MEET THE SHEEP
The Border Leicester sheep of the Doulton Flock
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.