British Sheep Breeds

The Border Leicester

Like the Blue-faced Leicester, the Border Leicester traces back to the Dishley Leicester and is one of Great Britain's indigenous breeds. The Dishley Leicester was made famous by Robert Bakewell who revolutionised the breeding of farm stock in England. Before Bakewell's time, breeding of sheep and cattle was a hit and miss affair.

Bakewell lived from 1726 to 1795 and was the third generation farmer to run the family farm at Dishley. Bakewell developed 'line breeding', deliberately mating chosen individuals (which were often closely related) to get the type of animal he was after. Increased production followed his methods and significant numbers of Leicesters were soon to be found in Northumberland and the south-eastern Scottish counties. His sheep had well-sprung ribs, longer bodies and a more developed brisket. They were given the name of 'Border Leicesters'.

Border Leicester(42525)Credit:

As well as the Blue-faced (Hexham) Leicester and the Border Leicester, there is an English (Dishley) Leicester. The English is the largest and has a long, heavy fleece. It resembles the Lincoln breed and has a woolly topknot on the head. The Blueface has dark skin on the head which makes the fine white hair on the face appear blue. It has a shorter, finer and lighter-weight fleece and is renowned as a sire of crossbred ewes.

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Border Leicesters were given their own classes at the Highland Show in Scotland in 1869. Twenty-nine years later (1898), the first Flock Book was printed and Edinburgh became the headquarters of the newly formed Society of Border Leicester Sheep Breeders.

In 1881, Border Leicester studs were being established in Australia. The breed was quickly becoming recognised as the ideal sire for producing first cross ewes, much as the Blue-faced Leicester was back in England. The Border Leicester was called the 'great improver'.

In Australia, the Border Leicester was crossed with Merino ewes to produce crossbred mothers. These ewes had:

  • High fertility rates
  • Top quality, large, lean lambs
  • Excellent mothering skills
  • Heavy lambs (meaning lambs reached market weights in a shorter time)
  • Good wool yields. While the wool was stronger than the pure Merino fleece, there was still a strong market for it.
  • Legs and face were less woolled than the Merino. This meant easier management of the flock.
  • Bodies had less wrinkles than the Merinos of the day.
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The Border Leicester is distinctive with a medium size head and convex profile. The bottom jaw arches up following the line of the nose. The head is covered with soft, white hair and the underlying skin is pink in colour. In show sheep small black sopts are acceptable but not brown ones! The face has a well-developed muzzle and the nostrils are wide and black. The eyes are full and prominent and dark in colour. The ears are semi-erect and well covered with white hair. The teeth should meet the pad squarely.

The medium length neck is set well onto the shoulder with no depression behind the should blades. The back is wide and level and the loin broad and flat. The chest is deep and broad and the ribs well sprung. The deep body gives plenty of room for carrying lambs and the hindquarters are broad and square. The legs are free of wool, with strong flat bone. The hooves should be dark. The fleece has a well defined crimp, is dense and weighty with no kemp or coarse fibres. The staple is dense with a length ranging from five to ten inches. A ram's fleece weighs in the vicinity of 6 to 9 kgs and the ewe fleece 4 to 6 kgs.

This breed carries itself well and has an alert, proud bearing. Rams may weigh from 140 to 175kg and ewes 90 to 120kg.

Border Leicesters have a fine reputation and have been exported all over the world.