The Bluefaced Leicester evolved near Hexham in the county of Northumberland, England during the early 1900’s. They are descendants of Robert Bakewell’s improved Dishley Leicester. The breed originated from Border Leicester individuals selected for the blue face (white hairs on black skin) and finer fleeces. It was was developed as a sire of high quality cr0ssbred ewes.
The crossbred progeny of the Bluefaced Leicester is the Mule, the ewe famous throughout the U.K. as the best commercial breeding ewe on the market. Bluefaced Leicesters were imported to Canada in the 1970’s where they eventually made their way to the United States. Frozen semen from the United Kingdom is being used to expand the genetic base of the breed in the U.S. and Canada.
Breed categories: long wool, dual-purpose
Distribution: United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, North America
The Bluefaced Leicester evolved from a breeding scheme, to develop the Longwool sheep in the 1700’s, by Robert Bakewell. Originally known as the Dishly Leicester. The breed was developed over the next 200 years and became commonly known as the Hexham Leicester due to it’s early concentration in the North of England.
Today it is known as the Bluefaced Leicester and is now the most popular crossing sire throughout the British isles. In 1963 the Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders Association was formed to encourage the breeding and maintain the purity of the Bluefaced Leicester sheep. A flock book was also established.
The Bluefaced Leicester is regularly crossed with many of the native British breeds, particularly hill breeds such as Swaledale, Blackface, Welsh Mountain and Cheviot, to produce the Mule ewe. The term Mule sheep means any crossbred sired by a Bluefaced Leicester. The ‘Mule ewe’ now makes up almost half of the UK’s crossbred ewe population.
The Bluefaced Leicester should have a broad muzzle, good mouth, a roman nose, bright alert eyes, and long erect ears. The color of the head skin should be dark blue showing through white hair, although a little brown is acceptable, with no wool on the head, or neck. Both sexes are polled. There should be a good length of neck laid into broad shoulders, a good ‘spring of rib’, a long strong back, with no weakness behind the shoulder. The hind-quarters should be broad and deep, the legs clean, well positioned and strong boned. The rams have a proud, stately carriage and the ewes exhibit a feminine look. The wool should be tightly purled, fine, semi-lustrous, and opening cleanly to the skin.
Color: The Bluefaced Leicester, though predominately a white wool breed, does carry a recessive black gene and natural colored lambs do appear. On a white animal, small dark spots are permissible on the face, ears, neck and legs. Lips and nostrils are preferably black, mottled grey is acceptable.
Wool: The Bluefaced Leicester is classified as a Longwool breed with a staple length of 3- 6”, a fleece weight of 3 to 6 lbs., and a fiber diameter of 56s – 60s count, or 24-28 microns, creating high quality luster yarns with beautiful drape.
Size: The adult Bluefaced Leicester has one of the largest body weights of the British breeds, some rams having been weighed at over 3 cwt. In spite of this size, when mated to the smaller hill type ewe, the ewe is able to carry and lamb its crossbred progeny without the slightest difficulty. A ram at maturity should weigh 250-300 lbs. They have an excellent disposition and are quite manageable despite their size. Ewes will typically weigh 170-220 lbs. at maturity.
Lambing Percentage: The Bluefaced Leicester is one of the most prolific of all the native British breeds of sheep. It is quite common for registered flocks to achieve a lamb crop in excess of 250 percent. The ewe has the milking ability to match these multiple births.
Health: In the United Kingdom there has never been a recorded case of scrapie in a purebred Bluefaced Leicester. Because of their genetic resistance to scrapie, many Blackfaced Hill sheep are being crossbred with the Bluefaced Leicester to improve the scrapie resistance of the ‘Mule’ population, which is the backbone of the UK sheep industry.
Interest: The increasing popularity and demand for the Bluefaced Leicester is a reflection of its success as a purebred sire, as a fleece flock sire for the hand spinner, as well as a maternal crossing sire for the production of crossbred ‘Mules’. The Bluefaced Leicester is proving itself to be a truly multi-purpose breed.