The mating of a Dishley Leicester ram with a Teeswater ewe in 1838 produced the famous ram ‘Blue Cap’ who was the founding sire of the Wensleydale breed. He was a striking ram, with blue pigmentation on his head and ears that is now the hallmark of the breed, great size (203 kg as a two-shear) and wool of distinctive quality. The modern Wensleydale has inherited these qualities. It is a large sheep with long-stapled, lustrous wool that falls in long ringlets almost to ground level in unshorn sheep. The breed has a quality known as ‘central checking’ that prevents the formation of kemp in the fleece.
The Wensleydale is a very large longwool sheep, described by the British Meat and Livestock Commission as “probably the heaviest of all our indigenous breeds.” It is a visually striking sheep with considerable presence. It has a bold and alert carriage which is accentuated by its broad, level back and heavy muscling in the hindquarters. It has a distinctive deep blue head and ears, which should be clean except for a well developed forelock of wool. Both sexes are polled.
The Wensleydale breed was developed to provide rams for crossing onto hill ewes, mainly Swaledale, Blackface, Rough Fell, Cheviot & Dalesbred. The female crossbreds develop into prolific, heavy-milking, hardy breeding ewes while the wethers, under natural conditions and on marginal ground, provide quality carcasses at higher weight, with no excess fat.
Today the breed is established throughout the United Kingdom and extends into mainland Europe.
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