Or, how the BFLs made it to the US

Another Road to Nova Scotia

Originally published in The Shepherd, February 1997, Volume 42, Number 2, pages 20-21.
By Letty Klein and Kelly Ward

(Two driven -or is it driving? – women)

Friday, 16 August 1996, at 6:20 a.m., our trip began from Kalamazoo, Michigan with destination Nova Scotia for a flock of Bluefaced Leicester sheep. Two seasoned travelers, veteran Romney breeder Kelly Ward and I, an avid Karakul breeder, were off again in Kelly’s Dodge pickup truck pulling an unusually empty 16-foot stock trailer. With the necessary USDA Import Permit in hand we headed for Canada. As customary we kept a travel journal, nicknamed the ‘Ewe-Hauls’.

We were through customs and into Canada at Port Huron, Michigan by nine a.m. Quickly we learned the advantage of using Canadian currency for small purchases, and a major credit card for larger purchases as the exchange rate was automatic. Traffic was heavy on the Trans-Canada Highway 401 all the way into Montreal. This 12-hour leg of the journey was complicated by a heavy thunderstorm, but we were rewarded with a beautiful double rainbow. Momentarily one rainbow looked like it ended in the middle of the road right in front of us… truly beautiful, like a sign from God that all is right, clean and beautiful with the world. Just on the other side of Montreal we stopped at St. Hyacinthe for the night. It felt good to walk the couple of blocks from our hotel to a brasserie for dinner. We dined royally on saut?ed shrimp and rice, accompanied by perfectly cooked broccoli, carrots, and rutabaga, plus mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad. All this for about $8 U.S. dollars.

On the road the next day by 5:00 a.m., it was an easy drive on a beautiful morning along the St. Lawrence River, north and east toward Riviere du Loup. The quaint city of Quebec was visible in the morning sun along the hillside. The huge old bridges towered above the river. Then turning almost due south toward Edmundston on two-lane Highway 185 we left Quebec Providence, with its French-speaking people, and crossed into New Brunswick. Now in the Atlantic Time Zone and headed for Woodstock along the St. John River, we mused that we had not seen a single sheep the entire trip. The two-lane Trans-Canada Highway 2, which straddles the border between New Brunswick and Maine, was very hilly with beautiful vistas. Woodstock-Houlton was where we were to cross the border into the U.S. with the sheep on the return trip. As we had an appointment with the USDA Veterinarian and a Broker Tuesday, we began paying close attention to the driving times from now on. Almost five hours later we found ourselves crossing into Nova Scotia through the great flat tidal basin, the Tantramar Marsh. With the fog-laden wind blowing fiercely, we found the Welcome Center in Amherst. They cheerfully found us one of the last rooms in the entire area available for the night and gave us maps and pamphlets of Nova Scotia’s north shore.

We drove the 30 some miles out to David Firth’s farm to let him know we had arrived. After unhooking the trailer, we took a walk out in the pasture to see the unforgettable view: the Northumberland Strait, Prince Edward Island beyond, and of course the hundreds of beautiful ewes with their lambs grazing the lush green grass. The three huge Great Pyrenees guardian dogs were wary but tolerant of us. The female was due to have pups very soon. Hunger and approaching darkness drove us back to Amherst where we found a little cafe with good garlic scallops and a glass of wine.

The next day was our day of leisure, a time to explore the north coast. We got on the road early, looking for a place to have breakfast and coffee. The place we wanted in Tidnish didn’t open till 10 a.m. so we continued down the coast. We stopped at the popular Amherst Shore Country Inn in Lorneville in hopes of finding a place to stay closer to the Firth Farm. Gracious hostess Donna Laceby reserved a room for us in the house which included a fresh salmon dinner that evening. Close to North Port we came upon the tiny ‘Cranberry Cafe and Bakery’. Finally, breakfast of garden omelets, fresh croissants and coffee. This newly built log cottage was in the middle of 107 acres of rolling grassland dotted with patches of trees. Right outside the door was a perfect and ample vegetable garden. Next stop was historic Pugwash, ‘the home of the thinkers’. Unfortunately we had just missed the lobster season. The Seagull Pewter’s Factory Store became our favorite place to shop, while the Canadian Sterling Craft Shop was fun to explore. After driving through the quaint town of Wallace, we came to Malagash, home of the Jost Winery. We joined the first tour of the day and learned that the headaches some people get from drinking red wine are due to a substance found in the skin of the grape. Their famous, expensive and extremely sweet Matina Ice Wine is made from lightly pressed frozen grapes, just one drop of sugary nectar is extracted from each grape.

After lunch in Tatamagouche, and a visit to the Artisan’s Cooperative, we stopped at the Fraser Cultural Center where the Anna Swan Archives are housed. The giantess, born in 1846, grew to 7′ 4″ and married Captain Martin Bates, the ‘Kentucky Giant’. Believe us when we say ‘her bloomers were a sight to see’. Our journey continued past the town of River John where we turned around and headed back to the Inn to get cleaned up and rest before dinner.

Monday morning, after a breakfast fit for lumberjacks (pancakes stuffed full of fresh peaches and blueberries with fresh pork sausages), Donna agreed to put us up for another night. So we were ready to spend the day sorting sheep with David Firth, a retired physicist. His flocks of over 300 consisted of several purebred Bluefaced Leicesters, while the rest were commercial type sheep. We began by sorting through the adult rams and found one large fellow that met our criteria. Then the lambs were separated from the ewes, and the ewe lambs separated from the ram lambs. We selected two correct ram lambs with nice fleeces, one with a beautiful dark blue face and the other very long loined.

Rosemary Firth, a school teacher, fed us pea soup, fresh bread, and white cheddar cheese for lunch. By now Lisa Rodenfels (Somerset, OH) and the veterinary inspector Dr. A. MacAulay (Animal Health Division of Agriculture Canadian) had arrived. The ewes were evaluated, rejecting any with defects that might inhibit border inspection. All the necessary paperwork, including the Official Export Certificate, was filled out, signed and sealed. Exhausted, we peeked at the two newborn pups with their mother in the corner of the shed and headed for the Inn. We had just enough time to shower and dress for dinner. The curried scallops were fantastic, as was the sight of the fast approaching storm across the straits.

We started loading sheep the next morning at 5:45 a.m. The temperature was a chilly 34 degrees Farenheit. All the lambs were first up onto the second deck of the trailer, then all the ewes and the adult ram were loaded below. One old ewe, ‘Grandma Firth’, went into the back of the pickup with three of the tiniest ewe lambs. Finally we were off with our precious but heavy cargo. The time went quickly and found us through customs without a hitch by noon.

We made the mistake of trying to stop at L.L.Bean’s in Freeport, Maine. The streets were packed with people and vehicles, which made maneuvering our big truck and trailer full of sheep a real nightmare. We quickly decided to get back on the highway and place an order through the catalog when we got home. Traffic was heavy until we finally stopped around 11:00 p.m. at a truck-stop motel just outside Albany, New York. If you ever see one of us in person, be sure to ask about the tacky room we had with one wall entirely of mirrors!

We were on the road again very early Wednesday morning, 21 August, I-90 all the way through Buffalo to Erie, Pennsylvania, where we turned south on I-79 to Pittsburgh. On I-70 we headed west to Somerset, Ohio where we dropped off Lisa’s sheep. With a much lighter load we headed for Columbus, but a traffic jam sent us cross-country to I-75. We were home by midnight, at last…3000 miles in arrears or is it ‘on our rears’?

In praise of the YCP program

By Margie Smith, PA 

What a wonderful program the Youth Conservation Program, held during the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival each year is!  It was an experience that I would recommend to fellow BFL breeders. I’d like to thank Elaine Ashcraft for directing such a wonderful program! This was my first year donating a registered BFL yearling and it was truly an honor to do. Elaine walked me through each step of the way with patience and lots of guidance. I enjoyed reading the entries from the youth who requested a yearling. The entry my husband and I chose was Tia Iversen from North Carolina. What a blessing she is to our breed! Tia took responsibility of our yearling, Marlindale Pippa, as soon as they were acquainted at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. By the time Pippa made it North Carolina, she and Tia had become buddies. As the weeks progressed, it turned out that Pippa had been bred. On June 19th, Pippa gave Tia her first lamb, a 10 lb ram lamb! Pippa trusted Tia so much that she let her handle and help clean the new lamb. What a wonderful time and experience. If any of you have a yearling you feel would benefit a youth, please help out by donating a ewe yearling. To see the joy this ewe has brought Tia and her family has made this all worth the efforts on everyone’s parts!

Profitable BFLs

By BLU president Katie Sullivan, VT.  Originally published in The Shepherd Magazine.

It took a few years and some mistakes to come around to the Bluefaced Leicester.

I started out with five mutt sheep that cost $250 total. A combination of Montadale and Corriedale, they had nice wool from their Corriedale ancestry and great meat frame size from the Montadale side. But finding a matching ram? Impossible. I used several Cormo rams in pursuit of fine fleece, but struggled to maintain other traits. Soon, I had an unruly gang of sheep of all shapes and sizes and no way to effectively breed them into uniformity in a reasonable timeframe.

It was plainly time to find a consistent animal who would deliver delicious lamb and highly desirable wool. Being accustomed to selling Cormo, I wasn’t really keen to have to convince my customers that they were going to love something rough or primitive. Since every ewe can produce $100 or more of wool value, well marketed, it seemed a waste to consider hair breeds. On the other extreme, finewool breeds do not thrive in our damp climate and with land prices in our area being high, I knew I would need a breed that would produce twins and triplets reliably. I had noticed that many producers in our area did not consider carcass economics carefully, choosing breeds that finished at weights too light to be economical where slaughter costs more than $100 per animal.

The Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) checked boxes that other breeds didn’t. They are fairly large and finish at a larger size than many breeds favored by hobbyists. They provide tender meat and incredible length of loin, increasing the proportion of the most desirable cuts. BFL ewes can carry lambs from the largest terminal sires with ease. My BFL ewes are so milky that I am struggling to dry them off after four month’s lactation. Their lambs are enormous and well-conformed.

On the wool side, I’ve discovered that every beginning spinner is sent out seeking BFL fiber to spin. Yarn buyers and felters appreciate the tightly purled curl and silky sheen of BFL. The fiber blends well with precious fibers, offering shiny, drapey yarns that flatter the wearer.

Most importantly, BFLs were one of the last breeds imported to the US as live animals, meaning that BFLs in North America were not bred up from a parent breed. While genetics got a little tight in the ‘90’s, the importation of a dozen diverse, award-winning sires from the UK during the 2000’s has made the breed gene pool wide and healthy again. Almost every ewe in my flock has a champion UK ram in the third or fourth generation.

Other shepherds sometimes ding me by accusing the BFL of being too delicate. Mine have proven as hardy as any other sheep and have weathered Northern Vermont winters with ease. They want a little supplementation to stay in tip-top condition, sure, but when you compare their productivity with that of an unimproved breed, you quickly realise that a small grain bill isn’t a big price to pay for vigorous twins, valuable wool and long, large carcasses in the locker.

LOVE AFFAIR WITH BLUEFACED LEICESTERS!

Originally published in The Shepherd magazine.  Written by Margie Smith, PA

Have you ever seen a “glow” and thought it must be an angel? Have you ever seen that glow in a pasture? Well, one sunny day in 2007, while viewing Nancy Starkey’s flock of Border Leicesters, there amidst the 20 or more yearlings she had, was one that absolutely glowed. It took my breath away then and it still does now.
After seeing this wonderful yearling, I knew I had to add her to my flock. She wasn’t a Border Leicester but her fleece was so shimmery, that I knew I wanted it in my genetics. This ewe was named Gwen and she was the start of my love affair with Bluefaced Leicesters!


Since 2007, I’ve added plenty more to my flock – many with the Beechtree farm name in their backgrounds, some with Bolton, some with Potosi, some with Wit’s End and a couple with Fox Hollow. It took a conglomeration of BFL sheep to get where Marlindale farm is today. I began with trying to create that shimmery lock in all my sheep. The farms mentioned above, all had a bit of what I was looking for – basically, to create a mirror image of Gwen with thicker fleece. In 2016, I felt I had arrived at that place – all my flock shimmered in the sun! Most of my flock now, are my own breeding – but it took several years to get there! So, the next step was to increase the meatiness of the body. Although most of my lambs and culled ewes don’t go for meat, I still wanted to create a dual purpose sheep – with a shimmery fleece being top priority.
You may want to know why fleece and why a shimmer? Well, if I had only wanted a meat sheep, I could go back to raising Suffolk or Hampshire sheep – the two breeds I began with in 1982. By 1992, I was disappointed that I was literally throwing my fleeces in the dump – there was no purpose for them and I didn’t know anyone who wanted them. In 1996, I changed from the Suffolk/Hampshire crosses to Montadales – a dual purpose breed. They weren’t great either in fleece or meat, so I tried Border Leicesters. I loved the breed, but again their fleeces weren’t quite what I was looking for. Then I saw Gwen and the rest is history! Well, maybe not quite. I still had my Border Leicesters – so I crossed them. What we produced was wonderful – the lambs and fleeces sold very well. However, over the next couple of years, I saw the fleeces of the BFL in the show ring diminishing. What was being shown, by my standards for fleece, was disappointing. I did my fair share of complaining – so much so, that even I couldn’t stand myself. So, what did I do? I sold the crossbreds and went entirely to BFL – either I had to put up or shut up, so I decided to create what I thought should be the best BFL there was. So, why put fleece as my top priority – because the meat breeds don’t have quality fleeces, and the BFL breeders had gotten away from the shimmery fleece. That is why!
I met with many handspinners, knitters and weavers. I asked questions, went to see mills of yarns , went to see what the BFL yarn looked like when it had been worked into a finished project. In all I saw, the yarns that kept my attention were the ones that shimmered. Some of them were from my flock, some were not – but all were BFL! I knew that shimmer was an eye-catcher, but so was the length of lock as well as the crimp and strength of each fiber. I knew what I needed to work towards.
Other than importing ewes and rams from select flocks, how do I get the quality Marlindale has now? Many factors go into this- obviously genetics is first. Next is nutrition – I’ve worked hard to have quality grazing with only 2.5 acres of land. That has been a many year trial and error! We also purchase grain from a local mill, so I know exactly what is in the mix and the mill owner works hard to help me maintain high quality feed. We try to provide medium quality grass hay, but sometimes that has been difficult since we don’t grow our own – which is why a high quality feed mix was so important to us. Finally, we keep the sheep covered with modified Rocky’s Sheep Sheets (we use his sheets and add a turtleneck to them) – pretty much all year long. It is a labor of love – a 250 ram or wether does not like having their hind feet raised to be put through leg straps! The sheep sheets get rotated and changed as the sheep grow and/or their fleeces grow. We shear in early spring or late winter – just prior to lambing. The bred ewes will not be covered until their lambs are about a month old – that way we don’t lose lambs from getting caught in leg straps (another disaster we once had and don’t want to repeat).


I can’t complete this article without also saying I’ve had wonderful mentors along the journey. One of my first mentors, was this young woman who had only been shearing professionally for about a year – you may know her – Emily Chamelin! Emily saw my crossbreds of Border Leicester to Bluefaced Leicester and loved the crimp, the shimmer and the length. She encouraged me to show the fleeces at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival – we’ve been doing it ever since! Next, Nancy Starkey – I can’t tell you how many hours she’s spent on the phone with me over genetics and health questions. There have been many others since Nancy and Emily including the Frederick County Sheep Breeders’ Association. Kelly Cole (a meat producer) was always there to help with disease control and the Scrapies program. I’ve worked with my vet (we actually had a couple of cases one year of death due to copper deficiency!), and the state vet – keeping my sheep in the federal programs.
So, it hasn’t been ALL about fleece – but…… fleece is where it started and where I hope to continue as long as I’m producing BFL sheep!

Choosing the BFL for profit

This article was originally published in The Shepherd Magazine.  Written by Katie Sullivan, Vermont

It took a few years and some mistakes to come around to the Bluefaced Leicester.

I started out with five mutt sheep that cost $250 total. A combination of Montadale and Corriedale, they had nice wool from their Corriedale ancestry and great meat frame size from the Montadale side. But finding a matching ram? Impossible. I used several Cormo rams in pursuit of fine fleece, but struggled to maintain other traits. Soon, I had an unruly gang of sheep of all shapes and sizes and no way to effectively breed them into uniformity in a reasonable timeframe.

It was plainly time to find a consistent animal who would deliver delicious lamb and highly desirable wool. Being accustomed to selling Cormo, I wasn’t really keen to have to convince my customers that they were going to love something rough or primitive. Since every ewe can produce $100 or more of wool value, well marketed, it seemed a waste to consider hair breeds. On the other extreme, finewool breeds do not thrive in our damp climate and with land prices in our area being high, I knew I would need a breed that would produce twins and triplets reliably. I had noticed that many producers in our area did not consider carcass economics carefully, choosing breeds that finished at weights too light to be economical where slaughter costs more than $100 per animal.

The Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) checked boxes that other breeds didn’t. They are fairly large and finish at a larger size than many breeds favored by hobbyists. They provide tender meat and incredible length of loin, increasing the proportion of the most desirable cuts. BFL ewes can carry lambs from the largest terminal sires with ease. My BFL ewes are so milky that I am struggling to dry them off after four month’s lactation. Their lambs are enormous and well-conformed.

On the wool side, I’ve discovered that every beginning spinner is sent out seeking BFL fiber to spin. Yarn buyers and felters appreciate the tightly purled curl and silky sheen of BFL. The fiber blends well with precious fibers, offering shiny, drapey yarns that flatter the wearer.

Most importantly, BFLs were one of the last breeds imported to the US as live animals, meaning that BFLs in North America were not bred up from a parent breed. While genetics got a little tight in the ‘90’s, the importation of a dozen diverse, award-winning sires from the UK during the 2000’s has made the breed gene pool wide and healthy again. Almost every ewe in my flock has a champion UK ram in the third or fourth generation.

Other shepherds sometimes ding me by accusing the BFL of being too delicate. Mine have proven as hardy as any other sheep and have weathered Northern Vermont winters with ease. They want a little supplementation to stay in tip-top condition, sure, but when you compare their productivity with that of an unimproved breed, you quickly realise that a small grain bill isn’t a big price to pay for vigorous twins, valuable wool and long, large carcasses in the locker.  

Bluefaced Leicester: A Breed For All Markets

This article was originally published in The Shepherd Magazine.    Written by Carol Densmore,  Cross Wind Farm, Michigan.

Learning to spin opened the door to the fiber arts world and led to the rediscovery of the hard work and farm life that I grew up in. As a hand spinner I knew I couldn’t live without some type of fiber producing livestock. And after a five-year stint of raising alpacas my search led to sheep. Then, I had a huge decision to make. What breed?
After extensive breed research I was no closer to a decision. Each breed had its pros and cons. But once I laid eyes on Bluefaced Leicesters in 2007 the decision was made. The clean face and legs, Roman nose, and the distinct wool sealed the deal. And we’ve had BFLs ever since.


The wool is an important feature but as shepherds the other aspects of the breed are also very important to my husband and I. The large size was just what we wanted, as it ensures the biggest possible fleece the breed can offer. Compared to other breeds the BFLs do not have a hefty fleece—usually between three and five pounds—so the large size of the animal helps produce as much wool as possible. Some of the BFL wethers in my fiber flock produce the biggest fleeces. And because the face, neck, legs, and belly does not have any wool, it is a huge advantage and time saver when I shear, although I didn’t know it until we later introduced other longwool breeds.
The wool itself is the best of all worlds. As a longwool you get the advantage of the long distinct locks that easily separate and are great for tail or core spinning yarn. On the fine-coarse spectrum BFL is the finest of the longwool breeds. With an average micron count of 24 -28 BFL wool is next to skin soft while maintaining its strong and durable traits. The tightly purled locks also add great texture to yarn or felted items.
Currently we have 25 registered BFLs in our flock. That results in more fleeces than I want to hand process or have mill processed. Luckily, selling the fleeces is never a problem. They are sought after by many people ranging from fiber artists, wool enthusiasts, spinners, and felters. I’m contacted on a regular basis from people looking to purchase BFL fleeces. The feedback I receive about BFL wool is always positive. It’s a good basic wool that’s easy to work with and on the soft end of the spectrum.
In my years raising and shearing BFLs I’ve noted a few reasons people gravitate to the wool. Even with a wide assortment of beautifully dyed, ready-to-use BFL wool that is available at festivals and online, there is still a segment of the fiber community that loves starting their projects from raw fleece; and for those, BFL is one of their top choices. The fleece size is very manageable. A four- to five-pound fleece is enough to create a garment like a sweater or several accessories. With the fine, denser locks a BFL fleece is easy to handle when washing as opposed to a fleece of the same weight that has wider, finer, or more voluminous locks. The smaller BFL fleeces are sought after by people who only need a couple of pounds because they are blending it with another fiber or want to use the individual locks for jewelry, felted pieces, and spinning textured yarns.
People who buy my fleeces comment that they like BFL because the staple length of three to six inches is great for many projects such as spinning woolen and worsted yarn, blending with exotic fibers, or using the purled locks to accent felted pieces. The dye pots are also a popular place for BFL because of its semi-lustrous characteristic. BFL takes dye beautifully either as locks or a combed or carded preparation. And the soft hand and beautiful drape you get is always an attraction.


I find that hand processing my own BFL fleeces produces a softer product. Combing is my preferred method which produces a lovely worsted or semi-worsted yarn. Starting the combing process from the tightly purled locks can be a bit tricky. The thin locks tend to slip between the tines of my combs. But to avoid this challenge, I prepare a carded batt first then comb the batt. Works like a charm!
A few years after we bought our starter BFL flock we introduced Lincoln Longwools, Romneys, and Border Leicesters. With the crossing abilities of the BFL ram we achieved great results breeding them with the other purebred longwools. The size, good fiber, and vigor in the crossbred lambs make them prime candidates for my fiber flock or valuable market lambs. My fiber flock keeps growing with BFL wethers, BFL crossbreds, and BFL ewes whose breeding time has come to an end.
Even though the purebred BFLs stand out in the flock with their erect ears, alert eyes, and commanding stance, all of our sheep are touched by BFL genetics and many have it running through their veins. We’d have it no other way.

 

2019 Dues

It is time for 2019 dues to be paid.  Please complete a work order, make out the check to BLU, and mail it to ASR at the address posted on our website.  You can also print a copy of the work order there.   It’s important to pay your dues within the 60 day grace period at the beginning of each year so that you take full advantage of the benefits of membership.   Only paid members will remain on the list of members provided on the website, and are able to vote in elections.