BFLs in North America

The Bluefaced Leicester Arrives in North America

L. Brian Nettleton with border collies

Dr. L. Brian Nettleton with his Border Collies. Many thanks to Sarah Nettleton for sending a few wonderful photos of her father for our BLU Library.

The First North American BFL Importers & Breeders

In the early 1970s, two separate shipments of Bluefaced Leicesters were imported into Canada from the United Kingdom. To date, it is accepted knowledge that these two shipments were the original importations of the breed into North America.

Dr. L. Brian Nettleton, a veterinarian and native of Yorkshire, was the driving force behind the importations. He is acknowledged as “the man who brought the BFL to North America.” Dr. Nettleton and family resided on their farm in Truro, Nova Scotia at the time.

He was assisted by Andrew Richardson with these importations. William Mathewson, head shepherd and professor at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, was also involved in at least the first importation process, but was responsible for the North Country Cheviots.

The first BFLs arrived in Nova Scotia in 1970. 1 ram and 3 ewes arrived by ship from Scotland; Dr. Nettleton rode aboard the ship to oversee their health. Also on board was a large shipment of over 1000 Scottish Blackface sheep, some North Country Cheviots, a small number of Clun Forest sheep, and one ram of a particular strain called the Cadzow Improver.

In 1974, the second BFL shipment arrived by air, 1 ram and 10 ewes. These sheep were purchased from the Old Parks flock in Penrith, Cumbria, owned by the Raine family.

During the following decade, the primary Bluefaced Leicester breeders in Nova Scotia were Dr. Brian Nettleton, Andy Richardson, Bruce Blacklock, David Murphy, and David Firth.

Many of the men involved with the BFL were natives of Britain and were familiar with the breed and its use in the 3-tier breeding system. Their interest was not in the wool qualities of the BFL, but instead focused on producing BFL rams to breed to Scottish Blackface ewes, to produce Mules.

Dr. Nettleton was very enthusiastic about the Bluefaced Leicester, and never wasted an opportunity to promote it. He spoke about the breed regularly at sheep producer meetings, and to the public (through media) during this era.

Off to the United States…

Early US Importers & Breeders

A number of years later, during the early 1980s, Bluefaced Leicesters arrived in the United States from Nova Scotia. The earliest BFL importers were Frank Baylis, Bayshore Farm, Virginia; and Anne Priest, Blue Island Farms, New York. Anne met Brian Nettleton in the mid-1970s and he became her “sheep mentor.” Frank Baylis acquired BFLs from Brian Nettleton (circa 1980-1982) and Frank Richardson (Andrew’s son) (September 1986).

Both Anne Priest and Frank Baylis also had Scottish Blackface sheep. Mt. Saviour Monastery in New York State also acquired Scottish Blackface from Nova Scotia. Andrew Richardson held these sheep on his farm for the 5-year quarantine at the request of the Monastery.

They may have eventually brought in their own BFL rams from Nova Scotia, or purchased them later from Frank Baylis (which he brought from Nova Scotia), but Mt. Saviour Monastery can be counted among the first to breed Mules in the United States.

Lisa and Chuck Rodenfels, Somerhill Farm, Ohio, purchased their first purebred BFL ram “Noah” from Frank Baylis in 1990. They used him for several years to breed to their Border Cheviot flock. Anne Priest imported the BFL ram “ET” (David Murphy breeding) from Nova Scotia in the fall of 1991. Her ram “Barney” (David Murphy breeding) arrived from Nova Scotia in the fall of 1992.

Blacklock River John BFL yearling ram

Blacklock River John 40D, as a yearling with Chuck Rodenfels. "We loved him; he was absolutely huge, and elegant, and ever the gentleman. His feet were the size of dessert plates!"

Preservation Efforts Begin

The first serious preservation efforts began in 1995, when a few breeders in the United States purchased and divided two North American flocks.

The first flock came down out of Nova Scotia, and many of these sheep were from the breeders Firth, Murphy, and Blacklock. The last of these original breeders were getting out of breeding Bluefaced Leicesters.

“The Murphy Ram” (Murphy 95-025), Blacklock River John 40D, Blacklock 69 Marty (ewe), and Blacklock 57 Nova (ewe) arrived in the US in the fall of 1995.  The remainder of the Firth flock was purchased and arrived in the US between 1996 and 1997, with Firth Monique arriving in the 1997 shipment.

The second North American flock was the Bayshore flock from Virginia, also being dispersed. (One of Frank Baylis’ dispersal sale ads ran in the Nov./Dec. 1994 ALBC newsletter.)

A number of breeders were involved at this critical juncture between 1995 and 1997; Anne Priest (New York), Kelly Ward, Ward Farms (Michigan), Lisa & Chuck Rodenfels (Ohio), LeeAnne Richert, Red Oak Farm (Wisconsin), Brenda Lelli, Beechtree Farm (Michigan), Anne Bisdorf, Wool ‘N Wood Farm (Ohio), Barbara and Bill Wellman (Michigan), and Linda Phillips, Longhope Farm (North Carolina).

Sheep from these flocks were carefully bred until new genetics could be obtained. We refer to these sheep as the old “Domestic” lines.

New Bloodlines & BLU

Growing concern for the breed led to the importation of frozen semen from the United Kingdom to expand the genetic base of the Bluefaced Leicester in the US. In 1997, the first “new blood” since the original importations was introduced into North America.

The first four sires to be collected and exported were Gwestydd Goliath (better known as Jamie), Rossiebank Laird, Beeston Loyalty (all in 1997), and Morlea Ebony Boy, a natural colored ram (in 2000). These four sires were critical for the expansion of our flocks, and set the stage for the next decade.

Beechtree Pinkerton was the first AI ram born in the US. He was sired by Rossiebank Laird and was born at Mark and Brenda Lelli’s Beechtree Farm, Michigan, in 1998.

Gwestydd Goliath and Jeff Leake

Gwestydd Goliath ("Jamie") and Jeff Leake at a sheep event, United Kingdom, 1996.

Following these important milestones, the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America (BLU) was organized in 1998 to educate, preserve and promote the breed, and support its members. BLU established an official Registry with the 1998 lamb crop.

…and back to Canada again!

“The Return”

After much planning and effort, several US breeders exported Bluefaced Leicesters to Canada during the summer and fall of 2007. The first one (a ram lamb) traveled from New York and arrived in Nova Scotia on July 17 in the back of a pickup truck, via the ferry boat Yarmouth Cat.

Quickly following, several more groups of sheep were transported into Ontario, and into Western Canada, from breeders in Michigan, Montana, and Oregon. A couple more young ewes from Michigan made the trip to Nova Scotia in the fall, rounding out this very exciting year.

It was generally considered “the return of the Bluefaced Leicester to Canada” after an alleged absence of the breed from the country since the mid-1990s.

US export breeders included Anne Priest, Brenda Lelli, Kelly Ward, Judy Colvin (Montana), and Robina Koenig (Oregon). The Canadian importers were Debbie Oxby (Nova Scotia), Bill Stearman (Ontario), Jody McLean (Alberta), and Linda Wendelboe (Alberta).

The Yarmouth Cat in the fog, Nova Scotia, July 17, 2007. Photo by Debbie Oxby.

BLU played a part in this undertaking, and continues to aid our Canadian members and breeders in their quest to revive the Bluefaced Leicester breed north of the border.

Anne Priest and Debbie Oxby on the wharf, July 17, 2007.

The BFL Adventure Continues

With renewed interest in this magnificent breed, the past decade and a half has seen much positive growth.

From a mere handful of sheep, flocks have expanded across the country, there have been many more UK sires collected and imported, and there is an increasing number of registrations from coast to coast.

The Bluefaced Leicester is certainly proving itself as a multi-purpose breed; ideal for the purebred sheep breeder and enthusiast, the handspinner and fiber artist, and the commercial producer.