The Border Leicester is a dual purpose breed of sheep, producing both meat and wool. Border Leicester wool falls in long, shining locks that are popular with hand spinners. The Border Leicester also has a longer loin and leaner meat than many sheep of its size. The Border Leicester is a natural when it comes to direct marketing. Lean, tender lamb and premium fleece that tops the hand spinning market keeps customers coming back for more.
Characteristics of the Border Leicester
The Border Leicester has a regal, alert appearance. Its head and legs are free of wool, and its arched Roman nose and long, erect ears give the Border Leicester a stylish, distinctive look. This section describes the following characteristics:
What is the Wool Like?
Border Leicester wool is long and lustrous with a spinning count from 40s to 50s (38-30 microns). The ideal fleece falls in well defined “pencil” locks with purled tips ending in a small curl, usually measures 6-10 inches after a year’s growth. Border Leicester wool is long enough that they can be sheared once a year or twice a year. The clean head and legs makes them an easy-to-shear breed. Ewes average 8-12 pounds of grease wool annually. And it’s not all grease! Border Leicester fleece often yields 70% wool after scouring, one of the highest of all.
How Big Are They?
Border Leicesters rank third in size among the longwool breeds. A ram at maturity should weigh 175-300 pounds and stand about 32 inches at the shoulder. He should have a wide, level back. Ewes usually weigh 150-225 pounds.
How Productive Are They?
Border Leicesters are hardy and well muscled. Ewes are prolific, excellent mothers and heavy milkers.
They are also good foragers and get along on less feed than many other breeds. Border Leicester lambs are active and vigorous at birth. They grow rapidly for the first four months and continue to grow for several years. Border Leicester lambs fed for maximum gains often reach a trim 110 pounds by 4-1/2 months of age. Those who prefer to grow out lambs more slowly can shear 2-3 pounds of skirted handspinning wool.
What About Their Temperament?
Border Leicesters are generally calm and easy to handle, even though they are very aware of their surroundings. A pleasant surprise for many is the gentlemanly disposition of Border Leicester rams.
Showing Border Leicesters
With their stylish heads and curly fleeces, Border Leicesters quickly catch the attention of the general public. Border Leicesters are typically shown with 3-5 months wool growth, so that the judge can accurately evaluate the fleece, one of the most important characteristics of the breed. They are relatively easy to fit for exhibition. They should appear clean and neat but are never shampooed, as this would remove the natural oil from the wool. A light spritzing with lukewarm water can emphasize the natural curl of the fleece, but it needs to be done well before the show so that the dampened locks have time to dry thoroughly. Stray locks may be trimmed, but Border Leicesters should not be combed, carded, or blocked, which would disturb the natural lock formation and detract from the character of the fleece.
History of Border Leicesters
Sheep with long, lustrous wool have been in Leicestershire, England since the earliest recorded history of the British Isles, and are responsible for the improvement and development of other longwool breeds. Robert Bakewell (1726-95) is credited with improvement of the Leicester sheep and also played an important role in the development of the Shire horse and Shorthorn cattle.
The Border Leicester breed was founded in 1767 by George and Matthew Culley. They were friends of Bakewell and had access to his improved Leicesters. Some feel that the Culley Brothers developed the Border Leicester by crossing Bakewell’s improved Leicester rams with Teeswater ewes. Others argue that Cheviot blood was introduced. Perhaps both are correct. In any case, the breed was firmly established in England by 1850. Border Leicesters have now surpassed the old English Leicester in popularity in the British Isles and other countries.
The English Leicester is said to have been introduced into the United States by George Washington, who kept a small purebred flock of Leicesters and used the rams extensively in his flock of 800 head at Mount Vernon. It is not known when the first sheep of Border Leicester type arrived in North America, but the 1920 census lists 767 purebred Border Leicesters in the U.S. The American Border Leicester Association was established in the U.S. in 1973.
Joining The ABLA
We invite you to join us! Any resident of the U.S. or Canada who owns or is interested in Border Leicesters may become a member of the American Border Leicester Association by application and payment of an annual membership fee. For more information contact the ABLA Publicity Director:
JoAnne Tuncy, Promotional & Publicity Director
692 Smithfield Road
Millerton, NY 12546
Natural colored Border Leicesters are eligible for registry with the ABLA. Colored sheep, as well as all black-factored white animals, are identified in the ABLA flock book by the letter “B” following their registration number. This system is of help to those who are raising natural colored sheep as well as those who prefer to breed all white Border Leicesters.
The American Border Leicester Association is a member of the OPP Concerned Sheep Breeders Society and many individual ABLA members also belong to the Society. Information on health issues and flock management issues are commonly included in the ABLA quarterly newsletter.
Photo Credits (in order as they appear):
Sue Johnson (VT), Nancy Starkey (MD), Cree (WA), Susie Wilson (OR), Cathie Shiff (VA), Don Grant (ON), Cree (WA), Judy Lewman (MN)