IF this year’s Balmoral Show is anything to go by black is the in-colour for sheep.
Taking proud centre stage in the show ring on Thursday afternoon was a trio of Leicester Longwool – Black sheep from the Ballynahinch flock of Siobhan Holloway. This was the first time the breed had been exhibited at Balmoral. But as Siobhan explained to Farming Life, the breed has a long history.
“Leicester Longwools go back to 1755,” she added.
“The breed was founded by Robert Bakewell, the man who also gave us the Long Horn breed of cattle.
“White is the predominant Longwool colour but due to the presence of a recessive gene, black is also an option. Some years ago the decision was taken to set up a separate Longwool - Black breed society and this development marked a welcome resurgence in the popularity of these sheep, which are so suited to the farm management practises predominating here in Northern Ireland.
“The breed is also characterised by its hardiness and inherent fertility. When crossed with recognised lowland breeds such as the Texel and Suffolk, the resulting cross bred lambs have tremendous vigour and represent a rich source of high quality meat.”
There are currently 500 Longwool-Black breeding ewes in the United Kingdom. However, Siobhan is confident these numbers will rise significantly during the period ahead.
“The breed is renowned for the quality of its wool, which is on a par with that of Merino sheep,” she continued.
“Another key attribute of the wool is the predominating silky texture and its inherent capacity to fix dyes of all colours. As a result, it is the wool of choice, used by spinners throughout the UK and beyond.”
Siobhan went on to point out that fleece weights of 15 kilos are not uncommon from both Longwool ewes and rams. This is approximately twice the amount of wool produced by other breeds, such as Suffolks and Border Leicesters.
Balmoral Show is now the most prestigious venue at which to show sheep on the island of Ireland.
“The public always like to see something different,” Siobhan concluded.
“Coming to this year’s Balmoral Show was a decision well worth making. We have managed to attract lots of interest with all of the passing visitors. And if nothing else, we have succeeded in showing the public at large that ‘black’ coloured sheep are eye catching and really do stand out from the crowd.”