The Bor­der Le­ices­ter sheep of the Doul­ton Flock

The Knitter - - Contents -

WHEN A car ac­ci­dent put an end to her horse rid­ing days, North York­shire­based El­lie Stokeld took in­spi­ra­tion from the Mule Cross ewe and her two lambs who grazed along­side her horses, help­ing to “keep the land right”. El­lie looked into buy­ing a cou­ple of pedi­gree ewe lambs with a view to show­ing them, and a chance meet­ing with a Bor­der Le­ices­ter ram at the East of Eng­land Show made El­lie’s mind up: this was the breed for her.

“Two ewe lambs, Martha and Min­nie, were pur­chased in 1996 for me by the breeder of that won­der­ful ram, and that’s where it all be­gan!” El­lie tells me.

The Bor­der Le­ices­ter’s lin­eage can be traced back to the 18th cen­tury Dish­ley Le­ices­ter breed, which grad­u­ally found their way from Le­ices­ter­shire to Northum­ber­land. Here they were crossed with Che­viots to make them hardier for the lo­cal land­scape - and so the Bor­der Le­ices­ter was born.

Bor­der Le­ices­ters are on the Rare Breed Sur­vival Trust ‘At Risk’ list, but now with over 300 sheep in The Doul­ton Flock (none of which ever goes to slaugh­ter), pas­sion­ate shep­herds such as El­lie are work­ing hard to pro­mote this “fan­tas­tic sheep”, pre­serv­ing it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

The Bor­der Le­ices­ter is a large, white sheep, recog­nis­able by its regal, Ro­manesque muz­zle and long alert ears. It is known as ‘the sheep in­dus­try’s Great Im­prover’ due to ex­cel­lent breed­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Its fleece is dense, and the wool is strong, even-coloured and very crimpy, with a long sta­ple length of around 10-17.5cm, mak­ing it a great choice for hand-spin­ners. El­lie has sold fleece within the UK and in­ter­na­tion­ally for more than 15 years, to spin­ners who tell her it is one of the most ver­sa­tile they have spun.

Hav­ing won Supreme Cham­pi­onships with her sheep at ev­ery big County Show, El­lie reaches knit­ters nd and spin­ners through the fleece and yarns spun from it, both on­line and at agri­cul­tural events, where in­di­vid­ual fleeces have won many Cham­pi­onships in­clud­ing Great York­shire Supreme Cham­pi­onship twice on the trot.

A few years ago, a bun­dle of fleeces was sent for pro­cess­ing into a worsted-spun yarn – El­lie’s first ‘toe in the wa­ter’ into yarn pro­duc­tion. El­lie re­flects: “Peo­ple loved the yarn - they loved the fact that it was a sin­gle-farm yarn, that they could learn about the sheep, and most of all that it was a yarn from a slaugh­ter-free flock.” All prof­its from sales of the fleeces and yarn go back into sup­port­ing the flock whom “cost a lot to main­tain prop­erly.”

El­lie would like to see a clearer strat­egy from the Bri­tish Wool Mar­ket­ing Board to sup­port sheep farm­ers (see my ar­ti­cle in The Knit­ter, is­sue 99): “I think that they have a few buy­ers who dic­tate the mar­ket­place, which isn’t good for sheep farm­ers. Per­haps they could do more to help grow the mar­ket­place for Bri­tish wool.” In the mean­time, The Doul­ton Flock will con­tinue to pro­mote Bri­tish­breed wool through this beau­ti­ful sheep and the yarn from its fleece.

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