The wool from the Wensleydale is acknowledged as being the finest lustre long wool in the world having commanded the highest price in the British Wool Marketing Board’s Wool Schedule for many years. Fleeces are entirely kemp free (kemp: hair or strand of hair, especially one in fleece, that resists dying) as a result of the unique characteristics of the wool-producing follicles. This special quality is genetically transmitted to cross-bred lambs, characterising the Wensleydale ram as perhaps the leading wool improver sire in the world. The fleece, which is curled along its whole length, can weigh up to 9kg with an average of 3.5 – 7kg and a staple length of 20-30cm. The Bradford Count is classified as 44 – 48.
The Breed originated in North Yorkshire early in the nineteenth century from a now extinct longwool breed and an outstanding Dishley Liecester ram named Bluecap whose qualities included his dark skin, superb quality of wool and size -203kg (448lbs) as a two shear. The breed type was not named until 1876.
The Wensleydale is a very large longwool sheep with adult ewes weighing approximately 113kg and rams 136kg. Both sexes are polled (without horns) with a distinctive deep blue head, ears and legs and a well developed forelock of wool.
Two separate breed societies were formed in 1890- the Wensleydale Longwool Association and the Wensleydale Blue-faced Sheep Breeders Association – each producing its own flock book. Eventually the two societies amalgamated in 1920 to form the current Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders Association. The association maintains a separate register for black lambs.
The Wensleydale is classed as “at risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as it has fewer than 1500 registered breeding ewes being mainly used today as a ram breed to cross with other breeds for its high quality wool and to obtain market lambs.
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