A Rare Sheep Breed - Wensleydales!

You never know what treasures are hidden down a dirt road in rural Waldo County, Maine. We discovered a gem when we visited Nan Dube Fickett at Integrity Farm in Monroe last week.

Nan is committed to preserving a sheep breed known as Wensleydales. The breed originated in North Yorkshire, England, early in the 19th century, and stems from the cross breeding of a long-extinct longwool breed from the River Tees region, and an outstanding Leicester Longwool ram. The breed did not arrive in North America until the 1990's. Today, because there are fewer than 500 registered breeding females in the United Kingdom, and only about 25 registered breeders in the United States (according to the North American Wensleydale Sheep Association) the breed is considered rare.

Nan has a flock of 39 Wensleydales, with one having direct lineage to the United Kingdom.  (She also has a horse and chickens.) She studied sheep breeds in depth before deciding on Wensleydales. She says they are "the ultimate sheep with fleece that has lustre, and is strong and soft."  She loves the locks that can grow as long as 12", and says that garments made from this breed of sheep "glow". These sheep have fleeces that are finer than most of the other English longwool breeds and are known for their lustre. This breed’s greatest attribute is the quality and quantity of curly wool each sheep produces. Their distinct, curly, long locks can be spun into a smooth or textured yarn.  When we visited Integrity Farm, the Wensleydales had recently been shorn and so are now "in the process" of regrowing their characteristically long locks.

Because of her commitment to this breed, Nan is on the board of the North American Wensleydale Sheep Association. Last fall, knowing the importance of introducing new bloodstock to keep the breed healthy and strong, she had 12 Wensleydales shipped from Oregon to her farm. At a cost of $750 per sheep to transport, her commitment to the continuance of this breed is unquestionable. Her goal is to "keep the breed going with these sheep that grow beautiful fleece". Because the United States has banned the import of sheep from other countires (to protect from foreign diseases), breeders in the United States have the sole responsibity of conserving this breed in this country.

Nan sells her fleeces on-line, especially handy since fiber festivals have been cancelled this year. Wensleydale fleeces are in demand, and some top quality fleeces have sold at prices near $60 a pound. Acknowledging this may not be the year to get that price, Nan will be selling fleeces for much less. If you are interested in securing a fleece, or acquiring Wensleydale sheep, you can contact Nan through her website or Facebook page.

We hope to have some of her Wensleydale locks available through our brick and mortar store and/or our online shop in the near future.

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