The Bluefaced Leicester (pronounced "lester") is one of three different types of Leicesters (English/Leicester Longwool, Border and Bluefaced) that originated in the Hexham area of England during the early 1900s and are descendents of Robert Bakewell’s improved Dishley Leicester stock. Bakewell is known for being the first to practice selective breeding for livestock. He is well known for the improvements he made in creating breed standards and improving the sheep industry.
In the United Kingdom, the BFL ram is traditionally bred to Hill breed ewes (Cheviot, Scottish Blackface, Swaledale and Welsh are some examples). The resulting lambs are known as “Mules”. Mule ewes are then crossed with a terminal sire to produce fast-growing market lambs. The BFL is raised as an integral part of this 3-tier breeding system. The primary purpose of this system is to produce market lambs.
The Bluefaced Leicester gets its name because it has white facial hair over dark blue or nearly black skin. Both males and females are polled, which means that they don’t have horns. They are prolific and protective mothers, and often produce triplets or quadruplets. A flock of BFLs should produce a lamb crop of 250% or more.
Though the BFL is one of the largest of the British breeds with rams weighing approximately 250-300 pounds and ewes weighing approximately 150-200 pounds, they have great personalities are easy to handle. They are known for being a docile, inquisitive and friendly breed.
The Bluefaced Leicester is predominately a white sheep breed but it does carry a recessive black gene and natural colored BFLs are becoming fairly common in the United States.
Of the three types of Leicesters, the Bluefaced produces the finest fleece, with a Bradford count of 56s to 60s and a micron count of 24-28 microns. The wool of a BFL is classified as a longwool breed because of the way their locks of wool are formed. Its fleece is in high demand from handspinners and fiber artists because of its “next to the skin” softness and lustrous shine. These qualities produce a yarn that has excellent drape. The fleece of the BFL grows in tightly purled locks and when parted, opens cleanly to the skin. The average fleece weight is between 2-4 pounds and has a staple length of 3-6”. Bluefaced Leicesters do not produce wool on their bellies, necks, legs, or faces, which makes them a shearers dream to shear.
These wool qualities of the BFL are passed on to their crossbred offspring, and make the BFL a superior choice to improve the fleece quality for a handspinners flock.
One of the best traits a BFL can pass on to its offspring is a longer loin. You may use this trait to your benefit in your breeding program, whether you are producing Mule ewes, or directly producing crossbred market lambs.
You may use the BFL to produce Mule ewes that when bred to a terminal sire will produce market lambs. Also keep in mind that the meat of purebred Bluefaced Leicester and the meat of its F1 crossbred lambs is praised for its exceptional mild flavor. You can be sure that any extra ram lambs or wethers, as well as F1 crossbred lambs, will be sure to please your family, friends and customers when they reach the table.
The Bluefaced Leicester has it All:
Although the BFL is primarily a "crossing sire breed" in the United Kingdom, here in the United States the Bluefaced Leicester is also known for its exceptional wool and it is thought of as a "wool breed." If you look at them across the board, the BFL produces outstanding Mule ewes and F1 lambs for the meat market, they improve crossbred fiber flocks and produces fabulous wool that is highly sought after by handspinners and knitters alike, thus making them a true multi-purpose breed. The numbers of Bluefaced Leicesters in the United States continue to grow as producers discover these qualities for themselves. Whether you are looking for a sheep breed to produce marketable fiber or meat, the Bluefaced Leicester has it all!