Three Bags Full …..

By Carol Densmore, Cross Wind Farm. Carol  judges wool shows and is an advanced student in the Master Spinner Program as well as a BFL breeder.

……of Long Leicester Wool
English – Border – Bluefaced Leicester
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.

Sources:
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/

 

National Show Skein and Fiber Art photos

A view of the vendor booth in the Great Lakes Fiber Show. The booth was available for all BLU members to sell their wares.

 

 

 

 

Some of the skeins entered in the competition at the national show.

 

 

 

In the foreground is the champion skein, a plyed laceweight 100% BFL yarn spun by Christina Kurk.

The champion fiber art, a sweater knitted by Christina Kurk

National Show Awards

These are the awards for the champions in all divisions: CH Ram, CH Ewe, Breeders Flock, Best Headed, CH Skein, CH Fiber Art, CH Fleece, People’s Choice Photo. They will be awarded tonight at the BFL banquet at TJ’s Restaurant in Wooster, OH.
Plates are cobalt glass, engraved with the National Show logo, with a brass plate listing the sponsors of the award.
Here are the sponsors of the awards for the national show. A BIG thank you for making these lovely awards possible!

CHAMPION RAM sponsored by
Ambercroft Farms
Pitchfork Ranch
CHAMPION EWE sponsored by
Wool n Wood Farm
Cross Wind Farm
BREEDERS FLOCK sponsored by
Ward Farms
Reveille
BEST HEAD sponsored by
Tumble Creek Farm
Somerhill Farm
CHAMPION FLEECE sponsored by
Bitterroot Ranch
Sheep Camp Wool Mill
CHAMPION FIBER ART sponsored by
Cranberry Moon
Breezy Meadows Farm
CHAMPION YARN sponsored by
Potosi Sheep Farm
Wind Dance Ranch
PEOPLES CHOICE PHOTO sponsored by
Cedar Fen Farm

2012 National Show Fleece Competition

The forms are available online now. Click on the “About BLU” dropdown box above, then on the “National Show Info”. You can download/print the  contest forms.  Please share these with all interested parties!  The Sheep Show forms will be available soon – just working out the “bugs” in the rules section.

Yarn, Fiber Arts and Photography contest forms

The forms are available online now. Click on the “About BLU” dropdown box above, then on the “National Show Info”. You can download/print the 3 contest forms. Please share these with all interested parties!

BLU board member makes national sheep news

BLU board member Jared Lloyd was recently interviewed for a Sheep Industry News article.  The article focuses on his flock expansion using Shetland and BFL genetics in a large western commercial flock.     http://sheepindustrynews.org/?page=site%2Ftext&nav_id=3b79b0fae814183646395f41f85dc25e&archive_id

OREGON FLOCK AND FIBER FESTIVAL

Robina and Maddi - reserve champion ewe overall

Clackamas Co Fairgrounds, Canby, Oregon
September 24-25, 2011
By Robina Koenig

Another Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival has come and gone and fall has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The temps are chilly at home now as I reflect on the last show of 2011 in our area. Half of the sheep show is a fiber show, not a breed show, so the Blues show in group classes of whites or natural colors (long/coarse and fine/medium) and in another ring they show the primitives.

The white longwool classes showed Romneys and BFLs. I did not have an opportunity to see the other classes as I had a vendor booth next to my sheep in the barn, and buyer traffic was heavy this year.

There were three BFL breeders showing–Gilkeson Family Farm, OR; Bitterroot Ranch, MT; and Tumble Creek Farm, OR. Nancy Gilkeson was not able to attend but her daughter Kristie showed a white ewe and a natural colored ram. I missed seeing Nancy but Kristie was great fun and I enjoyed getting to know her better. Judy Colvin brought two white BFL rams and two percentage Gotland ewes as it was the regional show for the Gotlands. I showed one white ram and two white ewes and brought home the Reserve Grand Champion on one of the ewes.

The weather kept us guessing with hot and humid on Friday, very warm on Saturday, drizzle Sunday morning turning to a torrential rain storm lasting 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon following a good rolling clap of thunder. Everyone ran for cover so Judy and I, out touring the outdoor vendors, headed for the T-shirt canopy then a warm cup of coffee. Good show, good memories.