FEATURE: Barry’s quest to save Longwools

Barry Enderby and one of his Leicester Longwool sheep. Photo: SG010911-123TW
Barry Enderby and one of his Leicester Longwool sheep. Photo: SG010911-123TW
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BARRY Enderby has a baby listening device in his bedroom which is connected to a shed in his yard at Whaplode.

In the night during the bleakest months of the year Barry – or his wife Judy if she’s unlucky enough to be the one to hear it first – wants to make sure he knows if any of his sheep start lambing.

It’s the kind of watchfulness any stockman is familiar with, but in Barry’s case it is vital that every lamb is safely delivered because his sheep are Leicester Longwools, and they are rated as ‘endangered’, the second highest category in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s list of species threatened with extinction.

There are just 500 Leicester Longwools in the UK and Barry’s flock is one of the biggest, and certainly the only one in Lincolnshire.

“I try to be there at every birth,” said Barry, who is so passionate about protecting the breed he acts as chairman of the Leicester Longwool Sheepbreeders’ Association and spends most of his spare time in activities for that organisation and in promoting the breed. “We get very few each year that die, no more than two if that. I had 36 lambs this year and didn’t lose any so it just depends on your luck.”

Part of Barry’s activity on behalf of the association is building links overseas in order to protect the blood line – unless they do that the bleak outlook is that the breed will be genetically extinct within ten years.

“That worries me enormously and that’s why we are trying to work with foreign lines,” said Barry. “They really are in dire straits. We are on a knife’s edge all the time and rely totally on hobby keepers because they are not a source of income for farmers.”

Barry’s involvement started when he and Judy bought the two-acre plot of land on Wallis Gate where they live and, because the grass was overgrown, someone offered to graze it for them. They were repaid with a lamb and another the following year, but when the same man brought Barry a ram, the lambs that resulted were “the most awful thin, grey sheep” and Barry and Judy decided if they were to keep sheep, they would be ones they liked the look of.

Returning home from a rare breeds show with two lambs – they had liked the look of their pretty faces – the pair admit they hadn’t a clue and had to look in a sale catalogue to identify them as Leicester Longwool.

Part of the reason the sheep is threatened with extinction is because it was originally bred in the 1780s for wool and mutton, both of which have become hugely unpopular, although there are signs of a reversal of that trend. However, the Leicester Longwool is also hardy and the old breed has an immunity to disease which modern sheep breeders would like to tap into, another reason for preserving them.

Barry’s first Leicester Longwool purchases – in guineas incidentally, a tradition that continues when sheep are auctioned – was in 1980, so 31 years ago. The couple learned from their first experience at showing when what they thought was a wonderful ram was condemned to the butchers by show inspectors, but Barry and Judy went on to earn the respect of fellow breeders.

Barry currently has 65 sheep kept on various paddocks, mainly loaned by friends and neighbours, and keeps a minimum of 30. He has two separate blood lines, one of which, the Delta, is kept pure, while Barry experiments with the other.

Barry says it is not easy work – an 18-month-old ram weighs 18 stone – and it’s certainly not profitable. The sheep have to be visited every day and he and Judy couldn’t get away without the help of friends, in particular Trevor Collin, who also does the shearing. However, Barry, says he will continue breeding Leicester Longwools as long as he can and will also keep promoting the breed at every possibility – look out for a special limited edition Royal Mail stamp in future!

l For more information contact Barry on 01406 424242 or visit www.leicesterlongwoolsheep association.co.uk