Wensleydale History

Yearling ewe, unshorn, from Carlson Farm The foundation sire of the Wensleydale was an outstanding Leicester Longwool ram named "Bluecap." Born in 1839 in North Yorkshire, his unique qualities were his dark skin, superb quality of wool and size - 448 lbs at two years. These qualities determined the breed type without any further infusion of Leicester blood. The Wensleydale was developed to produce hardy rams for crossing onto hill ewes, and high quality, luster fleeces. The breed is unusual in that its Association can not only identify a single foundation sire, but also trace that ram's parentage, year, place of birth and breeder.

The Wensleydale is a very large longwool sheep, described by the British Meat and Livestock Commission as "probably the heaviest of all our indigenous breeds." It is a visually striking sheep with considerable presence. It has a bold and alert carriage which is accentuated by its broad, level back and heavy muscling in the hindquarters. It has a distinctive deep blue head and ears, which should be clean except for a well developed forelock of wool. Both sexes are polled.

Twin colored Wensleydale lambs
"The modern Wensleydale  is a large sheep with long-stapled, lustrous wool that falls in long ringlets almost to ground level in unshorn sheep. The breed has a quality known as 'central checking' that prevents the formation of kemp in the fleece.."

(from: UK Wensleydale Sheep Breeders Association).

The Wensleydale is a new arrival in the US, being "re-created" with an upgrade program by which consecutive crossbreeding (using frozen semen from purebred rams in the UK), has increased the percentage of Wensleydale blood with each successive generation. Lambs 96% and above are considered "purebred" American Wensleydales by the breed association.

Though developed as a crossing sire the Wensleydale is equally well known for the exceptionally high quality of its lustrous wool, making it an outstanding dual purpose sheep. Wensleydale wool is the finest and most valuable luster longwool in the world. Fleeces are of 20 - 30 cms staple length and 33 - 35 micron thickness, with yearling fleeces weighing from 6 to 9 kgs. Fleeces are entirely kemp free as a result of the unique characteristics of the wool-producing follicles. This special quality is genetically transmitted to cross-bred lambs, characterizing the Wensleydale ram as perhaps the leading wool improver sire in the world.

For a complete breed standard, detailed information and photographs see the North American Wensleydale Sheep Association (NAWSA) website:

© Double J 2021 · updated 03 May 2021