The English Leicester is a sound, black footed sheep, suited to flat, hilly, or even marginal country. This makes it well suited to much of Australia.
English Leicesters are large framed, longwool sheep with a strong constitution, good temperament, milking ability and high lambing average. Rams are often crossed with a fine wool ewe of a different breed to produce prime lamb mothers, inheriting the desirable qualities of the English Leicester breed. The lambs grow out well to good marketable prime lambs.
The English Leicester is classified as a dual purpose sheep producing both wool and meat.
The English Leicester was one of the first pure breeds to be imported to Australia. They arrived in 1826 and were well suited to the needs of the forming Australian colony which needed the meaty carcase and heavy fleece. English Leicester gained weight more quickly than others of its time and produced less waste when slaughtered.
During the late 1700's, the English Leicester breed was derived in the Midland Counties of England (where it is called "Leicester Longwool") by Robert Bakewell from the old Leicester sheep which were more coarsely boned and slower growing.
Fleece and Fibre
English Leicester fleece is highly prized for its lustre and length. On the animal, the fleece grows dense and free. The lock is a medium width showing a small, well defined wave or crimp from the skin to the tip. The staple length is long, around 250mm (10 inches). The fibre range is generally 32-38 microns (40s-46s).
Sheep can produce varying shades of fleece. Shades include white, brown, silver and black. Overtime, coloured English Leicester sheep will "fade".
For hand spinners and weavers the wool has no superior for length, soft handle and dye acceptance. Wool from the fine end of the scale is most suitable for lace knitting, with the stronger wools used for outer garment knitting and crochet, hand woven wall hangings, rugs, and craft work. Selected fleeces are used to make dolls' wigs and dye perfectly in natural hair colours. Commercially spun knitting yarn is also available in 4 ply and 8 ply, hand dyed in a variety of colours. The strong line can be blended or used in the manufacture of carpets.
Since the fibre is extremely long, special considerations need to be made when processing. commercially.
For the hand spinner, the fibres can be combed, hand or drum carded, or each staple can even be simply hand teased and introduced to the wheel orifice.
Spinning worsted will created a very strong but ropey yarn. Spinning woollen (or semi-woollen) can produce a lovely, bouncy yarn. This latter method can even produce a next to skin appropriate garment from some lower micron count English Leicester lamb fleece.
The English Leicester is a dual purpose sheep. The broad flat back of the English Leicester allows development of the eye steak whilst the full, rounded hindquarter provides two large legs.
English Leicester meat is available at selected Farmers Markets in Victoria and Tasmania.
Where to Find Fibre or Products to Support this Breed
Gallery - A series of photos specific to this breed.
English Leicester Association of Australia Inc. - A very enthusiastic Australian community.
Heritage Sheep Australia - English Leicester are one of the breeds supported by this group.