Sunday, 19 June 2016

Men of Yore: Robert Bakewell

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Robert Bakewell (Source)

Robert Bakewell, (born 1725, Dishley, Leicestershire, England—died October 1, 1795, Dishley) agriculturist who revolutionized sheep and cattle breeding in England by methodical selection, inbreeding, and culling. Bakewell made his farm famous as a model of scientific management, and many of his methods are still commonly practiced today.

As a young man, Bakewell traveled throughout England and
Europe to learn agricultural techniques and then returned to his father’s 178-hectare (440-acre) farm at Dishley to serve as his apprentice. Upon his father’s death in 1760, he inherited the family farm and began to innovate breeding techniques. Unlike his contemporaries, he separated his male and female livestock to prevent random breeding. He developed an “in-and-in” method in which desirable traits were exaggerated by inbreeding and individuals with undesireable traits were culled (removed) from the breeding populations. He also pioneered the large-scale use of letting animals for stud.

Bakewell was one of the first farmers to breed both
sheep and cattle for meat instead of primarily for wool or work. He developed the Leicestershire longhorn cattle, which were good meat producers but poor suppliers of milk and were later supplanted by the shorthorns bred by his apprentice Charles Colling. Bakewell also developed the Leicester sheep, a barrel-shaped animal that produced long coarse wool and also provided a good yield of high-quality fatty meat, though these sheep eventually lost their popularity because of changes in taste in meat.


Just as certain plant species have been domesticated by humans to such an extent that people will think of wheat as more of a 'food grown on a farm' than 'a plant' (like dandelion or stinging nettles), so have certain animals have also been domesticated to such an extent that they are seen as 'food raised on a farm' rather than 'an animal' (like a bear or fox).  This process of transforming a wild animal to a domestic one takes years and years of perseverance and selective breeding, and like everything else in civilization, someone had to get the ball rolling.  And when it comes to animal husbandry (the management of domesticated animals), one of those men was Robert Bakewell.

He brought the scientific approach to animal husbandry which allowed farmers to produce more from their cattle (be it wool, milk, or meat), which means both more profits for the farmer and cheaper food for you and me.

Without that development we, living 250 years later, wouldn't have productive and high yield farms and would obviously be worse off because of it.  So next time your tucking into your bowl of milk and cornflakes, raise your spoon to Robert Bakewell and his agronomical endeavours.