Friday 12 November 2010

Ugly sheep

It was drawn to my attention that in the field opposite my cottage there were a handful of ugly sheep, it was mentioned in an almost apologetic manner. "I know you like sheep, but they really are ugly" I really couldn't agree more. A fine observation and totally true, they were indeed ugly sheep.

Fortunately they have since been moved and I no longer have to look out onto them but I tracked them down with my camera to share with you their 'beauty'!.

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They are indeed Bluefaced Leicester tups (rams, entire males)and there is no doubting the fact that they are indeed ugly. Muckle (big) creatures, long legs, long bodies, long necks, bare skins (wool)a blueness around the face and legs, roman nose, big lugs (ears) more like a donkey than a sheep really.

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They come in more than just white, black ones too! The first sheep I ever owned was a black leicester ewe lamb. My Uncle gave it to me as a pet lamb to rear on the bottle, he always bred a handful of leicesters and in those days black ones were taboo, no one liked to admit to having a black leicester and so Sooty as she was christened lived with me until I sold her to someone to breed off - ironical when they were supposed to be taboo!

The Leicester is used as a crossing tup onto the hill ewes (blackfaces or swaledales) to produce the much sought after mule ewe lamb and there was a slow recognition that the black ones did possibly throw more colour into the lamb (face and leg colour), the modern day crossing tup has gone even further, he can be a mottly smudgy browny faced creature, still bares the same body shape but the blueness has given way to a browness. How things change.

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The bluefaced leicester isn't always noted for being the hardiest of creatures, they have an ability of managing to stand on a sixpence when the weather is harsh, hide in the dyke (wall) back with their backs up or even head for home asking to be housed in a shed. They definitely are not the sort of tup you'd set away onto the hill but they do produce a profitable lamb in the form of the mule ewe lamb, the wether lambs (castrated males) also realise a fair price in either the fat or store ring.

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The above photo was taken at Twicey Show and although not a perfect shot it does show you what a good leicester is meant to look like, I presume it was deemed a good one when it received the first prize rossette. You can see the blue colour in its face especially around the cheeks and ears. It has a good set of lugs(ears) large erect ears which will be passed onto the mule lamb giving it a look of being alert. You may think this particular sheep is carrying a lot of wool compared to the other photos but this is actually its lamb fleece which will be the heaviest coat it will ever carry, once clipped the wool will have less length and will cover the sheeps body in fine curls (often described as purl).

The bluefaced leicester was also known as the Hexham Leicester due to its origins being in that area, it is well used in Tarset running with ewes on the lower and kinder ground within our area to produce the mule ewe lamb. Unfortunately there is a standing joke that a leicester will just die, slightly unfortunate for the beast but there is some truth in the saying, they do require a bit more TLC (tender loving care) than other breeds but they are worth looking after especially if they cross well and produce decent lambs.

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Above is the mule ewe lamb. The off spring from a blue faced leicester sire and a blackfaced ewe. For more information on mules see the following posting


pepperMO said...

BFL roving is quite popular with handspinners across the pond. How about in your neck of the woods?

Tarset Shepherd said...

Have to say I have absolutely no knowledge of spinning so don't know how popular it is, the BFL wool is very fine and you'd think someone somewhere would be working with it but unfortunately I don't know of anyone, sorry about that