The Truly Versatile and Quality Dual Purpose Breed
Society of Border Leicester Sheep Breeders
Society of Border Leicester Sheep Breeders

The Breed

Pure Bred

The Border Leicester is the largest indigenous breed in the British Isles and the purebred is popular with adults and children alike as a show animal due to its attractive characteristics and elegant presence.


As a pedigree animal the Border Leicester lends itself to all farming systems, whether commercially producing large quantities of halfbred females or for those wishing to produce their own replacements and butchers lambs from a small flock. This versatility allows farming systems of all sizes to market a quality product, whether marketing breeding stock for the commercial farmer or producing quality meat for niche markets and the butchers trade.

Got The Blues? - Cross the Border!

The Border Leicester is the crossing sire for producing profitable commercial breeding stock. It can be crossed with any hill breed to produce a half bred lamb. With their exceptional hybrid vigour, Halfbred ewes are well recognised as outstanding mothers for a crossbred ewe flock while the halfbred wedder lamb can be taken to good weights giving a sound financial return in it’s own right.

The Greyface

Sired by the Border Leicester out of a Blackface Ewe, the greyface ewe is not only a hardy prolific lowland ewe, the wedder lambs have excellent conformation and will grow to good weights. George Ferries of Whitehouse Farm, Banchory began selling his Greyface wedders at just 12 weeks old. Average 21.97 Kilos: 85% graded R3L or better. By September they had peaked at 100% R3L or better.

The Scotch and Welsh Halfbred

Sired by a Border Leicester out of a Cheviot or Welsh Mountain. This combination as well as giving the same hybrid vigour of all halfbred ewes combines the mothering abilities of these hill ewes with the prolificacy of the Border Leicester. When further crossed with the Suffolk, she produces ewe lambs which are very much in demand as breeding females as well as the good conformation Border Leicester cross wedders.

The Border Leicester Cross Swaledale

Sired by a Border Leicester, Upland farmers are finding that the Swaledale cross has the extra prolificacy and conformation which is proving popular with their buyers of commercial ewes. Border Leciester breeding stock last longer and produce better quality butchers lambs than many other crosses, which makes them the ideal choice where quality and profitability is essential.

The Border Leicester Cross Suffolk

Sired by a Border Leicester the resulting cross out of a Suffolk ewe is ideally suited to an early lambing system. The Border cross Suffolk ewe has size, conformation, milkiness and the ability to withstand harsh conditions. Lambs are quick to get going and inherit good wool to withstand the elements. When ultimately crossed with a terminal sire, the Border Leicester cross Suffolk ewe will produce a large crop of lambs of excellent conformation – just what the butcher wants!

History of the Border Leicester Sheep

The Border Leicester is one of the British breeds of livestock the origins of which there are no doubts. They are the lineal descendants of the Dishley Leicesters bred and made famous by Robert Bakewell (1726-1795) of Dishley, Leicestershire.

Robert Bakewell followed on the work of arable pioneers Jethro Tull and Lord "Turnip" Townshend but it is in the field of livestock and especially sheep that Bakewell particularly excelled. At this time all sheep were run together, breeding at random resulting in many different breeds all with their own unique, but random characteristics. Bakewell segregated the sexes, allowed mating only to occur deliberately and specifically. He developed a system of breeding termed "in-and-in", breeding animals of close relationship with each other or line breeding as it is known today. It is thought he started with the old Lincolnshire breed crossing them with the best of the local Leicestershire types and then by breeding "in-and-in" coupled with rigorous selection and culling was able to fix desirable characteristics for improved meat quality and production through pre-potency. This resultant breed Bakewell called the "New Leicester" becoming known as the "Dishley Leicester".

These New Leicester sheep very quickly found favour with famers in surrounding counties and Bakewell began hiring his rams out. He started in 1760 hiring at 17sh 6d per ram, by 1786 he let 20 rams for 1000gns and rose to 1200gns for just 3 rams in 1789. The equivalent of approx £90,000 today.

Thomas Morris's Sheep Show at Barton-on-Humber 1810 by Thomas Weaver (courtsey of the Tait Gallery)

Bakewell established the Dishley Society to monopolise the breed. It's members were bound by a set of rules designed to maintained the purity of the breed. On Bakewells death, 12 of his neighbours formed themselves into the Bakewell Club and bought up his sheep with the intention of maintaining them.

The Dishley blood found its way north to the Border Counties when in 1767 George & Mathew Culley settled in the Glendale district of Northumberland with some of Bakewells flock. They had both been students of Bakewell in 1763 and after travelling extensively settled as tenant farmers in Northumberland.

These improved Leicesters soon found themselves established on both sides of the Border as a result of the annual sale of both rams and ewes held by the brothers. When these breeders wanted fresh blood they initially had recourse to the members of the Bakewell club who were hiring rams out for prices varying from 50 – 200 gns per season. This continued up until about the 1830s.

By this time there were two distinct types of "Dishley Leicester" evolving in the Borders. The Culley brothers were initially crossing these sheep with the local Teeswater breed but other farmers on the border were crossing in some Cheviot blood. This led to the two variations nicknamed the "Bluecaps" and the "Redlegs". The Border farmers preferred the hardier redlegs and by about 1850 this variation of the "Dishley Leicester" became known as the "BORDER LEICESTER"

"Sir Walter" shown at the first Highland & Agricultural show Edinburgh (1869) By Rev. R.W. Bosanquet, Rock. !st in the not above 4 shear class

The "Border Leicester" very quickly became popular and by the time "The Society of Border Leicester Sheep Breeders" was founded and the first flock book printed in 1898 the breed had spread as far north as Wick, Caithness and across to Ireland.

Probably the pre-eminent breeder at that time was the Honourable Lord Polwarth, flock 113, Mertoun. White's Tour published circa 1790, mentions the Mertoun sheep as being little, if anything, inferior to those of Bakewell. Lord Polwarth continued to hire rams from Dishley as well as buying new blood from the Culleys and other Bakewell disciples.

Registered flocks are now found in all parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Sheep have been exported widely in the early years particularly to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. More recently to France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, USA, Colombia, British Guiana, India, Japan, Yugoslavia, Iran, Hungary, Russia, China, Turkey & Switzerland.

A modern day Border Leicester ram

The supreme value of the Border Leicester lies in its wonderful capacity for profitable alliance with other breeds. Amongst sheep, the Border Leicester is the breed whose value has been pre-eminently that of an improver of others, hence it's title;

"The Great Improver"!