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Blue-Faced Leicester sheep


Maralynn
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I need a new ram and have an opportunity to get one from a neighbor who is changing rams. I'm headed over to look at him/possibly pick him up in a couple days.

 

Does anyone have experience with the breed? What do you like about them? Dislike? Are there any huge negative to the breed?

 

 

FWIW, I'd be using him on crossbred fine wool ewes

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Hello Maralynn,

 

I have kept a large flock of Bluefaced Leicester sheep for over ten years, so I guess that you could say that I know a bit about them. I have also owned Border Leicesters, Romneys, and Cheviots, and of those, I have found BFLs to be my favorite breed by far. BFLs are rather quiet in nature, easily managed, and cooperative for being worked by dogs. Your profile doesn't mention where you live, so they may not be the best breed if you are in the extreme northern or southern areas of the US (or in some other areas around the world). However, they thrive on farms in most areas and adapt easily to varying weather conditions. Since BFLs have an open fleece and are bald-headed, they need shelter from the wind, rain, ice, and snow, but a three sided run-in shed is shelter enough. My BFLs survived last winter here with average temperatures well below freezing and a snowfall of over 90 inches.

 

The Bluefaced Leicester is the number one crossing sire in the UK, and his assorted varieties of "mule" daughters are the backbone of the sheep industry there. The BFL sire will impart increased body size and capacity, higher prolificy, earlier maturity, and milkiness in his crossbred daughters. In addition, the BFL's fleece is the finest of the long wool breeds, and the fleeces on BFL crossbreds are highly desirable among hand spinners.

 

If you will only have one BFL ram, he probably won't behave quite like BFLs do in a flock of their own kind (and a lot will depend on how he was previously managed), but most people find that their first BFL ram to be a pleasant surprise when compared to many other breeds.

 

I hope that this information helps, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

 

Regards,

nancy

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Hello again,

 

Pam wrote, "about every one has an overbite though"

 

Oh, my! Pam, I don't know whose BFLs you have seen, but I have raised nearly a thousand purebred BFLs and have seen only one "overbite" (if by overbite you mean a parrot mouth). However, due primarily to the BFL's roman nose skull structure, occasionally there can be sheep with an underbite (where the incisors are forward of the dental pad). Of course, a good bite and sound incisors are essential in a breeding animal and should be checked during the prepurchase inspection.

 

Regards,

nancy

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I bought a BFL ram last year, and I've been quite pleased with him and his offspring. He is extremely easy to handle (he came dog-broke), and has stayed fat on grass & hay. I crossed him on Coopworth, Coop x Romney, and Coop x NCC ewes. I was hoping he'd add some length & prolificacy to his daughters when crossed on the NCCx ewes, but alas, I had 90-odd percent ram lambs last year! The lambs I butchered in the fall had a lovely fat cover & hung in my target range of 45-50 Lbs. His lambs are active foragers and have held weight on little feed (just grass hay & alfalfa- I don't grain feed). He bred the majority of my ewes this year, and they're due in about 6 weeks. I'm hoping for more ewe lambs this year!

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Thanks for all the info Nancy! I'm in southern MI. The sheep always have access to shelter in the winter. It's not fully enclosed, but they can always get out of the wind/weather. It's sounding like this could work really well.

 

I was going to take a year off from lambs, but this ram was offered to me and the price of lambs is sky high right now and we do have plenty of pasture in the summer.

 

One more question - do they do well on a grass based feeding system? I don't use much grain, mostly just for ewes just before lambing and nursing and finishing lambs if pasture is scarce.

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Mara, I run an entirely grass-fed operation. The only extra feed my sheep get besides the hay we put up is some alfalfa. Thus far, the BFL-cross lambs have done well. We had a very good (for this area) grass year this year. We have very dry summers, and the grass pretty much quits growing for several months. I usually hold most of my lambs over the winter & butcher them in the spring (I sell mostly to a custom-cut market. I don't haul anything to sales/auctions). I could have done most of my lambs this fall- they were plenty big. (Big for me being 45-50Lbs hanging weight)

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Hi again Mara,

 

You wrote, "One more question - do they do well on a grass based feeding system? I don't use much grain, mostly just for ewes just before lambing and nursing and finishing lambs if pasture is scarce."

 

As Ben has written, BFL sired lambs do very well on a grass-based system. For more information, check out the MuleSheep website: http://www.mulesheep.com/

 

Regards,

nancy

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I hope that this information helps, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

 

Regards,

nancy

 

Curious ... do you have to shear more than say with Cheviots? That's one reason I don't keep a lot of wool sheep ... it's such a hassle - but it's a least only once a year. I would hate to do it more often.

 

I've been thinking of trading off my Cheviot ram and getting one so enjoyed this discussion :@)

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Hi Candy,

 

Curious ... do you have to shear more than say with Cheviots? That's one reason I don't keep a lot of wool sheep ... it's such a hassle - but it's a least only once a year. I would hate to do it more often.

 

I've been thinking of trading off my Cheviot ram and getting one so enjoyed this discussion :@)

 

Bluefaced Leicesters are a long wool breed, but their fleece is finer and less dense than the other long wools (Romney, Border Leicester, Cotswold, etc.). Also, the BFL staple length is not nearly as long as the other long wool breeds. While the other breeds mentioned above easily produce enough fleece to warrant shearing more often than once a year, BFLs (with the correct fleece type) only need to be shorn once a year. There are some BFLs that have fleeces that are not typical for the breed and are more dense with longer staple length, and they may be better off being shorn more often. But, a BFL with the correct fleece type and structure only requires shearing once a year. Also, the openness of the fleece allows them to cool down rather quickly when being used for dog work.

 

If you use a BFL ram on your purebred Cheviot ewes, you will be producing Cheviot Mules. Again, they would only need to be shorn once a year, and the fleeces should be quite desirable with hand spinners. Please check out the MuleSheep website above for more infomation.

 

Thanks for your interest in BFLs!

 

Regards,

nancy

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Mara,

Most of your questions have already been answered, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. I have a BFL ram that I am using to create mule sheep for my own mule flock. This year because I didn't have a terminal sire, I crossed him on my mules to create market lambs (his disadvantage there is that the lambs will likely be more slow growing than the typical market lamb created by using a terminal sire that contributes rapid growth to the cross).

 

My ram is extremely mellow. In fact, he's too friendly for my taste as I've been hit by rams before (not him) and so would like them to be a bit more wary of me. He comes up to the fence begging me to pull grass for him when I pass by walking the dogs. He is respectful of the dogs, though, so I don't have any problems with him.

 

The BFL is part of the three-tier grass-based production system that makes up the majority of market lamb production in the UK, so the BFLs and their crosses should be well-suited to such a system.

 

I shear once a year. I do worry about my ram's open fleece in cold, rainy weather, but he has the sense to seek shelter in the barn in such weather.

 

The only down side of the breed for me is the size. When I sit my ram on his butt to trim his feet, his head is even with my head. Fortunately he's got a nice temperament so he doesn't fight me when I'm doing stuff to him, but I don't know that I'd want a flock of sheep that are all that size! I love, love, love my mules, however. The BFL sire seems to stamp their looks, but they tend to retain the temperament characteristics of the dam breed (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the breed).

 

My first mules (NCC and Clun) and my ram all came from Michigan, so they should do fine in your area.

 

J.

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My BFL ram only gets shorn once a year. My sheep have no shelter, either. We don't usually get very cold, but we sure get wind & rain. I find that so long as there's hay (or haylage) in front of my sheep, they do fine without shelter.

 

I used to have a flock of purebred Cotswolds, and they did get shorn twice a year. The BFL has much less fleece! Shorter staple, etc. After the Cots, nothing looks big to me. My old Cotsowold ram was pushing 350 Lbs (my largest ewe was 230). They were HUGE! Next to the BFL, they were the mellowest sheep I had, thank goodness.

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Others have pointed out the strengths of the blue faced leicester, so I will take it upon myself to point out some of the weaknesses of the breed. This is not intended to dissuade you from using the breed, but rather to make sure that you go into it with your eyes wide open.

 

Their main shortcomings are that they are not sturdy sheep. If you do get a bluehead ram, do not under any circumstances allow him to lose condition. He needs to be kept plump at all times. If that means you need to separate him off and supplement him with grain, then do it.

 

While the breed does from one of the pillars of the British three-tiered lamb production system, most of the shepherds I know over there have a love-hate relationship with the breed. They love what the breed contributes to the crossbred ewe lambs it produces, but they hate trying to keep the purebreds thrifty. One told me that the mule (a cross of Swaledale hill ewes with bluehead rams) was the best sheep in Britain, produced by crossing the two worst sheep. Another says that every bluehead ram should be supplied with a shovel so that you can bury him.

 

But those comments were aimed at the British branch of the breed under the conditions that prevail on the the hill farms of the north of England and the Borders in Scotland. They can be pretty harsh, rainy, and windswept, and the open fleece of the bluehead offers very little protection from the elements.

 

The vast majority of BFLs in the US have been selected by the fiber fancy, and many retain little of the traits that make them so important in the British sheep industry: namely frame size, prolificacy, and milk production. What has been retained is the open fleece structure, and that is often passed on to the lambs making them susceptible to hypothermia, particularly if born outdoors. There are a few notable exceptions to that rule, but I think that unless you know differently it's a mistake to expect UK-style blueheads in the US. I suspect that the comment regarding parrot mouth probably reflects inbreeding of some lines to produce more desirable fleeces.

 

Depending on what you do for lambing, this may be no problem for you. But if you lamb on pasture or in a lot in cool or wet weather and aren't always available to intervene if a lamb starts to go downhill, you may be disappointed with the neonatal survival of BFL-sired lambs.

 

Candy -- heat may be an issue for the BFL in SoCal. Make sure you buy acclimated stock.

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Depending on what you do for lambing, this may be no problem for you. But if you lamb on pasture or in a lot in cool or wet weather and aren't always available to intervene if a lamb starts to go downhill, you may be disappointed with the neonatal survival of BFL-sired lambs.

 

Candy -- heat may be an issue for the BFL in SoCal. Make sure you buy acclimated stock.

 

Thanks for all the info guys. The gal I buy my Cheviots from (lives in the same "area" I do) also has BFL so was thinking of switching my Cheviot ram out this year. He's getting a little aggressive (towards me not the dogs) so I'm getting rid of him anyway. Actually I had some crosses with him and my Dorper ewes that I love ... but *sigh* they need shearering - just like the Cheviots so won't be doing too many of that cross.

 

Bill are you implying it gets HOT here :@)

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I'm going to pick up the new ram tomorrow. The gal that currently owns him has an operation similar to mine and he has worked pretty well for her flock for the past 4 years. She told me both her positive and negative experiences with the breed and it looks like it will work out for my situation.

 

So we'll see what happens!

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