Coming Soon: Leicester Sheep

In the near future, we will be starting a flock of pure-bred Leicester long-wool sheep on our farm.  These sheep were developed in the 1700s and were prized at that time, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owning Leicesters.  (Imagine the day in America when politicians were farmers!)    Today, these sheep are very rare as (a) women are no longer weaving and working with wool, and (b) easier to find sheep are usually raised.   These sheep, however, were restored in the US when Colonial Williamsburg imported them from Australia in an effort to restore this historic breed on American soil. 

A Leicester sheep produces 12-15 lbs of wool each year.  One lb. of raw wool can be purchased for $16, so a sheep produces around $200 worth of wool per year.  To be more clear, one sheep gives enough wool to make 5-6 adult sweaters.  They are dual-purpose sheep, which means that in addition to providing wool, they are also large enough to provide a good supply of meat.

We’ll be buying three bred ewes for a total of $1500.  Sounds like a lot, but do the math. 

– $1500  Cost of (3) bred Leicester ewes
+    600   Value of this year’s wool
+  1200   Value of 3 pure-bred Leicester lambs
+ $300   Total after year one.

+ $  900  Value of second year’s wool (estimate)
+ $1200  Value of 3 more pure-bred Leicester lambs
+$2400  Total after two years.

So, who wouldn’t spend $1500 to profit $2400?

Now, you may ask, “Yes, but you’ll need to buy a ram for year two.”  Unless one of the first three babies is a male, yes.  If so, that will take away from year two, but add to year three since there will be more wool, more ewes and all pregnant at that.  Therefore I neglect uncertain things that will only benefit us.  I’m concerned with those uncertainties that may harm us.  There are few.

“Yes but you haven’t figured in feed and care, etc..”  Sheep eat grass.  If we bough the cheapest meat sheep we could find, they’d eat just as much grass as our preu-bred Leicesters.  Feed is, therefore, ignored.





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8 Responses to Coming Soon: Leicester Sheep

  1. Bridget says:

    where do you sell the wool?

    • wmclaa says:

      We would never sell the wool or any other farm product. I simply gave an average dollar value of the wool at which I’ve seen it sold. I have to admit, though, I was laying in bed last night asking myself: “How can we possibly think that these dollar values are real?” I can’t add quantify the value of the QUALITY of life that farm products bring. Ah, “You can buy a sweater at Wal-Mart.” Yes, you can buy some machine-made sweater from China…WOW. You don’t have the hours of spinning and knitting with your daughters in front of the fireplace in the winter, or daughters who know how to make their own woolen Christmas gifts. You don’t have the experience of shearing the sheep with your sons, enjoying the sheep’s daily peaceful presence on the farm. You don’t have children who curl up in the winter under a warm wool blanket and think, “Grandma made this for me….it’s soo warm.” You don’t have culture or skill or sheep that go on producing more wool and more sheep forever. So no, you can’t “Just buy that at Wal-Mart.” What you can buy at Wal-Mart is an empty and cold consumer’s life–all individual, no nature, no family, no warmth. Yuck.

  2. Angela Arcara says:

    Beautiful! I don’t know how to spin, but I do love crotcheting and knitting things out of nice wool yarn!


  3. I am curious about the selling of the wool? Is it because the wool is from this particular bread that it is worth so much? The average selling price in our area for wool makes it not worth taking in. Who is there a buyer in your area?

    Also I am wondering why they became rare in the states? Was another breed more popular or are their problems inherent with the breed?

    Looking at the hand tools link I would also recommend Lee Valley for some amazing hand tools with exceptional quality. They also have a wonderful selection of Classic Reprints teaching anything from woodworking to generating electricity from a small stream. Many originally published in the late 1800’s. Amazing how what they did with out a computer. The planes Lee Valley sells are actually made by Veritas tools, they are beautiful!

    • wmclaa says:

      I’ve never seen Leicester wool priced under $15.00 per pound. Again, we would never sell the wool. I used the average selling prices for the sake of demonstrating the benefits of the initial investment.

      Leicester rams were used to cross-breed with other more common breeds in the US to form new breeds that were more popular. The hot shot farmers had Leicesters, but they were never popular.

      Thanks for the tool link…I’ll check it out.


  4. If you have any links to buyers for Leicester wool could you share the links?
    These sheep would be more profitable sheep for my parents because the regular sheep wool seller is happy to get $1.15 lb.


    • Bunny says:

      To the poster who asked about why Leicester wool is worth more: It isn’t because the breed itself is rare, but the wool is very different from the more common sheep these days. I suspect they may have gone out of vogue due to the appreciation for what is termed fine wool. Fine wool comes from breeds like the Merino and those related to the Merino. The fine wool breeds are sought solely because they produce a very soft wool that results in virtually no itchy sensation to the wearer – even when worn next to the skin. However, that softness sacrifices toughness and durability, in my opinion. The long wool breeds, like the Leicester produce an extremely tough and durable wool – the staple length is also very long – and hand spinners find it delightful to work with. The catch is, this long wool tends to be best reserved for outer wear that doesn’t directly touch skin, rugs, and other things. I know of one tough wearer who will wear it next to skin, but that’s not too common. There is a glossiness to the Leicester wool – while the fine wools tend to be rather matt looking. In between these breeds are the medium wool sheep. All sheep’s wool can have a purpose – often a very good one! Google about the types of wools – really do some research – and you’ll be surprised at the diversity that exists. Some breeds, rare breeds, are coveted by spinners for the unique wool they produce – and some spinners know exactly what use to put that unique stuff to! Find some forums for spinners and let them know that you want to learn more so that you can help your parents. They should be fairly willing to help you learn – as long as you’re not trying to sell to them directly. (Forums usually frown on that) Once you find a breed and find a few spinners who like your wool, the same spinners often come back season after season to buy again – they get addicted. 🙂 Good luck!

      • wmclaa says:

        Thank you for pitching in, Bunny.

        We just got back from Williamsburg and spent some time there picking the weaver’s brain. He explained that the Longwool wool is valued by hand-spinners and does not serve the modern commercial wool industry, which is designed to make use of shorter wool fibers. Since most people will be raising animals to serve the commercial markets, Longwools are rare and because the buyers of longwool are usually people NOT primarily concerned with doing things for less money, the small-scale sale of Leicester wool can afford to ask a higher price to the happiness of everyone involved.

        However, as with all things, the owner of the sheep can set whatever price he/she chooses.

        God bless,

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