The history of the domesticated sheep goes back to between 11000 and 9000 BC, and the domestication of the wild mouflon in ancient Mesopotamia. Sheep are among the first animals to have been domesticated by humans, and there is evidence of sheep farming in Iranian statuary dating to that time period///CRIMSON TAZVINZWA//
The Leicester Longwool is one of the “luster longwool” breeds, so designated for the sheen and brilliance of their wool.
A History of Shearing and Wool
The raising and shearing of sheep is one of the world’s oldest industries. It even has a mention in the Old Testament of the Bible, documenting their thriving wool business. The shearing of sheep began in around 3500 B.C, at around the time when man learned how to spin wool for their clothes and other everyday uses.
The wool trade has been popular throughout the world for many centuries, as a highly sustainable resource that always has a use. It is the oldest tradable commodity, which has only changed in the methods that the wool is taken from the sheep.
Starting out as a very tedious process of hand clipping, the art of shearing has come a long way. The earliest known mechanical machines were invented in the late 19th century and revolutionised the procurement of wool. It was a two person job and involved the turning a handle!
Fascinating Facts and Figures
- Sheep shearing normally covers the months between May to July, when the weather has started to warm up. Some more northern areas have a colder climate, so may delay their shearing window, moving it to cover July to September when they can guarantee better conditions for their animals.
- Britain has around 31 million sheep, which produce a staggering 30 million kilos of fleece wool every year! It is estimated that the highest yielding sheep is the Blue Faced Leicester breed, which provides the most valuable wool. It is worth around 10 times more than the more common Herdwick fleece.
- The typical weight of a fleece is 1.5 – 10kg, with a Herdwick weighing in at around 2 – 3kg. The heaviest known fleece that has been recorded was from an overgrown sheep that was rescued in Australia. It took 45 minutes to shear and weighed more than an incredible 41kg!
- The average shearer can work their way through 200 sheep in a day, whilst a really skilled worker can achieve between 400 to 500.
- Sheep who are raised mainly for their wool are sometimes shorn in the winter months instead. The quality of their wool can be affected by stress, which is abundant during the spring lambing season and best avoided.
The Leicester Longwool breed is also known as the English Leicester (pronounced lester). The breed was developed in England in the mid 1700s by innovative breeder Robert Bakewell, the first to use modern selection techniques to improve livestock breeds. Bakewell transformed a coarse, large boned, slow growing animal into one that grew rapidly for market and produced a higher quality fleece.
News of Bakewell’s ideas reached the colonies before the American Revolution and so intrigued George Washington that he made reference to them in several letters. Washington was particularly interested in Bakewell’s sheep, writing that he made the “choice of good rams from the English Leicester breed” for his own flock. In 1837, the agriculturist Youatt wrote that, “within little more than half a century the New Leicester had spread themselves to every part of the United Kingdom and to Europe and America.”