Leicester longwool sheep are the direct descendants of the Dishley Leicesters, developed in England by Robert Bakewell during the latter part of the 18th century. By crossing the Dishley with Lincoln and Ryeland breeds Bakewell was able to create the new Leicester. Later its name was changed to the Leicester longwool.
Like all domestic sheep the Leicester longwool and Dishley Leicesters are descended from the mouflon sheep which was domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia between 11000 and 9000 BC. All sheep breeds are herbivorous (eat only plants), have a woollen fleece and live in social flocks.
Their large frame and heavy, long, fleece means that the Leicester longwool can live in a variety of different climates. They are also docile and easily trained, and these features have seen the sheep transported to different parts of the world for breeding, including Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Female sheep provide plenty of rich milk for their young. Adults eat much the same as their wild ancestors with grass and herbs making up their diet. The normal length of their wool is 20-25cm and their fleeces weigh 5 to 8kg. It is extremely thick and, after processing, is excellent at retaining dyed colours.
- Conservation Status: The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has classified this species as Endangered. This is mainly because of a fall in popularity during the mid-twentieth century.
- Ancestor distribution: IUCN reports mouflon is the wild ancestor and has a large range in central Asia, from Turkey to Pakistan. This species is classed as vulnerable and is threatened by hunting, disease and the expansion of sheep farming throughout their range.
- Habitat: Grasslands
- Wild and domestic diet: Herbivorous (grass and herbs)
- Weight: Ewes 80-100kg. Rams 100-150kg
- Gestation: 145-155 days
- No. of young: 1-2
- Life span: 6-11 years