Christmas has come and passed here at Sheep and Pickle Farm. The hens have been thriving on extra parrot food and occasional bits of mutton tallow. The ewes are looking generally pregnant, and Cinder looks plenty proud. More calmness and less pushiness from him tells me he’s done with rut and back to his usual relaxed attitude.
The sheep are all rather miffed at having to eat hay when they can still see greenery outside. There’s no use in explaining that allowing them to graze on the dormant plants until they tear the roots up would mean that they’d have less delicious pasture next year and for years to come. We’ve compromised on going out for weekend grazing walks, and the sheep have seen my point that even though the grass is green, it isn’t good for grazing. They nibble it hopefully, lift their heads, snort, and trot off disdainfully. Like a January tomato at the grocery store, that grass just isn’t the real thing.
The sheep got a little grain treat for Christmas, before the grain feeding begins in earnest in about three weeks to help them with their final weeks of pregnancy.
I’m afraid I’ve buried the lede for a paragraph or two. Here’s the real news: I’ve put down a deposit for a Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) ewe lamb or two from a farm in New Hampshire. Bringing BFLs to Vermont is a very exciting opportunity. Bluefaced Leicesters are Longwool sheep from Britain. They have the finest, softest wool of the longwool breeds (which include Romneys, Border Leicesters, Leicester Longwools, Lincolns, and many others). Though they produce less wool by weight than other breeds, their lack of wool on their heads and legs means that more of the wool from the shearing is optimal for handspinning. Mainly, though, BFLs are a meat breed with excellent meat conformation. In much of Britain, they are an integral part of a three-way crossbreeding program for market lambs. BFLs are bred to a rugged, hardy hill-breed ewe. The ewe breed adds vigor and the BFL sire adds softer wool, more muscle and a longer loin to the offspring. Males of this cross become meat, and ewes are raised in large flocks that are bred to heavy meat breeds like the Suffolk or Hampshire. They have more lambs and healthier lambs than a pure Suffolk or Hampshire flock, but the lambs grow bigger and provide more meat than the first cross.
As best I can tell, there are no pure BFL flocks in Vermont, and hardly any BFL flocks in the Northeast. They need a little more protection from winter than Cormos do, but should be fine in my barn. Their wool is very popular for handspinning. In contrast to my grade Cormo, it is lustrous, drapey and perfect for lacework, scarves and shawls. My current wool makes an excellent hat and mittens, but makes a more solid scarf or shawl.
I first got serious about the BFL idea while I was at Rhinebeck. It was there that I met Margaret and Cindy of Pitchfork Ranch in Michigan. They did a really impressive talk about Bluefaced Leicesters. We talked for a while, and I found I agreed with their breeding program and approach. I also learned that Smiling Sheep Farm in New Hampshire has a few BFLs who came from Pitchfork Ranch, and that some lambs might be available in the spring! So when I got a little money for Christmas, I set up a little fund for getting my first Bluefaced Leicester ewes. The plan is to work on finding a ram for them, but putting them with Cinder in the meantime to generate some lambs and crossbred sheep for handspinners. My intention for the future involves maintaining one Cormo ram and one BFL ram for my grade Cormo and BFL flocks. Purebred offspring of the rams could be bred to the ram of the other breed as a terminal cross, with those offspring sold as pets or meat. Having two rams would allow each ram’s tenure to last as long as there are enough unrelated ewes to breed. I’ve had to swap rams annually up until now, so I’m looking forward to maintaining a longer term of employment for rams in the future.
So I’ll keep everyone apprised of any news about BFLs. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to my own lambies making an appearance in two months!