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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.

 

Summary of the January 17th BLU board meeting

The BLU board met by teleconference meeting on January 17th at 7PM EST. All board members were in attendance, as well the as Sect/Treas. Incoming President Katie Sullivan (VT) welcomed new board member Paul Genge (WA). During the meeting, the board voted to appoint Margie Smith (PA) to the board seat vacated when Katie took office.

The minutes of the previous meeting in April had been approved by a poll. The current balance in the treasury is $10,484.22, confirmed by a copy of the bank statement. Each board member was also provided with a copy of the income and expense detail for YTD 2018. 14 new member packets were sent out during 2018. There are 98 members, of which 7 are Canadian.

There were 332 new registrations, and 161 transfers processed by the breed registry, administered by Associated Sheep Registries in Wamego, KS. The free classified ads offered on the BLU website have been used quite a bit this year, with 19 ads placed.

The committee chairs have been busy working on new projects for the association. 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. 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 redesigned logo project is completed, with 3 different versions as well as an embroidery file created. The next major project will be to have the website updated and the outdated plug-ins and work-arounds fixed. The committee will work on getting estimates for the cost of the overhaul.

The youth committee has suggested a scholarship program for our youth members, and will be working on a proposal for the next meeting. Another proposal is for an award to help offset the cost of youth members purchasing breeding stock. It was suggested that a youth sit on this committee.

The genetics taskforce suggested that it work on a list of different bloodlines available in the US to make it easier for members to find unrelated breeding stock.

The national show committee will be sending out a call for show venues, with the show proposal deadline of April 1st. The next show will be in 2020.

The next meeting will be held in the second half of April.

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. 

2018 Election Results

The BLU board election is completed. Our incoming President is Katie Sullivan of Vermont, beginning her term on January 1st. Elected to his first term on the board is Paul Genge (Washington): and re-elected to the board are Margaret VanCamp (Michigan) and Kat Bierkens of Oregon. Please join me in congratulating them. A heartfelt thank you to outgoing board members Rose Schmidt- Landin(Wisconsin) and Karen Szewc(Oregon) .The first board meeting of 2019 is scheduled for early January. Please contact any board member if you have an item for the agenda.  The site for the 2020 BFL National Show will be discussed at this meeting.

Candidate Statements for 2018 election

Ballots will be mailed out  the 1st week of November, and are due back to the election chairperson by December 1st. Ballots will be mailed to all active members as of October 1st. Here are the candidates:

CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT

Katie Sullivan

Cloverworks Farm

Albany, VT

Hi, my name is Katie Sullivan and I live in Albany, VT. l have been raising BFLs since 2016 but have been raising sheep since 2012.  My BFL flock is now 20 strong, with 25 Border Leicesters rounding out our numbers.

As a board member, I worked on efforts to update our logo, improve our website and participate actively in outreach to new shepherds.  As President, I would continue these efforts while also helping to initiate projects to keep BFL genetics sustainable long-term in the US in the face of a diminishing likelihood of further semen imports.

FIVE (5) CANDIDATES FOR BOARD POSITIONS

Kat Bierkens

Terra Mia

Days Creek, OR

Please consider Kat Bierkens as one of your next board members. She is running for a second term as a representative of the BFL Union of North America. Kat Bierkens is an artist and flocktender in Southern Oregon where she raises purebred Bluefaced Leicester sheep and a herd of dairy goats under the flockname Terra Mia. She has been working with livestock since 2010 when started attending local sheep and goat shows to learn more about the breed types and standards. In 2014 she acquired her first BFL and has been in love with the breed since. Kat has been working with children and livestock since she moved to Days Creek, Oregon in 2008. She is still currently a 4H leader and works directly with youth in the area providing animals for lease yearly to allow youth, who do not have the facilities, learn the joy (and hard work) that comes from working with sheep and goats. She is currently the youth committee chair at BLU. Kat regularly attends at minimum 4-6 sheep and goat shows a year to get more information about the direction she needs to go with her flock as well as gain insight on what the breed standard should look like. She also feels it is important for the BFL breed to be recognized locally and regionally for their value in breeding programs. This can only be done, she says, with an increased presence at livestock shows and wool breed events.

Kat currently has a small flock of 9 BFL breeding ewes and 4 rams along with her other fiber sheep and crossbred dual-purpose mule ewes, which total 26 head. She has learned to shear her own sheep, process the wool, dye and finally spin and/or craft with the fabulous bfl locks. She feels this hands-on approach is needed to have the ability to rate her animals fleece and make decisions regarding breeding and which sheep get to stay. Her goal is to keep her flock small and only keep the very best genetics and conformationally correct animals.

Related Experience: ~2017-2018 BLU board member and youth committee chairperson. ~2010-2018 4H Sheep and Dairy Goat leader in Douglas County, Oregon. Previous board experience: ~2017-2018 BLU board member and youth committee chairperson. ~6 years on the Days Creek Charter School Board and 2 years Days Creek Charter Fundraising Advisory Committee. ~Became a member of Bluefaced Leicesters Union in 2014. Education: Master Degree in Special Education U of P; Cross Categorical. BS in Liberal Arts, OSU Employment: 2008-2016 Teaching in Special Education Currently employed at the Oregon Virtual Academy

Lynn Braswell 

Lambie Pie Wool

Smithville, MO

Lambie Pie Wool is a small family owned wool sheep business located on the Willow Springs Horse Farm in Smithville, Missouri. Our ewes and rams and lambs are part of our family. We breed and raise our sheep for the wool only. They are well cared for, loved and very friendly. The Blue Faced Leicester breed wool is coveted and a spinners dream.

Retired from a 43 year career in nursing in 2015. In 2015 I purchased 6 pregnant Shetland ewes, 6 BFL/Corriedale cross ewes and one pregnant 3/4 BFL Cheviat ewe. A year later I divested all of the shetlands except for two wethers and purchased a registered BFL Ram from Jen Fitzwater. The following year I divested all of the Ewe crosses except for the Cheviat cross.  I purchased new ewes from Caryn Miller. 5 were registered, one died so today I have 4 registered ewes, three registered rams and 4 registered ewe lambs along with 5 cross ewes with beautiful fleeces.  My cross flock is 7/8 BFL or better and all are crossed with Cheviat except for one that is a BL/BFL cross.  Next year my plan is to divest all cross ewes and have a pure BFL flock (except for a multitude of wethers that my grandchildren have adopted!).

It didn’t take long for me to recognize the gentle nature of the BFL and fall in love with the breed. They are wonderful mothers and the lambs grow quickly and are very healthy.  Their fleece is a dream!  Lustrous, fine and the yarn is drapey and so soft.   

I have gone through a steep learning curve, made mistakes and have tried to go beyond just the basics of animal husbandry toward an understanding of the breed, where we  started and where we can go.  This led me to take a long look at my own flocks lineage and is why this year I traveled to Oregon to purchase a new ram (4G) and two ewe lambs ( Liongate). My plan is to change rams every couple of years until the Midwest BFL’s are more diversified.  

While at Nationals I visited with Karen Szwec about the fact that there are so few midwest breeders.  I have focused on  selling my lambs to people that are willing to get involved in the breed, are looking to develop mule flocks and want to raise registered flocks.  Thus far I have two that have purchased rams that have reserved ewe Lambs for next year.   

I must mention my mentors.  This is not a great business to get into without a guide.  Caryn Miller has been at my side throughout this journey.  She has educated me about the breed, taught me the basics of handling wool and helped me with a multitude of medical issues.  We are in dire straights here when it comes to veterinary medicine for the small ruminant.  Barbie Ernst (Heritage Shetlands) has also helped and holds an annual seminar on small ruminant health and management. Fortunately, my medical background has helped me manage most issues but having veterinary support is indispensable. I hope to hold a similar seminar here in northern Missouri in the near future.  Karen Szwec has helped refine my ability to process wool, introduced me to breeders in the northwest and is there to answer questions whenever I am nearing a panic attack!

Knowing how these women have helped me I am now here for my clients as my lambs move onto other farms.  I send each farm off with a guide that I wrote on the care of sheep which includes links to some of the on line content that has helped me (including bflsheep.com) and am available at any time to assist.  

I have experimented with a couple of wool processors and continue to seek out the best for our type of wool.  I both knit and weave.  

I am interested in tracking our breed from its entry into the US and where the progeny have traveled to.  This interest comes from looking at the lineage of my flock and how best to diversify bloodlines.  

I am also interested in learning to show (I plan on showing at our next national show).  

Lastly I am interested in meeting more breeders from the country.  

Paul Genge

4 G Farms

Ellensburg WA

Hi, I would like to be considered for one of the board positions. I feel my passion for raising a traditional and correct flock of BFL’s while sticking to the highest standards would make me a good candidate for a position. My wife, Sharidyn, and I own 4 G Farms which is a hay and sheep farm in the heart of Washington State. My passion for Bfl’s all started when my wife wanted to get a small flock of fiber sheep (6 ewes and a ram) which were all BFL/Gotland crosses. Well, with four of the ewes being related to my ram that put me out on a mission for a new unrelated ram. That’s when I got my first BFL, a ram named Walden and his daughter, and that’s when it all started! Then, over the next couple years, I have done a lot of research into the breed and talking with a lot of great people. I found out what characteristics/genetics I wanted in my flock, and then purchased Blues from a few different Breeders from across the country that met my breeding standards. These would be the beginning of my foundation flock. I have put a lot of emphasis on increasing the frame size and color while maintaining the true traits. We have spent the last year and half transitioning to an all pasture/ hay flock. We currently have a flock of 30 BFL’s and still growing!! When it comes to my passion for the Blues, it doesn’t just stop at my sheep. Whenever possible, I try to promote the breed. This year, we donated a Blue to our neighbor who was in 4H and she showed the very first BFL in the history of our Fair. I could say it was an eye opener for everyone attending, which met with a lot of questions and I was all so happy to talk about. It was also the first year we showed our own sheep at Black Sheep Gathering (also Nationals for BFl’s) which was a great experience and one that we will continue to do.I look forward to my involvement in the BLU, while also continuing to promote the breed!

Margie Smith

Marlindale Farm

New Oxford, PA

My name is Margie Smith and I would be interested in running for the BLU Board. I’ve been farming as an adult since 1980 in Frederick County Maryland. I worked for a dairy farmer, raised my own milking herd and also worked as a DHIA tester for a couple of years. Working in the dairy business gave me the experience with genetics that I now use with my BFL sheep.

In 1982, my children wanted some lambs. We started with Hampshires, then moved to Hampshire/Suffolk crosses. They lost interest, but I didn’t! I loved working with the genetics to see if I could make a meatier animal. We did get almost there, but it just made me rethink is that all there is to sheep? We were throwing away the fleeces which as a farmer, was something you just didn’t do. I experimented with Montadales, but again, as a cross-over breed, I just thought we could do better. I was introduced to Nancy Starkey who had Border Leicesters at the time. So we experimented with crossing the Montadales with the BL’s. The first generation crosses were OK, but not what I wanted. We then saw a BFL standing in Nancy’s field – the 2nd time I went to purchase sheep from her. I fell in love with the shimmer and her quiet disposition – so, my first BFL came home.

With help from Emily Chamelin as well as Nancy Starkey, and many others including my wonderful veterinarian – we arrived to where we are now. Only one of my ewes is not born and bred here. I have some of my first generation Marlindale lines still here and still going strong. We are a small farm – only 4 acres, of which we use 2.5 for livestock. My fleeces have been shown since 2000, and we’ve won 1st place in the BFL division for the past 6 or so years at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

I retired from teaching in 2013, and have worked in retail since then, giving me a sense of marketing of my sheep and fleeces. I have mentored a few people getting started in sheep and in the BFL breed. I am also serving on the Council of our church- 1st Lutheran Evangelical Church in New Oxford. From farming and teaching (as well as motherhood!) I have developed managerial, organizational and goal-oriented skills. I am a member of the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association, Frederick County (Maryland) Sheep Breeders, Pennsylvania Wool Growers Association and Farm Bureau.

I feel I could bring 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’ve also created a video on skirting a fleece for show and sale.

Thank you for considering me!

Margaret VanCamp

Pitchfork Ranch

Swartz Creek, MI

I’m Margaret Van Camp, and I am running for election to the BLU board. I have been a partner in Pitchfork Ranch in Swartz Creek, Michigan since 1996, where Cindy Cieciwa and I have a flock of 40 ewes, one third of which are BFLs.

I have served as President for the last four years, and am well acquainted with the operations of the board. The policies and practices we have implemented have the BLU on a solid financial footing, with an excellent outlook. I am willing to use this experience to help the board continue this progress. BFLs are increasing in visibility and appeal to breeders with many different goals, and I hope to help continue this progress. In particular, I and encouraged by the growing interest of young breeders in our breed, and would love to see this growth continue.

I would appreciate your vote.