Favourite Breed

Jayne and Steve Dry­den have built up a suc­cess­ful busi­ness sell­ing the fleeces of their Blue­faced Le­ices­ter sheep. They tell Deb­bie Kings­ley about the breed with the aris­to­cratic pres­ence, phe­nom­e­nal wool and sur­pris­ing abil­ity to leap al­most any ob­sta­cle

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

Blue­faced Le­ices­ter sheep

Jayne and Steve Dry­den pur­chased a derelict house and dis­cov­ered five sheep had moved into the gar­den. “I was hooked,” says Jayne. “I’ve al­ways loved knit­ting and the thought of tak­ing sheep through to the wool stage and sell­ing it re­ally ex­cited me.”

Fast for­ward about seven years and now the cou­ple’s main busi­ness on their 150-acre North Cotswold hold­ing is wool — wool from rare breed, eth­i­cally pro­duced, slaugh­ter-free Wens­ley­dale and Blue­faced Le­ices­ter sheep. They sell al­most any kind of fleece any­one could imag­ine — raw, washed and dyed, as well as in­di­vid­ual locks, hand spun art yarn, com­mer­cially dyed and worsted spun wool, plus a range of knit­ting kits. Some of the lat­ter are de­signed by Jayne, some by her sis­ter and some by spe­cial­ist de­sign­ers.

“We sell at craft shows, woolly events and a few lo­cal wool shops, but our main sales are through our web­site. We sell wool all over the world,” says Jayne. “But it’s been a long process getting here. First we needed to im­prove our pas­ture so that our sheep could be grass fed and then we built up a healthy pedi­gree flock and found good scour­ers, spin­ners and dy­ers.”

Jayne and Steve started to keep Blue­faced Le­ices­ters about five years ago. Jayne added hun­dreds of miles to her car’s milome­ter when she drove to Cum­bria, the Scot­tish Bor­ders and Wales to at­tend pedi­gree sales.

“I ended up buy­ing my­self a qual­ity starter flock for the finest soft long­wool they pro­duce. Blue­faced Le­ices­ter wool is in­cred­i­bly lus­trous and is of­ten mixed with other breeds’ wool to im­prove it. In its pure state, or mixed with Wens­ley­dale, it gives a smooth wool that is in­cred­i­ble to feel and knit. Cus­tomers of­ten ask why our wool is dif­fer­ent and the an­swer is be­cause it is pure Blue­faced Le­ices­ter/Wens­ley­dale with no other fi­bres — and also that I take ex­tremely good care of my flock.”

Blue­faced Le­ices­ters aren’t the eas­i­est to man­age; with their thin skins and fleeces they need a bit of cod­dling. But they boast ex­cel­lent con­for­ma­tion and are good mothers, pro­vid­ing plenty of milk.

“The phrase I of­ten en­counter for Blue­faced Le­ices­ters is the bru­tal ‘they need a sharp shovel and a short mem­ory’, which is un­fair,” says Jayne. “But you do need to look after them. You can’t just turn them out and for­get them. They need check­ing daily, shel­ter from the wind and rain and some sup­ple­men­tary feed­ing through the win­ter. In re­turn, you get a fan­tas­tic fleece and an ath­letic, mus­cu­lar ewe that has an aris­to­cratic pres­ence.”

Other rea­sons the Dry­dens have been be­guiled by the Blue­faced Le­ices­ter are their tem­per­a­ments and their cu­rios­ity.

“In time they will ap­proach you in the field, which makes check­ing them so much

eas­ier,” con­tin­ues Jayne. How­ever, Jayne and Steve haven’t been so pleased at their charges’ abil­ity to jump hur­dles. “They are as ath­letic as a race­horse,” Jayne laughs.

With more than 1,300 mem­bers in the flock book, the Blue­faced Le­ices­ter is clearly pop­u­lar all over the UK and Ire­land. It is easy to se­lect new blood­lines for a flock due to the breed be­ing so well dis­trib­uted across the land.

“I have helped peo­ple be­gin their small starter flocks from Corn­wall to Kent and Glouces­ter to East Anglia,” says Jayne. “Any­one look­ing to buy them can ei­ther go to the sales in Carlisle, Kelso or Builth Wells, or come to breed­ers like my­self who have trav­elled and built flocks from a di­verse set of high qual­ity blood­lines. All the breed­ers I have met are in­cred­i­bly help­ful to new starters and the breed so­ci­ety is one of the most pro­fes­sional and well or­gan­ised I have en­coun­tered.

“I would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend the Blue­faced Le­ices­ter to small­hold­ers — they are a trusty sheep with real char­ac­ter, although they are not a sheep that would go for meat.”

Jayne and Steve have lit­tle time to show their sheep, although they can be found at the odd large lo­cal show.

“We pick out the clean­est sheep at the time clos­est to the show. I’m afraid we’re not very good with hal­ter train­ing, but we man­age and I’m de­lighted to say that we gen­er­ally come ei­ther first or sec­ond. Steve prefers the so­ci­ety shows as there is no hal­ter train­ing and the sheep are turned loose in the ring. But we don’t breed to pro­duce show an­i­mals — we breed to pro­duce healthy sheep with good wool. We started our flock with a se­lec­tion of the finest UK pedi­grees and con­tinue to breed to these su­pe­rior stan­dards.”

Jayne and Steve are proud of the fact that their well cared for flock of sheep never has to en­dure the stresses of the slaugh­ter house. If a ram doesn’t look like he will make good pedi­gree ma­te­rial, he is wethered and kept for his wool.

“I also sell rams all over the coun­try for breed­ing and re­place­ment breed­ing ewes to farm­ers who are look­ing for good pedi­gree stock,” says Jayne. “Our sheep don’t en­ter the meat mar­ket. I spend many months find­ing good homes for our older sheep as grass-cut­ters. They are hardy, low main­te­nance and will live to around 10 years old.

“I was very lucky this year to find a lovely lady who took 40 of our older ewes to live out their days hap­pily in some beau­ti­ful fields where they can’t pos­si­bly fin­ish all the grass. There are, of course, older sheep that I could never part with. My old­est is Danielle, who came from York­shire many years ago. She’s 14.”

Also liv­ing on Jayne and Steve’s an­cient ridge and fur­row land, which is as or­ganic as the cou­ple can make it with­out go­ing through the ex­pen­sive process of regis­tra­tion, are a cou­ple of black Lin­coln Long­wools and Herd­wicks, Berk­shire breed­ing sows, a Berk­shire boar, a few Tam­worths and Glouces­ter­shire Old Spots, rare breed chick­ens and geese and a cou­ple of Shire horses.

“Our pigs are free range and we sell pedi­gree Berk­shires and cross-bred wean­ers to en­thu­si­asts,” con­cludes Jayne.

For the myr­iad an­i­mals here, this place must be a kind of heaven on earth.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Jayne and Steve Dry­den’s busi­ness, visit www. home­farmwens­ley­dales.com. For more in­for­ma­tion on the Blue­faced Le­ices­ter sheep, visit www.bluele­ices­ter.co.uk/

Jayne Dry­den be­came hooked on sheep after find­ing some in the gar­den of a derelict house she bought

Jayne sells rams all over the coun­try for breed­ing

The Blue­faced Le­ices­ter is pop­u­lar around the UK

The Dry­dens’ sheep are never sold on for meat

The Blue­faced Le­ices­ter dates back to 1700

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