This article was originally published in The Shepherd Magazine. Kelly Ward is the founder of the Bluefaced Leicester Union, and started the breed registry. Here is a portion of her story:
Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America (BLU) History
Though breeders developed for as a maternal crossing sire in the UK, the Bluefaced Leicester enjoys multipurpose popularity in the US. The Bluefaced Leicester sheep had come from the UK into Canada in the 1970s, when animals could still travel between the UK and North America.. Frank Richardson, Nova Scotia, had a flock and he exported to Anne Priest, New York; also to Frank Baylis, Virginia, he sent four ewes and two rams in 1986. Frank Baylis displayed Bluefaced Leicester rams at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 1990 and 1992.
In 1995 Mr. Baylis, had a Bluefaced Leicester ram in the wool breeds display in the building next to our pens at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Fellow traveller, Letty Klein, wanted me to see the ram. The idea of his whole flock being dispersed for sale was “interesting” to me but I was focused on Romneys at the time. On our way back from Maryland and headed home, we spent the first night in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. Before dawn the next morning I took the first driving shift. After changing drivers, I woke up from my first snooze, and announced I wanted to save these sheep. My son and I returned to Frank’s place a few days later and brought back 13 ewes, 4 rams and 8 lambs. Later, Kelly Ward and Lisa Rodenfels went to Nova Scotia to purchase the last of David Firth’s Canadian flock.
The initial group of breeders was small but enthusiasm for the breed quickly spread. The Fall 1999 issue of “Spin Off” featured a five page spread by Carol Huebscher Rhoades, and the cover entitled “Beautiful Bluefaced Leicester”. It reached a multitude of spinning enthusiasts. By 1998 there were had nine breeders, the next year there were 15. January 1999 I registered as a “doing business as (DBA)” in order to open a checking account in the name of the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America, listing myself as “Secretary-Treasurer”. The next order of business was to create the registry. Breeders recognized the critical importance of tracking their limited bloodlines while maintaining the impartiality and integrity in the records. Kary Claghorn’s Association Sheep Registries was chosen.
US Bluefaced Leicester breeders struggled with the limited genetic pool available after stock importation was discontinued between North American and the UK. The breakthrough for the breed was the ability of the US sheep breeder to import frozen semen from the UK. Enter Martin Dally, DVM, UC Davis, to facilitate the importation, storage, implantation, and procedure to accomplish this. The Bluefaced Leicester now had firm footing in its future.
US breeders began to export to Canada. An important movement began in Canada to have the Bluefaced Leicester recognized by the Canadian Sheep Association. The registry had renewed importance. This was achieved and gave new meaning to the “Union of North America” that was only a hope at the onset.
The acronym for the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America is BLU, a registered service mark with the US Patent & Trademark Office. By 2009 BLU became a non-profit organization with bylaws and these bylaws mandated an election of officers be held. An impartial election supervisor was selected to mail and tally the vote. The new officers took place January 1, 2010 in a seamless transition for the association.
It’s been a great personal journey to start the breed from an idea to a coast-to-coast population. Dedicated breeders who believed in these sheep, awed by an incredible fleece, a well-structured body with dams that held their bags high and clean, made it happen.Kelly (in blue) with her national champion ram, awarded at the first BFL national show during the festival in Rhinebeck NY. October 2007. With her (in white), is Kristen Barndt, the first BLU breed secretary. Looking on, in the far left corner, is Kelly’s longtime friend and fellow shepherd, Letty Kline. Letty is a well know sheep and fleece judge, Karakul breeder, and a long time supporter of the BLU.