Bluefaced Leicesters and Border Leicesters are two of the three modern Leicester breeds Leicester-breed sheep originated in the 1700s with Robert Bakewell’s research into improving strains of animals, developing what we now know as “breeds.” Prior to his pioneering work, many farmers bred animals according to personal lore or random chance. Bakewell’s improved Leicester was the progenitor of the Border Leicester, Bluefaced Leicester and Leicester Longwool.
The Bluefaced Leicester is a distinctive sheep with a strong roman nose and black skin under white fur, creating a “blue” hue to the face. Used primarily for improving size, width, prolificacy and general conformation in Britain’s hill breeds, the Bluefaced Leicester excels as a crossing sire to create ewe offspring with the ruggedness of their Highland dams and the better frame and lamb production of their sires. The Bluefaced Leicester adds width, strength and finer wool in almost every cross with another breed. It has an almost exaggerated conformation with wide-set front legs, a broad, long back, long neck, and wide hips and hind legs. The first Blues I got were half again wider than my existing mixed-breed flock
What I love about the Bluefaced Leicester is the size and grace of the animal and the fine, delightful wool it produces. The Blue is a fine dual-purpose animal in its ability to make fine meat and desirable wool simultaneously. That’s harder to find than you’d think.
The Border Leicester shares a strong roman nose and pert ears with its cousin. More compact and solid in build, the Border Leicester has a stronger meat production air about it. Unfortunately, because it doesn’t provide the same kind of frame and lambing percentage improvements that the Bluefaced Leicester does, the Border Leicester has fallen out of favor as a crossing sire for creating ewes. Wool enthusiasts enjoy the glossy curls of a good Border Leicester fleece, however, and the breed grows economically in the pastures of the North.
I appreciate that the Border Leicester less exaggerated in character and has a less delicate appearance. Hardier, more versatile and able to produce more wool, the Border Leicester is a great homestead flock animal. While the wool is slightly coarser, it is also much more abundant and beautifully glossy. It wants to be a sweater or other outerwear garment. I am very fortunate to have been able to purchase some of the best stock available from a shepherd who raised Borders for 40 years.