The Bluefaced Leicester breed makes its debut at the show
AN unusual breed of sheep, Bluefaced Leicester will make its debut at this year's Tullamore Show on Sunday next.
The formation of the South of Ireland Bluefaced Leicester Club in 2012, now in its 10th year, saw an increased focus on the breed in the Republic. The club has established four pedigree sales within the Southern Ireland region these being located at;
Aurivo Mart, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo.
Ballybofey & Stranorlar Mart, Co. Donegal.
Cahir Mart, (Cork Marts) Co. Tipperary.
Midlands & Western Livestock Improvement Society Limited, The Showgrounds, Carrick-On-Shannon, Co. Roscommon.
The Association welcome everyone to their stand at Tullamore as well as to their 60th celebration.
The journey of the Bluefaced Leicester has its origin in a breeding programme introduced by Robert Bakewell, an English agriculturalist, in the development of longwool sheep in the 1700’s.
From these early roots and over the many intervening years, the Bluefaced Leicester has evolved through selective breeding of those involved in the breed to its current breed standards which sees 2 individual types within the breed, one the Traditional Bluefaced Leicester, the other now dubbed the Crossing Leicester.
The Bluefaced Leicester should have a broad muzzle, good mouth and a characteristic Roman nose, bright alert eyes and long erect ears. There should be a good length of neck laid into broad shoulders and a good spring of rib together with a long strong back with no weakness behind the shoulder. The wool should be tightly purled, fine and open cleanly to the skin.
The hindquarters should be broad and deep, the legs well positioned and strong boned. In the case of the traditional Bluefaced Leicester the colour of the head skin should be dark blue showing through white hair whereas the Crossing Bluefaced Leicester can display brown or black hair on the face and legs and does not display the dark blue head skin.
Bluefaced Leicester’s are crossed with many breeds to produce the Mule.
Genetically the Bluefaced Leicester is different to all other breeds, this Genetic pool was established at the genesis of the breed by Bakewell, something he did not envisage at the time, however it is this vast genetic difference that produces unrivalled hybrid vigour in the cross bred progeny of the Bluefaced Leicester and sets their mule offspring apart from other crossbred breed types.
The hybrid vigour associated with the mule equates to a 5% increase in growth but more significantly the maternal traits of the mule, those of longevity, milkiness, prolificacy and mothering ability ensures a 20% increase in performance.
A control study conducted in the UK in the 2022 lambing saw blood samples taken from an array of breeds, in lambs 8 hours after birth, which identified a significant increase in the number of antibodies from lambs born to Mule Ewes, thereby enhancing their lambs natural ability to combat watery mouth and joint ill. Mule sheep are increasing in popularity in Southern Ireland with many farmers producing their own as well as an increasing number of dedicated Mule Groups producing sheep for sale nationally.
The Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders Association was established in 1962 to encourage the breeding and maintain the purity of the breed. The Association office is currently located in Carlisle in England. The Association celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. There are 6 distinctive regions affiliated to the Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders’ Association of which Southern Ireland is one such region.
Bluefaced Leicester sheep made their way to Southern Ireland in or about 1980, with sheep being sourced from the UK by the pioneers of the breed here. In early years the breed gained popularity amongst the mule producers, particularly hill farmers, although they also found favour amongst lowland flocks. celebration of the breed to be held at the show which involves Progeny Classes of Bluefaced Leicester’s with their purebred and crossbred offspring.
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