August 31, 2019 was a great day. The 197th Great Geauga County Fair, Ohio’s oldest county fair, has an annual attendance of over a quarter million people. It was a great day also, for Shepherd’s Run (William and Sharon O’Donnell). Dexter, our natural colored ram lamb was Champion ram in the Natural Colored Class, then returned to the ring for the Supreme Champion class. Matt Martin was the judge who pinned Dexter as the Supreme Champion Ram noting his excellent fleece.
Merdith Myers Null – Maryland.
I am excited for the opportunity to serve on the BLU Board of Directors again this term. I have significant experience that should serve me well in this role. I served this past term as Vice President and enjoyed it tremendously!
In the past, I served on the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association (MSBA) Board of Directors. MSBA puts on the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, the annual Maryland Wool Pool, and sponsors several other educational and promotional activities through the year.
I have been in love with and owned Bluefaced Leicesters for 12 years. Over those past 12 years first my mom, Connie, and I and since her passing, now my husband, Dan, and I have been building a flock that has quality fleeces on sound, fast growing frames. We are very proud to be a part of this breed. BFLs have such a unique position in our current market that places emphasis on quality and sustainable production. I am very interested in helping BFLs expand their genetic impact in North America and plan to continue that role on the BFL board in my next term, and I am looking forward to representing the breed through our organization.
FOR BOARD OF DIRECTOR (vote for no more than 2)
Brian Guilmain – Iowa
Hello, my name is Brian Guilmain, I am 47 years old and I live in northeast Iowa near a town called Edgewood. My partner and I live on a farm where we raise Red Angus cattle, Bluefaced Leicester, Scottish Blackface, and Tunis sheep. I have been living in the Midwest for the past 6 years. Besides farming I also work in a Lab testing DDG products for livestock feeds and ethanol production. I am originally from New York state where I was born and lived on a dairy farm.
My first exposer to sheep was when I was a teenager and my mother decided she wanted to get involved in sheep farming. My mother decided on the Romneys as a breed that would work the best for our farm at that time. As a teenage boy I found myself enjoying the work with the dairy cattle more and really didn’t care for her sheep. However, my mother couldn’t handle the chores with her new sheep adventure on her own. So, she ended up “roping” me into helping with the care of her animals. It was when her ewes lambed that first year and I was helping her, that I became interested in working with sheep. Some of the best times I ever had with my mother was out in the lambing shed working together caring for the lambs.
When I was in college my uncle gave me some ewes (commercial which I kept at a friend’s farm) then I acquired my first purebred ewe a Horn Dorset which lead to my interest in English Breeds. When I left college and started my dairy farm – I decided at that time I wanted to get into more purebred type sheep. I decided on the Scottish Blackface for their hardiness and good mothering abilities and the black and white face markings matched my Holstein dairy cattle. I kept that flock up until I sold my dairy and moved off the farm. (2011)
In 2013 I moved to Iowa and met my partner. Now that I was back on a farm, I wanted to work with sheep again. I decided it would be rewarding to work with an American breed so, I chose Tunis (because their red heads matched our Red Angus cattle). In 2016 a friend of mine purchased some natural colored BFLs. After a few months, he decided sheep was not his thing. So, he asked if I would be interested in his animals consisting of 3 head. When I went to look at them, I fell in love with those upright rabbit ears and big eyes – I brought them home. It was through those 3 animals that the passion for the breed began. I loved how they were always interested in what I was doing in the barn or out in the yard (they were always in my way). I loved shearing them. The shearing head moved through that soft wool like a hot knife going through butter. That first year I bred them to my Tunis ram. When they had their lambs – I was really impressed with their mothering abilities, and the amount of milk they made. One of the ewes had triplets, and she raised them on her own. The BFL cross lambs grew well on pasture. That led me to wanting to be more involved with breeding purebreds so, I started looking for a ram. Through the BLU member directory, I contacted Laura and Steve Demoth in the fall of 2018 and the only BFL breeder here in Iowa at that time. I purchsed a ram lamb and 5 ewe lambs for my start into purebreds. I have purcased additional animals from them over the last couple of years as well. This year a purchased 2 rams from Randy and Rainey Pritchard of Colorado. Today, I have around 50 animals. I have scaled my Tunis flock from 150 head to 10 this summer to make more time and room to focus on breeding the BFLs. Years ago, an older dairy farmer told me “you pick a breed of livestock that works the best for you and your farm”. The Bluefaced Leicesters just worked better on this farm. We have a hill farm where areas are hard and rocky and wet during fall and early spring. I have no feet problems with BFLs where with my Tunis I would from time to time. The Blues were also more willing to climb the steep hills to graze. Also, I found the Blues seem to milk better than the Tunis did, on grass hay. But most important, this is a breed of sheep that is just easy and fun to work with. I can see myself keeping them around until I am a very old man.
My goals for the future are – to breed and develop an outstanding flock of BFLs. The reason I am interested in running for the board is simply put – to get more involved, to help and support with the promotion of the breed.
Margie Smith – Pennsylvania
My name is Margie Smith and I am running for the BLU Board. I have currently served one year on the BLU board.
I’ve been farming as an adult since 1980 in Frederick County Maryland as a dairy farmer. Over the years we’ve had dairy cattle, beef cattle, hogs, milking goats and sheep. My main interest now is with fleece sheep and singularly with Bluefaced Leicesters. I’ve used my knowledge of genetics to produce a physically sound, well -fleeced BFL.
I have brought those skills, especially with producing quality fleeces to the BLU. Actually, some of what I’ve learned has been used to develop Face Book “how to’s” for using sheep sheets. We’re also creating a video on skirting a fleece for show and sale.
Thank you for considering me for a 2nd time!
Karen Szewc – Oregon
I own and operate Liongate Farm located in Southern Oregon with my husband Jon Updegraff. I am a shepherdess, fiberpreneur and maker of fiber crafts (as well as head barn cleaner) and would like to be considered for a board position with BLU. I have an “official” degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design and we both work FT outside of the Farm. I own an Etsy shop (Liongate.etsy.com) that features my fiber products and art and participate in 3 fiber shows and 4 craft shows throughout the year.
It all started with a quest for curly wool Santa beards. Wandering the aisles at the Black Sheep Gathering..Touching, feeling, talking about what would be the right breed to add to my small flock of Navajo Churro Sheep. Then I met the Blues. Perfect curls, perfect size, perfect personalities. Love!!!!
Our farm has been in operation since 1997, and I obtained my first blues in 2010 and it was instant joy. Since then I have almost finished converting my entire small flock (15 ewes and 3 rams) to a nicely diversified genetic pool of Bluefaced Leicester’s. Our mission is to produce exemplary quality fiber, wool products and crafts and outstanding healthy breeding stock as well as a marketable meat lamb using a terminal sire. Exciting changes are coming to Liongate Farm as we are currently on the search for a larger ranch property to grow our sheep business and other endeavors (we want to be a farm wedding venue and expand the fiber studio and store and be able to hose Fiber camps and more classes)
We also employ livestock guardian dogs to protect our sheep and are involved in promoting this passive form of predator deterrent. Our farm forest interface is negligible and we border a main water source which results in a large predator problem (cougar, bear, coyote, fox). Having the working dogs reduces our probability of predator kills.
We host Fiber on the Farm each August at the farm, promoting local fiber farm and providing an educational opportunity for the public to experience the farm, meet the animals and learn the processes of fiber production. I also have a large knowledge in ovine health based on experience love to assist others in this category.
I was a board member from 2015-2018 and want to continue serving the breed. I served as hostess of the BFL National Show at Black Sheep Gathering in 2018 and we had a fabulous showing of BFLs. My goal continues to be to educate the public and put the BFL breed prominently on the map on the west coast. We continue to maintain our own class at BSG and with the new breeders that have been started and flocks that are growing this should be a solid class for the breed at the BSG in the future. Most importantly I am trying to develop an interest in the breed in young shepherds. So far I have four young shepherd flocks started (under age 20). It is very exciting.
Thank you for your consideration!
Written by Carol Densmore
Instead of researching genealogy and family stories, I tend to apply the same focus on sheep. Especially the breeds I raise—Bluefaced Leicester being one of them. Having one of the Leicester breeds, I was naturally drawn to the other breeds that sport the Leicester name—English Leicester and Border Leicester. Not enough to put them in my pastures, but enough to investigate what lineage and commonalities they share beside the name; and to dispel the belief that the Bluefaced Leicester is not a longwool.
As with many improved breeds, especially in the U.K., the history often leads back to Robert Bakewell. Turns out over 200 years ago Bakewell was responsible for developing a distinct, improved breed known as Dishley Leicester. From the Dishley Leicester, and the breeding methods used to get there, came a number of breeds including the long wool group of today’s English Leicester, Border Leicester, and Bluefaced Leicester. The ancestral lineage is pretty clear.
I’m not sure if Bakewell focused mainly on long wools, but that’s what he got with this group—a distinct range of wool on the long wool spectrum. Typically when we think of long wool breeds we think of a stronger, heavier fleece. One that stands up to outer wear, rugs, and even upholstery with a micron count higher than 35, or so. And that’s what you get with English Leicester wool…length, luster, and strength. It’s right up there with the Lincoln and Cotswold. Beautiful stuff! Then around 1850 the Border Leicester was established as a breed after many years of breed improvement. The Border Leicester is a product of a Dishley Leicester and Cheviot (and/or Teeswater) cross. And even though the cross created a sheep that is smaller than its Leicester ancestor and wool that is not as course, it’s still carries all the traits of a long wool breed…length, luster, and strength. And it stays in that category for sheep and wool shows. Then around 1920 the Bluefaced Leicester started to appear on the landscape with its tiny purled locks and not-so-voluminous fleece. In fact, one doesn’t think of heavy duty uses for BFL but instead for items worn next to the skin. So how could it be in the same category of a stronger, courser long wool breed? There are a couple of reasons.
First, the ancestral lineage shows a clear path back to the Dishley Leicester. And as the breeding improved, the BFL wool retained the Leicester luster and strength. The fleece length and volume changed but not into a totally different structure like the dense, squared-off lock of medium and fine wool breeds. Unlike medium breed wool that was a result of crossing a fine and long wool breeds, BFL wool held the classic longwool structure—individual locks that grow and hang parallel to the body—due to continuous improved breeding of the Dishley Leicester as opposed to crossbreeding.
Second, a distinct characteristic of a long wool breed is that its long locks easily part so that you can see the sheep’s skin. And the long locks are easily separated from each other. Even though BFL wool is finer than the English Leicester or Border Leicester, it still has those same characteristics. The difference in the micron count or the size of the lock doesn’t determine whether it’s longwool or, say, medium wool. The ancestral lineage of the sheep plus the wool characteristics it retains solidifies its place as a longwool breed.
Some books, judges, and breeders want to categorize BFL in the medium-wool category. I can see why. It’s finer in microns than the typical longwool, but not like a fine wool breed; a whole BFL fleece doesn’t have the volume of its distant Leicester cousins; and the purly lock structure is much thinner than the wider, wavier lock of a longwool sheep. That doesn’t place it into a medium wool category; it places it on the other end of the long wool spectrum…the finer end. That’s the beauty of this Leicester group, the options we have when it comes to the size of sheep and the variety of wool.
Whether it’s English, Border, or Bluefaced, the Leicester group keeps its place in the long wool pipeline as it has for centuries. Even with crossbreeding and improved breeding, the Leicester’s have stayed inside the realm of what constitutes long wool giving us three bags full of long Leicester wool.
Sheep and Man, M. L. Ryder. Duckworth & Co (January 25, 2007)
The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson. Storey Publishing, LLC (June 1, 2011)
Bluefaced Leicester Breeders Association, http://www.blueleicester.co.uk/
Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America, http://bflsheep.com/
Leicester Wool Sheep Breeders Association, http://www.leicesterlongwool.org/
American Border Leicester Association, http://www.ablasheep.org/
Here are the results of the BFL show at the Bloomsburg Fair in Pennsylvania. BLU supported this show with class ribbons. GrCH ram(lamb) shown by Dina Kraynak. GrCH ewe(lamb) shown by Machaella Knelly.
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BLU member Iris LaRochelle (NH), with her Champion AOB natural colored BFL ewe at the Big E
From our National Show Committee:
National Schedule so far
Thursday: Arrive, set up, Dinner 6:30 at the Cascade Grill right next to the fairgrounds…don’t miss it we have fun stuff planned.
Saturday: show first thing in the am. Potluck and Spinners Lead-Fun for all
Sunday: Junior show and Best in show ring and wind down.
Please RSVP for Thursday’s dinner to Karen Szewc
Long, lustrous, luxurious BFL locks. In a CAT-egory all by themselves.
If you know an aspiring young shepherd between the ages of 9 and 18 years old, please tell them about the Youth Conservationist Program. Donated ewes of heritage wool breeds of sheep are awarded to the winning recipients, enabling them to experience the joys and responsibilities of conserving heritage breeds. In 2016, 15 ewes were awarded to 15 aspiring shepherds, one of which was a BFL ewe donated by Margaret VanCamp and Lisa Rodenfels. The recipient was William O’Boyle of MD. Applications must be postmarked by April 1st.
BLU supports this program. We are looking for a member to donate the ewe for 2017. Please contact a board member or email firstname.lastname@example.org
First and second place fleeces in the BFL breed class of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, and winning champion fleece award for the national show were entered by Margie Smith of New Oxford, PA. Sorry, no photos were taken.