JIM GORDON RECOLLECTIONS ON NE MN SHEEP RAISING
Jim’s thoughts and opinions on raising sheep in Northern MN were expressed in a conversation with his daughter, Janette Gordon Takala, which took place on June 25, 1986. The notes from this conversation were carefully recorded and saved, and appear here, with minor edits/changes.
James Roderick (Roderick – named after a Scottish rebel chieftain) Gordon was born in Virginia, MN, January 31, 1914. He was the son of Alexander Thomas Gordon, chief chemist for the Oliver Mining Co. in Virginia, and Clara Louise (Johnson) Gordon, former Junior High School teacher at Duluth and Mt. Iron. Both of Jim’s parents came from people who had farming in their backgrounds. Jim had always wanted to farm. He attended Virginia Junior College for a time, but eventually persuaded his parents to let him enroll at the Agriculture College run by the University of MN at Grand Rapids, MN.
Jim had graduated from the Virginia High School at 16 years old, ahead of his class by 2 years. However, this caused him to miss some of the chronological mathematical studies and had made math harder for him. He said that he really caught up with the missing math studies when he was at the Agricultural School.
At age 14, Jim got his first sheep (held at home on NorthSide, Virginia, MN). During lambing season, he would run home from school at lunch time to check on them.
- In the 1920’s, Earl Atwood (from Tower) sheared 3000 sheep from Tower to International Falls and east and west from there.
- Bailey’s Mill had several hundred sheep on Bailey’s Island in Pelican Lake where there was no protection from predators, including bears.
- FDR took the tariff off of wool, developed reciprocity policies, ruined the sheep industry – no protection except for incentive payment.* Note: Book titled: Lady of a Legend, about sheep production in the early years of Wyoming, says the same thing.
- In the early 1930’s, a man named Williams, a scaler for the logging camp, brought in several thousand Merino-type western ewes (lost to internal parasites and predators and people). Walt Enzmann** might know more about this. **Walt was deceased at this original printing (July 10, 2013) – Question: does an Enzmann family member remember hearing about this?
In 1919, when Jim Gordon was 5 years old, Mike Savage had Cotswolds (a big British long-wooled sheep breed) at his farm, adjacent to the property the Gordon’s had in Field Township. After Savage moved to the west coast, A.T. Gordon bought the Savage farm and retired there in 1938. Jim remembers: “Local farm flocks often numbered around 100 ewes. George Leander had quite a bunch. John Trygg also. Burtness’s had 100. Peter, then Eldred. Anthony’s too. Scotts always had sheep (Andrew, then Carl, then Charles Ervin)”
Jim recollects worming sheep with August Buboltz at the farm across from the Littlefork Lutheran Church (on Wien Road and Samuelson – where Dale Arvila is now). They used Copper Sulfate and Nicotine Sulfate mixed with water.
Otherwise, farmers mostly had cows with a few sheep to provide wool for the grandmothers to use to make yarn for knitting.
Men worked in the woods for $1.00 a day and board.
During the depression when no licensing was needed to make sales from home butchering, Jim sold lambs for $3.50 apiece to several Virginia meat markets including Roderigo’s and the Italian Market. Jim used to bring live lambs to Duluth to the Elliot plant. They quit butchering in Duluth in the 1950’s. They paid one to two dollars less than the market price and at least once, Jim gathered 100-200 lambs and brought them to the market in South St. Paul for a better return. People got out of the sheep business because they could make a few more dollars on cows (dairying). The development of and the popularity of synthetic fabrics depressed the wool industry further.
Liver Flukes really showed up as a problem in the 1950s. Some treatments in order of use were:
- Carbon Tetrachloride Boluses (keep the bolus intact as you are administering it down the sheep’s throat).
- Hexachlorethane – a liquid drench. (Probably some others not listed here.)
- Albendazole – still in use (Valbazen)
- Clorsulon – as an injectable wormer used in Ivomec F currently.
Bears caused a lot of trouble to sheep flocks.*** Note: We didn’t talk about it then, but wolves, intermittently with coyotes, became a predator problem after wolves received Federal protection and caused significant animal and dollar loss in the decades following their protection. John Skraba (Greaney?) had a lot of bear trouble in the early years. In the late 1940’s, 150 farmers met at the Cook High School gym regarding predator problems.
Prior and through much of the 1950’s, pneumonia was about the only health problem for sheep flocks. Good usual care and deworming for internal parasites was sufficient to maintain flock health. If external parasites were a problem, the use of Coopers Sheep Dip in a bath for each sheep was done.