“I’m a Border Leicester Ewe!” – Maa the sheep on the movie “Babe”
We absolutely LOVE our Border Leicesters!
“Leicester” is actually pronounced like the name “Lester” though many improperly refer to the breed as “Lie-chest-er”.
Qualities we admire:
- Medium sized – Small enough for a woman to work with, but large enough that lambs grow swiftly and mature into good sized meat animals at a young age.
- Strong boned legs – A good set of legs and feet to walk on, which many other breeds of sheep seem to be lacking for some reason. Hoof trimming is minimally needed.
- Conformation – Being dual purpose, breeders carefully monitor conformation for showing and meat purposes. As a spinner flock, the conformation benefits us by giving us a breed of sheep that is long-lived and functionally sound.
- Great mothers –
- Best udder conformation, tight attachment yet milky enough as yearlings to raise large, healthy twins!
- Mothering instinct, without being aggressive. I can comfortably work with a mother and her new lambs without feeling any threat from the mother. They do like to indignantly stomp their front feet if the dogs get too close to the lambing pen.
- Easy to shear:
- Clean faced and clean legged – less work involved in shearing as you’re able to skip by the delicate areas of the head and legs! The long length of fiber provides flexibility – if we are shearing in cold weather, I can leave half an inch to an inch of wool on for protection of the pregnant ewes.
- Super easy wool for home processing –
- The fiber is gorgeous and full of luster and loose crimp
- The natural colors vary from almost black > chocolatey brown > rose gray > dark silver (the silvers are surprisingly similar in look to Gotland sheep!)
- One year of fiber growth in our flock is around 8 inches long.
- We sheared our ram as a lamb twice and got over 5″ fleeces each time.
- The fiber cards better than any other wool I’ve tried.
- Note: Long fiber and lustrous fiber may not be accepted at commercial carding mills. Be sure to call ahead before sending in BL wool for commercial processing!
Starter ewes Beatrix and Millie purchased from Jonnason Farm in Washington state: https://jonassonfarm.shutterfly.com/
Processing Border Leicester Wool:
Border Leicester wool is very clean (the length + luster seems to keep the fleece clean of most VM).
I like to spin with the lanolin in, so wash and rinse fleeces at 90 degrees F just to remove some dirt and grime.
The locks can be opened by hand or using a comb with metal teeth. Hand carders are not overly beneficial – due to the size and length, BL fiber is already fairly close to spinnable. (Note photos above are 1. washed fleece, 2. hand combed to open locks, 3. single ply on Majacraft wheel. No carding necessary – yay, skipped the least fun step!)
Washed fleece can be processed through a drum carder. My hand crank carder is about 9″ x 9″ and the BL goes on easily. I have also had access to a larger electric carder that does 4 oz. batts and the BL does not back on as heavily as some other breeds, but the benefit is that you can get away with only carding once or twice for a very smooth batt!
Origins of the Border Leicester –
“The Border Leicester is one of the oldest breeds in Britain, made famous by Robert Bakewell of Dishley, Leicestershire (1726-95).
Introduced into Northumberland in 1767 by the Brothers Culley who were pupils of Bakewell, these improved Leicesters were soon established on both sides of the border. When these breeders wanted fresh blood they invariably had recourse to Dishley.
After Bakewell’s death the Northern breeders continued to hire or purchase rams from the south, but this practice was discontinued about 1850. By that time the Northern breeders had evolved a type of sheep which was different from that which found favour in the south, and they began to call their sheep Border Leicesters.” From The Doulton Flock via Ravelry
Are there any differences between 21st century Border Leicesters in the United States and those in the United Kingdom?
- BL sheep of the UK are much larger than in America.
- All registered UK BL’s are White only. American BL’s can be white or “natural colored”. (See photos below – the white sheep are the UK BL’s and the colored sheep are American BL’s.)
- UK BL’s have more erect “rabbit ears” whereas US BL’s ears are a little more relaxed to each side.
An expert article about the comparisons between UK and US can be found on the ABLA website:
How does the wool of UK Border Leicesters compare to US Border Leicesters?
In general, UK BL wool is closer to Cheviot and US BL wool is closer to English Leicester.
The fibers are similar in length; The American BL is a looser crimp (reminiscent of old fashioned English Border Leicester, perhaps Lincoln or Longwool bloodlines in developing years) and the UK BL has a tighter crimp (more Cheviot blood in development years).
The wool spins up similarly, the UK wool is a little softer & springy than the American.