Three Bags Full…of Long Leicester Wool. English-Border-Bluefaced Leicester

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,

Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America,

Leicester Wool Sheep Breeders Association,

American Border Leicester Association,

Summary of August 27th board meeting

The BLU board met by teleconference meeting on August 27th at 7PM EDT. 5 board members were in attendance, as well the as Sect/Treas. Unable to attend due to prior commitments were Paul Genge and Kat Bierkens.

The minutes of the previous meeting in April will be approved by a poll. The current balance in the treasury is $8,756.35, with an additional $29.80 in the Paypal account. There are currently 77 members, of which 5 are Canadian. A note from the Bloomsburg PA fair was read, thanking the association for its contribution to the BFL show classes.

The bylaws & standards committee has been contacted by one of our members, requesting that the so called “silver” BFLs that are currently registered as “black patterned” be given their own code on the pedigree so that interested breeders can track this color pattern. The committee is hard at work on a draft of this proposal, including photographs so that members can identify and differentiate this color from black pattern will be drawn up and presented to the board for its approval.

The media committee announced that the web designer had just completed work on the new website. The commiittee will be working on tweaking the site, and when complete, will present the site to the board for its comments.

The genetics taskforce has been in contact with some traditional type BFL breeders in the UK who are willing to have rams collected for export to the US in the fall of 2020. This is good news for the continued progress of our breed.

The national show committee intends to attend the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival in September to get a better idea of the show venue for the 2020 National BFL show.

There was a brief discussion on how to continue promoting BFLs as viable commercial sheep. This will be continued at subsequent meetings. It was pointed out the the breed is thriving in a wide variety of climates here in the states, from coastal Florida to the Rocky mountains.

The upcoming board election was discussed, with suggestions for members to approach to run. Positions up for election are Vice-President and 2 directors. All current paid adult members are eligible, with bios due by October 25th. Only adult members whose dues are paid by October 1st are eligible to vote.

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!