Border Leicester, the sheep
Posted on April 20 2021
In the last decades of the 18th century, while learned men of the Enlightenment sipped tea Edinborough drawing rooms and debated the age of the earth and man’s place in the Universe, further south, in England, a few farmers, stirred by the same new appreciation for Science, were thinking about sheep.
One of these was Robert Bakewell, well-to-do son of Dishley Estate, a 440-acre farm in England's Midllands.
As a young man, Bakewell traveled in Europe studying agricultural practices. When he inherited the family estate in 1760, he set about improving the local sheep, which heretofore lived all together, rams with ewes, passing traits back and forth in the usual random way.
He began his thoughtful selection process by separating rams from ewes, culling sheep that had less-than-desirable traits, and mating sheep that shared characteristics.
In a short while, he had established a new identifiable breed, the Dishley Leicester. The sheep was so desirable--good meat and lots of fleece--that he rented out his rams for a hefty fee.
In 1767, the Culley brothers, students of Bakewell and admirers of the new Leicester breed, settled to the north in the Borderlands, bringing with them some of these improved Leicesters. The sheep were popular with locals and soon farmers on the Scottish as well and the British side of the border were mating the Dishley’s with local sheep, Teeswater and Cheviot. From these mixes, new informal Leicester strains were developed, Bluecaps and Redlegs, respectively. The Cheviot mix proved the more resilient and by 1850, these descendents of the first Dishley Leister (now vanished) were known as the Border Leicester.
When exactly the sheep first arrived in North America is anyone's guess. But farmers dedicated to the breed founded a breed association in 1888, and by 1920 an agricultural census cited 767 living in the U.S. Today, The American Border Leicester Association keeps track of the breed and encourages its well being.