Baltimore County 4-H wanted to catch up with Lynne Thomas a senior 4-H’er in the Baldwin 4-H Club to talk to her about her Leicester (pronounced lester) Longwool Sheep. After seeing Lynne in the ring showing her sheep we wanted to know more about how she acquired her, why she picked this breed and what plans did she have with her.
Lynne shared the history of this breed, and that was in part what attracted her to this beautiful animal. It seems that a breeder by the name of Robert Bakewell around 1755 wanted to improve livestock breeds, so he used modern selection techniques to crossbreed an animal that was a large, slow-growing animal into one that grew more quickly for market and had a much better fleece. Word quickly spread from England to the rest of Europe and North America that the Leicester Longwool was an excellent animal to add to your herd. George Washington, upon hearing about the breed added it to his flock.
In America, this breed was used to crossbreed with native stocks during the 1800s, but soon the strain lost popularity and nearly became extinct by 1930. But then in 1990, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation began to bring the Leicester Longwool Sheep back. The numbers have been slowly growing. It is still a rare breed globally.
Lynne discovered the breed at the Sheep and Wool Festival in 2016 through the Youth Conservationist Program. She applied to the program by completing an essay they require and recommendations from her teachers and 4-H mentors. She was accepted, and she was the proud owner of Melody her first Leicester Longwool sheep. Lynne has shown her in the County Fair, the Hereford Jr. Farm Fair and others. Additionally, Lynne enjoys educating the public about the genetics behind this beautiful breed. Details like its strong bloodline, and that it produces the best quality fleece and the history of how they came to be here in the US.
In addition, to showing Melody, she has also bred her with Baritone who is of natural color. They produced a set of twins named Cadence (a boy) and Symphony (a girl). Their names come from Lynne’s natural love of music and one of the other talents that she has of playing the clarinet. This summer Lynne showed all four animals at the Baltimore County 4-H Fair.
Some of the characteristics of the wool are that it is easy to spin and makes for soft scarves, hats, gloves, and sweaters. One of the more unique items that the wool is used for is doll hair since the fleece has a natural curl and is long. It can grow up to 14 inches. The coat is ideal for doll hair.
As part of Lynne’s high school education, she used her sheep project for her Supervised Agricultural Experience. In her sophomore year Lynne tracked the rate of gain of Melody. Then in her junior year, she followed several other breeds and compared them to the rate of gain of the Leicester Longwool.
When asked what’s next Lynne said she would love to learn to spin the wool from her sheep and create some wonderful garments or accessories from this extraordinary breed. She plans to continue educating the public about this breed and wants to encourage other youth to get involved with animal conservation. We look forward to seeing what comes next.