English Leicester

Origin & History

The English Leicester was a pioneer breed, well suited to wetter Merino regions and rough grazing in North Island hill country, where the Merino had been tried and found unsuitable. It was among the earliest sheep imports to New Zealand and was used extensively as a crossing sire to develop sheep best suited to New Zealand conditions. In the United Kingdom, the Leicester Longwool is a long established breed. It underwent major changes in the 18th century when an animal genetics pioneer, Robert Bakewell, began breeding for a smaller, earlier maturing carcase, greater fat coverage, and shorter legs. His success led to the Leicester’s use in developing other Longwool breeds. At the turn of the century, the English Leicester vied for popularity with Lincolns and became established as New Zealand’s third most common breed. Flocks began to decline from the early 1900s, although the breed is still crossed with Merinos to produce the New Zealand Halfbred. The heavy curly lustrous wool is even in length and fibre diameter. Braids, linings for suits, coatings, costume clothes and furnishing fabrics are among end uses.

English Leicester Ram
English Leicester Ram

Breed Description

The head should carry a reasonable forelock of similar texture to the body wool. The lips and nostrils should be dark with a well defined nose and the face generally wedge shaped and covered with short white hair. The eyes should be clear and bright with plenty of width between them. The ears should be thin and fairly large in proportion to the breadth of the forehead, coloured a good deep blue. The neck should be of medium length, strong and level with the back with the shoulders upright. The chest should be deep, wide and prominent. The back, wide and level giving a good girth with extensive width through the heart and well sprung ribs. The hindquarters should be well developed from the hocks giving good legs of mutton with the whole carcase being deep and of considerable length. The legs should be straight and squarely set with good flexible pasterns. The hoofs should be black and the sheep’s carriage should be free and active. The fleece should be bulky, free and even and present a fine lustre with locks of medium width showing a well defined crimp over the locks full length with a count of 39 to 40 microns.

English Leicester
English Leicester

Breed Classification

Large. Body deep and long. Hardy, with good fertility.

Dual purpose. Mainly used for creating cross-bred ewes and first-cross Halfbred (English Leicester x Merino) rams.

Location: The breed is found mostly in Southland, Otago and Canterbury in the South Island; in the North Island areas are the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay.

English Leicester fleece
English Leicester fleece
Bodyweight Wool

Ewes: 55-70 kg (121-154 lb)

Rams: 73-93 kg (161-205 lb)

Long and lustrous, of even length and fibre diameter. Good bulk.

Locks curly, of medium width, showing a well-defined crimp.

Fibre diameter: 37-40 microns.

Staple length: 150-200 mm (6-8 inches).

Fleece weight: Range 5-6 kg (11-13 lb); Average 5.5 kg (12 lb).

Uses: Braids, suit linings, coatings, costume clothes and furnishing fabrics.


Light in colour and of good texture.


100-150 percent