Anna Pennell tells how two breed societies joined to form the current association.

THE Wensleydale Longwool breed of sheep originated in North Yorkshire early in the 19th century from a cross between a long since extinct local Longwool breed from the region of the River Tees and an outstanding Dishley Leicester ram named ‘Bluecap’.

The breed was developed to produce hardy rams for crossing onto hill ewes, together with high quality and valuable lustre fleeces.

Two separate breed societies, born out of rivalry and conflicting interests, were formed in 1890. These were the Wensleydale Longwool Association and the Wensleydale Blue-faced Sheep Breeders’ Association – each producing its own flock book, despite the fact that each represented the same breed with the same characteristics. Eventually, the recognition that this division was not in the interests of the breed led to the two societies amalgamating in 1920 to form the current Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders' Association.

The Wensleydale breed has been developed to provide rams for crossing onto hill ewes, mainly Swaledale, Blackface, Rough Fell, Cheviot and Dalesbred and latterly Beulah, to produce a prolific, milky and hardy breeding ewe (the original Masham) and also a wether, which can produce under natural conditions on marginal ground a quality carcass at higher weight with no excess fat. The Wensleydale ram gives that extra size and quality to its cross bred progeny, enabling any recognised terminal sire to fulfil its potential.

A Wensleydale ewe will produce two lambs, and often three, with minimal lambing problems. Twin lambs average six kilogrammes each at birth with a growth rate that enables ram lambs to reach 73kgs at 21 weeks and be used with confidence on hill breed ewes in the Autumn. 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.

A separate register is maintained in the flock book for coloured Wensleydales which occur naturally as a result of a double recessive black gene (that is not exclusive to the Wensleydale). There are 23 flocks registering lambs within the Coloured Wensleydale section in the 2019 Flock Book.

Wensleydale wool is the finest lustre longwool in the world having commanded the highest price in the British Wool Marketing Board’s Wool Schedule over recent years as well as high demand privately by spinners and weavers. Fleeces are of 20 to 30 cms staple length and 32 to 34 micron thickness, with yearling fleeces weighing from six to nine kgs. Many flocks today run on wethers as well as ewes until their first fleece crop due to the high value and demand for raw unprocessed fleece both in the UK and for overseas is far outstripping supply allowing breeders to command the highest prices.

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, characterising the Wensleydale ram as perhaps the leading wool improver sire in the world.

The Wensleydale Longwool is classified as At Risk on the RBST Watchlist with some 70 active breeding flocks in the UK and about 550 ewe lambs registered every year. The society has an Annual Show and Sale held at CCM Skipton, which this year is on Saturday, September 5, as well as at the Traditional and Rare Breeds Sale at Melton Mowbray from September 11-12.

For more information about the society or the Wensleydale Longwool sheep, visit or contact the secretary, Anna Pennell, on 07949 989976.