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True Blue Calling

The Bluefaced Leicester in America

By Jared Lloyd

Jehovah-Jireh Sheep and Cattle, LLC.
Molina, Colorado

Bluefaced Leicesters in the United States are made available as supreme maternal crossing sires by a devoted group of breeders. These folks have sought the best British genetics for improving and refining domestic bloodlines. This is a breed that can provide important profit-producing traits for the commercial shepherd while also producing a really cool and highly marketable fleece. In Leicesters, blue is finer.

This import of top genetics, and progressive breeding programs, ensure that the traits a Bluefaced Leicester sire will pass on to his crossbred female progeny will generate efficient, forage-based producers of premium lamb. The breed was developed to produce these F1-hybrid, “Mule” daughters, which are the basis of the prime lamb industry in the United Kingdom. [Ed. note: In Britain and British Commonwealth nations, “prime lamb” is not equivalent to our USDA “prime” designation, but signifies “finished” lamb, a market-approved name for “fat-lamb.” It normally grades USDA Choice or Prime.]

The extreme traits of the breed, the refinement of structure, the length and breadth of loin, the high lambing percentage, the ample and correct udder, their docile nature and the fine, uniform fleece are highly heritable traits that the Bluefaced Leicester ram improves in his progeny.

Traditional 3-Tier Breeding: The First (Mule) Cross

A maternal base of rugged, thrifty hill breed ewes, like Scotch Blackface, Swaledale, Welsh Mountains, Clun Forest, Cheviots, and even Shetland are the dams of choice for crossing in the traditional three-tier system. These dams contribute a genetic base for forage conversion, and ability to produce in the most hostile environments.

Marketing the lambs of these primitive breeds in the U.S. is difficult and prices are docked because nobody knows what they are, or the potential for commercial production. This crossing system is where ewes of these rugged little breeds are going to regain commercial viability. Their Bluefaced Leicester-sired wethers make for excellent freezer lamb and the ewe lambs can go to the commercial flock and produce premium grass-fed lamb when crossed with a terminal sire.

Bluefaced Leicesters sire long, streamlined lambs that even Shetland ewes bear easily. Birth weights in first cross lambs average from five to eleven pounds depending on the ewe breed.

Bluefaced Leicesters contribute high birth rates, body length, calm nature, better udder attachment, and longer staple wool.
Bluefaced Leicesters contribute high birth rates, body length, calm nature, better udder attachment, and longer staple wool.

The Terminal Cross

Enter the muscle. A terminal sire produces a more extreme muscle pattern in his lambs, and a higher rate of gain. The preferred terminal siring is bred from Texel, Suffolk or Charolais rams. The Suffolk sires used in this system need to be production-oriented flocks rather than the club lamb bloodlines. When produced from these mule ewes—with their conversion efficiency and milking ability—this terminal lamb crop has the most efficient window for optimal, economical lamb production. You won’t have to shovel grain down their throats, and they can be slaughtered at the peak of growth rate with the highest yield and grade at 120 days of age. Most producers prefer an 80 to 90-pound slaughter weight and expect a 55-60% yield. These weights can be gained in twins as early as 90 days, but 120 days is a more reliable figure.

Profit: How They Earn It

Pasture-based genetics considerably lower overhead and maintenance. Shearing is easy and the wool is currently very marketable through the fiber artist market. A wool-cooperative (and possibly a product line) is in the planning by Bluefaced Leicester breeders. This is geared towards marketing Mule fleeces produced by our sire stock buyers. We want them to get a fair price for their clip and figure this should make profit rather than just merely cover shearing costs.

Long, uniform Bluefaced Leicester wool is in good demand for high-paying crafts markets.
Long, uniform Bluefaced Leicester wool is in good demand for high-paying crafts markets.

The fleece is high yield, and open. Staple lengths vary between which hill-breed the cross was based from. Some crosses can be shorn twice annually for optimal staple length. USDA grades range from 54’s to 58’s depending on the breeding. It is demi-luster, has good handle and felts well.

Bluefaced Leicesters also cross well with fine-wool breeds. The fleeces are similar to a fine Corriedale, with good handle, luster and uniformity. The yield is high. Bluefaced Leicesters tighten fine-wool skin, add strength to their top line, pick up slouchy, coyote hips and add width to structure. Expect higher lambing percentages, and udder improvement, which will in turn increase lamb crop and gains. And Bluefaced Leicester does these things without getting dark fibers into white fleeces. Because Bluefaced Leicester is an open-faced breed, its crossbred progeny has lower risk of wool blindness.

Where To See Them

The Bluefaced Leicester national show, the “Bluefaced Revolution©” will be held in Estes Park, Colorado at the Estes Park Wool Market, June 12-15, 2008. In addition to the show, a private treaty sire, seed stock and Mule ewe lamb production sale is planned. There are progeny shows for dams and sires. This will give potential buyers an idea of what the breed can do in the commercial market. It will exhibit tangible evidence to back up Blueface Leicester claims. Top breeders from across the country will be in attendance exhibiting stock. There are expected to be dozens of top sire prospects for private treaty sale available.

If you cannot attend the Bluefaced Revolution, there are other Bluefaced Leicester shows at the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon, and the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. If you are looking for a sire to improve performance of replacement ewe-lamb daughters in any commercial lamb production system, visit one of these shows, and get set up with a sire.

To find more information on the breed and find a breeder near you, please visit these websites: The Bluefaced Leicester Breeders Association and The Bluefaced Leicester Union.

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