Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Leicester Longwool Sheep

Leicester Longwool at Colonial Williamsburg
While on vacation I made my way over to Colonial Williamsburg, where, since the 1980s, they have been maintaining a rare breeds program to support and conserve different types of livestock. One of the breeds in the program is today's animal, the Leicester Longwool sheep.

This particular breed was developed in England in the 1700s by Robert Bakewell. Bakewell was the first to use modern selection techniques to create a new breed that would mature quickly and provide higher quality wool.

Leicester Longwools resting
The breed spread throughout England's colonies, and herds were even owned by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Leicesters were crossbred to other sheep, and were instrumental in the creation of other new breeds. Unfortunately they fell out of favor over the course of the 20th century, due to the introduction of newer breeds, and became incredibly rare in both their native England and in North America.

Leicester Longwools did continue on in Australia, and it is from herds there that Colonial Williamsburg obtained their original sheep. They are now being bred in Virginia, and other herds have been established again in the United States.

Leicester Longwools get their name from the heavy, curly fleece that they produce. The wool is high yield, strong, and creates heavy woolens.

Status :  Listed as Critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
Location : Originated in England
Size : Male weight up to 250lbs (113kg), females 180lbs(82kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Ovis -- Species : O. aries

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