Border Leicester Sheep

The long-wool Border Leicester--a favorites among hand spinners--was the sheep featured in the movie "Babe."

by Dani Yokhna

Use: The Border Leicester’s long, lustrous fleece with a spinning count in the 40s to 50s and a staple length of 6 to 10 inches makes it a favorite of hand-spinners. One ewe will give an average of about 8 to 12 pounds of wool a year. This dual-purpose breed also serves as a source of fast-growing, well-muscled market lambs.

History: Credit for improving the Leicester sheep breed goes to Robert Bakewell, a farmer living in Leicestershire, England who also had a hand in developing Longhorn cattle and Shire horses. Two friends of Bakewell’s, George and Matthew Culley, actually founded the Border Leicester breed in 1767 (two other Leicester breeds also exist today, the English and Blueface). No one knows for certain when this breed arrived in North America, but a 1920 census listed 767 purebred Border Leicesters in the United States.

Conformation: Remember the flock of sheep in Babe, that cute movie about a sheep-herding pig? Those unforgettable sheep were Border Leicesters. This alert-looking longwool breed is distinguished by a strongly-convex “Roman” nose and large, upright ears on a wool-free head emerging from a thick fleece composed of long, curled “pencil” locks. Rams stand about 32 inches high at the withers and weigh 200 to 225 pounds, while females weigh around 150 to 175 pounds. These long-backed sheep have a blocky profile thanks to their ample fleeces, which come in white and natural colors.

Special Considerations/Notes: Border Leicester ewes often give birth to twins and make good mothers to their robust, energetic offspring. Raisers describe this breed as fairly mellow and easy to handle, as well as hardy. Their luxuriant fleeces help these sheep weather rainy, chilly winters with ease.

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