The Leicester Longwool is a large, active breed producing a heavy lustrous fleece with a Bradford Count of 40 – 46. Fleeces typically weigh 5-7kg with a staple length up to 40cm on an unshorn shearling, less on an adult sheep after shearing when the average is then 20-25cm. The length of staple does vary depending on the area in which it lives; sheep further north tend to have longer wool. The maximum recorded fleece weight is 15kg and the value of the wool clip can be almost double that of most commercial flocks.
The Breed Standard for judging states that the fleece should be “Dense, long and silky wool of fine lustre with even texture and quality from head to tail, well curled and of moderate lock”. The rams grow to an average weight of 150kg and the ewes to 100kg. The Leicester can be shorn twice a year and the fleeces are very popular with spinners and felters. Although Leicester Longwools are usually white “black” or blue/grey lambs are sometimes born to white parents, several Black Leicester flocks have been formed from these animals. The colour is caused by a recessive gene and Black Leicesters breed true for this pattern. The Association has registered them in a separate section of the Flock Book since 1986.
The Leicester Longwool is a native of the Midland Counties, but the principal Leicester flocks have, for many years been found on the Wolds of East Yorkshire and the hills and coast of North Yorkshire and Cleveland where the breed’s hardiness enables it to endure the rigours of the climate far better than most. Today’s Leicester Longwools are the direct descendants of the Dishley Leicesters developed by Robert Blakewell more than two centuries ago. Bakewell saw the possibility of turning the Leicester into a first class dual purpose sheep, capable of producing a good carcase as well as a heavy fleece of high quality.
Since the Leicester Longwool Sheep Breeders Association was formed in 1893 great attention has been paid to the breed’s development, the result being a larger, leaner sheep with better quality and weight of wool whilst retaining its old characteristics of early maturity and rapid finishing.
The Leicester Longwool is one of Britain’s rare breeds classed as “vulnerable” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, since fewer than 900 registered breeding females remain in the United Kingdom.
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