Breed Study: Bluefaced Leicester
Bluefaced Leicester sheep are a multi-purpose longwool sheep with a strong build, a broad muzzle, and long v-shaped erect ears. The head doesn’t grow wool, but has fine white hair on the face allowing the the dark blue-black skin which the breed is named for to show through. The ideal Bluefaced Leicester is white, but some do produce mixed black and white, solid black, or brown wool.
Staple Length: 5-6”
Bluefaced Leicester locks are fine, dense, tightly curled, and semi-lustrous. They are well suited to combing, but the shorter staple lengths can also be carded. The wool characteristics are fairly consistent across the breed.
Like other longwools, Bluefaced Leicester is strong, hard wearing, and very lustrous. It is finer, with a smaller fiber diameter than the most other longwools, giving it more softness. It creates a soft, strong yarn with a silky sheen that is extremely versatile and can be used for a wide variety of purposes.
Bluefaced Leicester dyes beautifully, with clear colors, and creates beautiful and durable textiles. Once spun, it created a soft, strong yarn with both drape and stretch. It is also suitable for felting.
The Blueface Leicester is derived from a combination of the United Kingdom’s Longwool and the Border Leicester. They are a modern breed, but can be heavily credited to the work of Robert Bakewell, who set out to improve the quality and utility of longwool sheep in the 1750’s.
Longwool sheep were originally bred for fiber, but were small framed, slow to mature, and not prolific at lambing, which made them less than ideal for meat production. Bakewell set out to improve the breed – keeping the high-quality fiber, while making it more profitable for meat production. He crossed the Longwool sheep with Mugs, Old Ryeland, and other local sheep and developed what came to be known as the Dishley Leicester. The Dishley Leicester had high quality wool, along with good meat production and better breeding capability, which caused it to become very popular, and sought after to improve local breeds by crossbreeding.
The Dishley Leicester spread and evolved over the next 150 years, and eventually became the foundation of the Blue-faced Leicester in the 20th Century when certain breeders began selecting for the distinctive ‘blue’ faces.
The Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders’ Association was created in 1963, leading to the opening of their first national flock book in 1964. Today it is still one of the most popular British breeds.