture it into puttoos, a very heavy close kind of felt, which stands proof against the severest weather, and may be made in any form. Their usual shape is nearly conical, resembling a bell-tent, with a rudely worked border of some colour strongly contrasting with the body of the cloak. Thus, a black puttoo would have a white pattern; and a white puttoo, a black. This extremely simple manufacture is performed by means of a carding machine that entangles the wool, which is previously mixed in a very strong lather of soap.

"The average price of a sheep fit for fatting," says Captain Williamson, "is about a rupee.; but that price has existed only for about twenty years. Before that date, the common value of a coarge (or score) was from six to eight rupees; and at an early date, a sirkar to a contractor for European recruits, has bought several coarges for their use, at three, and three and a half, rupees. Thus six sheep were purchased for a rupee, which in British currency would be five-pence each. The sheep were certainly not fat; being driven into the camp from the flocks grazing in the adjacent plains, and in general, taken without much selection."

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((293)) They were the only animal food we could at times get; for the Hindus would never sell us an ox, knowing it was intended for slaughter. Notwithstanding the very low rate at which the sheep were purchased, many proved dear bargains. Some had their livers in such a dreadful state as disgusted every spectator, and caused an insuperable objection against the meat: fluke-worms crawled about in hundreds; while of many, the stomachs, as well as the intestines, were completely lined with bots [?], which stood as close as they ((294)) could stow, keeping each other parallel, like pins on a cushion! Strange to say, some few of which the entrails were thus preyed upon, seemed as though they would have thriven, provided they had been turned into a good pasture.

It is probable that the price of sheep is now rather on the increase than on the decline; and when they were supposed to be so very cheap, the seller must have before him only [[163]] Hobson's choice. He, therefore, wisely determined to accept the small sum of five-pence per head, rather than have them taken away without payment by the native purveyor, to an irresistible detachment of European recruits.


-- --
 ~~ next part ~~ Gilchrist index page ~~ Glossary ~~ FWP's main page ~~