While sheep probably aren’t uppermost in our minds when we think of North Dakota, they aren’t exactly divorced from our state, either. In the past, sheep and other livestock were a way to the future. In an agricultural state like North Dakota, that sort of way to the future was important.
On this day in 1929, North Dakota had made an important decision and had set a goal for the state: They were going to place a million sheep in North Dakota by 1932.
Little Bo Peep would be thrilled. But these lambs weren’t just for her.
There were 582,000 sheep in North Dakota at this time, and that number was an increase of over 130 percent in the last six years as a result of an ongoing sheep campaign, which was in place through the railroads, the Agricultural Credit Corporation of Minneapolis, and the Agricultural College, which is now Fargo’s North Dakota State University.
A.J. Dexter, agricultural development agent of the Northern Pacific Railway, said part of the reasoning behind this decision was that “the number of sheep per capita in the United States today is much less than at any time in the history of the country, though,” he added, “it should be said that the production of pounds of lamb and wool per ewe has been increased by better breeding, feed and care.”
Dexter emphasized that more sheep and the expansion of that industry would be desirable economically for North Dakota. He produced figures showing the number of sheep falling in the Corn Belt, the upper Mississippi Valley, South Dakota and Wisconsin. But North Dakota’s increases “more than made up for” the decrease and stagnation. Moreover, sheep figures around the world were declining.
Dexter asserted that he firmly believed that “there is not a state in the union in a more favorable position in regard to average age of its sheep than North Dakota, nor in as good condition to withstand any possible decline in sheep prices if it should come.” He also said that “since 1867, the purchasing power of sheep has had an upward trend.”
Certainly it would make good business for the railroad, as well as the farmer, since sheep would be shipped by train to the different parts of North Dakota.
In the end, some did get into the sheep business. And it seems likely that after counting all those sheep, they got a good night’s sleep.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Billings County Pioneer, June 27, 1929, p.1