Leicester Sagas—Joan the Bold

Spin-Off winter 2015

Joan birth
Finding Joan in the pasture.

Those of you who have spent time with me in the last seven years have probably heard me mention my very special sheep, Joan. I know each of my thirty sheep on sight, but not all have names or interact with me on a daily basis. But greeting Joan with a pat or a hug each day has been my happy practice for years now.

Many flocks have what is often called a leader ewe that acts as a bit of an ambassador between shepherd and flock. (In fact, Icelandic leader sheep are kept as a separate genetic line within the breed.) My dear Joan is a born leader; she’s quick-witted, observant, and quite bossy. She came into the world that way and I’ve never met another sheep like her. She also loves cats.

joan and cat 11-11
Joan and one of her many cat friends.
Joan and Kate
Joan and Kate on a cold January day in 2010. Here, Joan is about four months pregnant. Photo: Deirdre Carter

Some people might take issue with the idea of a “smart sheep.” From my experiences in working with flocks of different breeds, I am amazed at how much the behavior and social patterns of sheep can vary. Joan, self-appointed flock princess, oversees all the activities in her realm in true Border Leicester fashion. I’ll tell you about one of her more interesting and helpful activities…

Joan has a shrill alert call that she only makes when something is amiss. If a sheep jumps a fence or is ill, she starts pacing and calling to us. During lambing time, I know if there is a ewe in labor before I get to the barn because Joan has rung the alarm. I’m lucky to have her help!

So, when I found out that a picture I took of Joan on pasture would be on the cover of the winter Spin-Off, I was pretty excited.

Leicester Sheep article from Spin-Off winter 2015 by Kate Larson.
Leicester Sheep article from Spin-Off winter 2015 by Kate Larson. The photo featured on the first page of the article is from Ross Farm.

I wrote an article for this issue about one of my favorite topics: “Leicester Sheep: A short history of a modern longwool.” These wonderful breeds (Leicester Longwool, Border Leicester, and Bluefaced Leicester) have changed and evolved over time as they’ve adapted to new environments and purposes. So, I wanted to pair each breed description with a profile of a specific flock. Our choices as shepherds can dramatically impact how a flock looks, their health and habits in just a few generations.

The article includes profiles of three amazing flocks, which I’ll include below. I also asked Bluefaced Leicester breeder Robina Koenig about her flock and what she looks for in these special sheep.

Tumble Creek Blues
Bluefaced Leicesters in full fleece at Tumble Creek Farm in Bend, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Robina Koenig.

IMG_3472-001Robina Koenig

Tumble Creek Farm
Bend, Oregon
Robina has been raising Bluefaced Leicesters in central Oregon since 1996. The Tumble Creek flock was developed using US genetics as well as UK bloodlines via artificial insemination. When it comes to fleece, the flock is selected for “outstanding softness and handle, staple length and luster.” Robina says, “Blues have maternal traits, carcass quality, and desirable fiber to talk about for pages. These are the animals that do well in the show ring and whose traits should be passed to future generations. For my flock, I like both white and natural colored for fleece sales, rovings and yarns. But an important part of the BFL flock is their gentle personality, calmness, and curiosity. Several times I have walked through my flock as among friends for inspiration.”

I’ll be using Robina’s fibers in my 2015 Leicester workshops. You can find her fleeces, rovings, and dyed fibers on the Tumble Creek website.

Where to find Leicester fibers:

Windy Ridge Flock – Leicester Longwool breeders in Leicestershire, England

The Ross Farm – Leicester Longwool breeders in Pennsylvania, USA.

Marsh Creek Crossing  – Border Leicester breeders in Minnesota, USA.

Little Smokey Bluefaced Leicesters – BFL and BFL crosses in Saskatchuan, Canada.


4 thoughts on “Leicester Sagas—Joan the Bold

  1. Kate, good work on the photo of Joan and your article of Spin-Off. I had a ewe that was my alarm ewe. She was Shetland x Finn and if there was something amiss she would run screaming to me, bleat a couple of times then run towards the issue turning around about 20 feet away from me to see if I was following. If I wasn’t following, she would come back to me and repeat the process I learned very quickly to listen to what she was alarmed about. She was a good one!

    Now I have Grace. Grace is also Shetland x Finn. She isn’t as good as Daisy was, but she is the loud mouth of the flock! I hope to see you at Jay County.

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