The Wensleydale is a large longwool sheep with a distinctive deep blue head, ears and legs. The breed originated in North Yorkshire, England during the 19th century and was developed primarily to provide rams for crossing onto the hill ewe. The breed’s greatest attribute is the quality and quantity of curly wool each sheep produces.
Wool from the Wensleydale is acknowledged as the finest lustre long wool in the world. The fleece from a purebred sheep is considered kemp free. The breed is widespread throughout the United Kingdom, with some small flocks in Holland, France, and Denmark. A “breeding up” program is developing in the USA, using Wensleydale ram sperm in English Leicester, Lincoln, and Cotswold ewes and their female progeny.
Breed categories: long wool, dual-purpose
Distribution: United Kingdom, Europe, North America
The mating of a Dishley Leicester ram with a Teeswater ewe in 1838 produced the famous ram ‘Blue Cap’ who was the founding sire of the Wensleydale breed. He was a striking ram, with blue pigmentation on his head and ears that is now the hallmark of the breed, great size (203 kg as a two-shear) and wool of distinctive quality. The modern Wensleydale has inherited these qualities. It is a large sheep with long-stapled, lustrous wool that falls in long ringlets almost to ground level in unshorn sheep. The breed has a quality known as ‘central checking’ that prevents the formation of kemp in the fleece.
The Wensleydale is a very large longwool sheep, described by the British Meat and Livestock Commission as “probably the heaviest of all our indigenous breeds.” It is a visually striking sheep with considerable presence. It has a bold and alert carriage which is accentuated by its broad, level back and heavy muscling in the hindquarters. It has a distinctive deep blue head and ears, which should be clean except for a well developed forelock of wool. Both sexes are polled.
The Wensleydale breed was developed to provide rams for crossing onto hill ewes, mainly Swaledale, Blackface, Rough Fell, Cheviot & Dalesbred. The female crossbreeds develop into prolific, heavy-milking, hardy breeding ewes while the wethers, under natural conditions and on marginal ground, provide quality carcasses at higher weight, with no excess fat.
Today the breed is established throughout the United Kingdom and extends into mainland Europe.
Characteristic Points of Wensleydale Longwool Sheep
Wool: Bright and lustrous. Staple of medium breadth and excellent length; each staple curled or purled out to the end. Of equal staple all over the back and sides from shoulder to breech. The whole free and open and free from mistiness on the back. The belly and scrotum should be covered with wool and be free from hair. Regarding a black spot on a white animal or a white spot on a colored animal: any registered animal, at one year of age, shall not have more than one spot within the wooled area of the body and that spot shall not exceed 2.5 cm (approximate size of a quarter).
Head: Broad at the muzzle especially in rams. Back of head flat and wide between ears. The face seen in profile should show good depth of jaw. Ears of good size, neatly set on and well carried. Head and ears of a deep blue tinge which often extends to the rest of the body. Tuft of wool on the forehead. Back of head, especially around the ears, covered with fine wool. Entire absence of hair about the forehead, back of head and ears. Any registered animal, at one year of age, shall not have a scur or horn over 3/4 in length, and such scurs or horns on breeding rams should be discouraged.
Neck: Strong, rising gracefully from the shoulders and carrying the head at a good height.
Shoulders:Well laid back into the crop, which should be wide and full.
Chest: Coming well down and forward between the forelegs, wide on the floor of the chest. Ribs well sprung.
Back, Loins, Sides and Quarters – Great length of side, loins broad and well covered with firm flesh along the back. Hindquarters long, square and well fleshed. Root of tail broad.
Thighs, Legs and Feet – Thighs well down into the hocks, large and broad behind. Legs with plenty of bone, free of coarse or pigmented hair, straight set on at each corner and well apart. Hind legs with nice covering of fine wool from hock to hoof. Feet moderately large and well shaped.
Rams – 300 lbs.
Ewes – 250lbs.
Yearling ewe – 200%
Mature ewes – 250%
Twin lambs will average 13 pounds each at birth with a growth rate that enables ram lambs to reach 160 lbs. at 21 weeks.
Average lamb weight at 8 weeks:
Singles – 57 lbs.
Twins – 48 lbs.
Wensleydale wool is the finest and most valuable luster longwool in the world.
Micron count 33-35
Staple length 8-12 inches
Yearling Fleece Weight 13-20 pounds
Fleeces are entirely kemp free as a result of the unique characteristics of the wool-producing follicles. This special quality is genetically transmitted to cross-bred lambs, characterizing the Wensleydale ram as perhaps the leading wool improving sire in the world.
Wensleydale wool is used for its special effects and handle in hand knitting yarn, knitwear and cloth and sometimes in upholstery fabrics. Because of its similarity, it is regularly used to blend with mohair.