A white Leicester Longwool Ewe.
Rare Breed Sheep
Sheep were first domesticated in the Middle East. Sheep are descended from Asiatic Moufflon, the Urial wild Sheep and the bog horned Argali. Their ancestors lived in rocky upland areas so they are more susceptible to problems such as respiratory complaints and footrot. This is why native breeds who have evolved to adapt to the UK climate are less susceptible to these health problems. With resistance to antibiotics increasing and footrot a severe problem, hardy native breeds could have an important part to play in the future. Sheep have now spread to all parts of the world and have been bred for many different purposes, for their wool, meat and milk.
Leicester Longwool Sheep
The breed is relatively hardy and able to cope with cold weather conditions. However, like most longwools the breed is not best suited to long periods of wet weather. Sheep may require firm handling because of the huge size of the breed. The Leicester Longwool is an important breed in the history of sheep farming. In the first half of the 18th century the longwool breeds of the Midlands were large and slow growing with a poor carcass. Robert Bakewell took the example of the Leicester breed and by crossing it with the Lincoln and Ryeland breeds was able to create the new Leicester Longwool. A very tall, long legged breed with a characteristic long wool fleece. Leicester Longwools can be either white or black in colour. Animals have wool-less white or black faces and legs and both sexes are polled. The Leicester Longwool are used in cross-breeding systems, the rams can be used on commercial ewes to sire bigger lambs suitable for the modern market. The wool is popular with hand spinners and well suited to direct marketing of woollen products. The breed played a large role in developing other breeds such as the Wensleydale, Border Leicester, Lleyn and Ile de France. Leicester Longwool Sheep are on the vulnerable watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, there are between 500 to 900 breeding ewes currently in the UK.