Bluefaced Leicester Sheep
At Wits End Farm, we have had a small flock of Bluefaced Leicester sheep for two years on an experimental basis. To find out the breed's history and current breed standards, I invite you to go to the Bluefaced Breeders' Association (BFLBA) website.
At right: A Bluefaced Leicester chills in the shade prior to Spring shearing.
Bluefaced Leicesters are quite similar in appearance to Border Leicesters with some important differences. While both are English long- wool breeds, the 'blues' are taller, almost willowy, with finer bone. Their fleeces are also finer, and weigh less than those of Border Leicesters. My way of seeing the difference is to characterize my ideal Border Leicester as having a broader body mass through spring of rib and sufficient bone, and not to stand too far off the ground -- i.e., the classic physique of almost any meat breed of animal. While a 'Blue' may not have the bone of a 'Border,' its exceptional length of loin is not to be discounted. That's the most valuable cut of meat, and is an important component of any meat carcass evaluation.
At left: Pregnant Bluefaced Leicester ewe during winter.
Bluefaced Leicesters are a rare breed in the US, but their numbers are increasing. Like Border Leicesters, they are reknowned crossing sires in the British sheep industry. Bluefaced rams on commercial black-faced ewes produce the ubiquitious mule sheep in the UK's three-tier sheep production system. (For more information on the system, refer to the BFLBA website .) The system features lambs fed from weaning to market weight on grass only. Given high grain prices due to ethanol productiion, this absoluttely helps a farmer's bottom line.
At right: Two of a set of triplet lambs born last year.
The Bluefaced Leicesters are eye-catching sheep, and their soft fiber is enjoying great popularity. The rams are large-bodied and vigorous, and the ewes are productive and good mothers. Two of my Bluefaced ewes produced triplet ewe lambs this Spring, and they fed them with little assistance from us.
Until warm weather comes, we find that Bluefaced lambs need more protection from the extremes of Springtime weather than their Border Leicester peers, as it takes longer for their little birth fuzz to grow out a bit to keep them warm. Thus, if you have your flock out on the Nebraska range without protection, Bluefaces are probably not for you. However, if you live in a temperate climate, or have your sheep in the barn for most of the winter, they may work well for you. As a matter of fact, their relatively lighter wool cover (their tummies are not really wooly at all) may make them highly suitable for producers in the South where heat and humidity are a factor.
At left: An attentive mom with her newborn learning the ropes of nursing on a cold winter's day.