Your reading list

Telephone inventor researched sheep teats

The man who invented the telephone was one of the first to experiment with multi-nippled sheep.

Alexander Graham Bell became involved in sheep breeding in 1889 when he bought land that came with a flock of sheep. Bell noticed a higher proportion of twins were born to ewes with more than two nipples.

The scientist wanted to see if selective breeding could produce sheep with four functional nipples with enough milk for twin lambs, according to a paper, Search for Yesterday, in the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, N.S.

Bell also wanted to know if multi-nippled sheep would consistently produce twins. The industry considers sheep with more than two nipples to be multi-nippled. At that time few sheep in the province were producing twin lambs.

An examination of more than 3,000 sheep in the area produced 18 multi-nippled sheep suitable for Bell’s flock, including one with six nipples.

By 1904, Bell was convinced there was no connection between twins and the multi-nippled trait, but continued to work on factors that might increase twinning.

After his death in 1922, a son-in-law arranged for the experiments to continue.

Later experiments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed little milk was produced by the extra nipples. Since the small lambs often took the extra nipples instead of the primary ones, there was a danger they might get insufficient milk and the department recommended against breeding for the trait.

By the mid-1940s it was decided the multi-nippled character had no practical value in sheep production and the flock was dispersed.

explore

Stories from our other publications