Judging the Bluefaced Leicester sheep section at New Cumnock Show this year was a pivotal moment for me.
I now think the breed has changed too much to go on being called the Bluefaced Leicester.
It wasn’t a huge show of the breed, but the sample that was there was very good. As is the case at most shows of Bluefaced Leicesters nowadays, the traditional blue-faced ones were being shown alongside the modern “Crossing Leicesters” that have brown hair on their face and legs with very little blue skin to be seen. However, just to make things that wee bit more interesting, there was one exhibitor who was showing Maedi Visna-accredited sheep.
According to the rules of the MV scheme, they must be kept separate from others that are not screened for the disease. So, for me this involved a walk of some 50 yards between the non-MV and the MV-accredited sections in order to compare animals in the same class.
I got on fine with the first few classes until it came to the ewe lamb class. For them, I broke with my normal routine and studied the single sheep in the MV-accredited ring first before I made the trip to examine the larger group of sheep. The single sheep was quite as I had expected to see from the exhibitor. It was a very good example of a traditional Bluefaced Leicester. It had nice silky white hair on its face with the blueness of its skin just peeping through.
But when I went to look at the ewe lambs in the other ring I was sure I had made a wrong turn somewhere because I hardly recognised some of the sheep that were running about in there as being the same breed.
They were the same shape and size as a Bluefaced Leicester but that’s where the similarity ended. They had quite distinct dark brown – almost black – patches on their faces and legs and any trace of the traditional blue hue in their skin was gone.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not damning the modern Crossing Leicester, in fact I’m loving them, but the name “Bluefaced Leicester” doesn’t agree with or suit what we’re looking at any more.
Large White pigs are large and white. I also imagine that Longhorn Cattle will have magnificent long horns. In any case, who would want to buy a Longhorn cow with no horns or a Large White pig that was neither large nor white?
So who, you might ask, would want to buy a Bluefaced Leicester that didn’t have a blue face? Well, the fact is that just about everybody does. The popularity and the market value of the brown-faced ones eclipsed their blue cousins in the sale ring many years ago.
The present situation can’t go on much longer. In most breeds there are subtle differences in types within the breed that are only obvious to those with a trained eye. However, the difference between the two types of Bluefaced Leicester is now so obvious that eight out of ten cats could tell the difference.
The moment the Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders’ Association let the brown genie out of the bottle and registered its offspring in their flock book the clock had started to tick.
The time to move on and change the name of the breed has come. The age of the “Crossing Leicester” has begun.
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in South West Scotland. In partnership with his wife, Janet, he farms 365 hectares, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.
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