Differences Between Cotswold & Leicester Longwool Sheep
The Leicester Longwool (formerly called the English Leicester---pronounced "Lester") died out as a breed in America, but was re-introduced in the 1990s from New Zealand stock.
The first Leicesters were introduced to America quite a bit earlier than the Cotswold, and were at one time very popular.
In fact, the first Cotswolds were brought to America for the purpose of crossing with the Leicesters, to improve the hardiness of the latter.
After the Cotswold was introduced, the Leicester began to fade as a breed, said to be due to more demanding husbandry requirements, and its less-hardy constitution in harsh American conditions. Even so, Leicesters were fairly common as a range sire, in the same days as Cotswold was popular for that purpose.
Over time, both breeds were supplanted by black-faced breeds, which didn't decrease the tight-flocking instincts of the Merino-based Western ewes as much as the longwool sheep.
As that trade-off became more complete, American consumers began to quit buying lamb, as its flavor got very noticeably unreliable in its degree of gamy flavor.
Leicester, being less hardy as a cross, was the first to go.
The Leicester Longwool normally has a tighter-curl in its locks than the Cotswold, and a more sparse forelock. On average, Leicester wool is a slenderer fiber that Cotswold.
Leicesters with colored wool are more commonly born to white Leicesters than black lambs born to Cotswold sheep.
Leicesters do not have smutty-colored faces, as Cotswolds sometimes do.
Cotswolds typically have a somewhat more "open" fleece than Leicesters, due to somewhat fewer individual fibers per square inch of skin surface.
Cotswold fleeces are rarely as uniform as Leicester (a weakness, but an identifying trait).
The Cotswold is usually slightly larger, especially the rams.
Leicester Longwool sheep don't hold their heads as high as Cotswold sheep.
The point at which the front of a Cotswold's hind leg attaches to the flank is generally higher up the flank than on a Leicester.
The flank itself tapers upward from the belly to the crotch in a different way with the Leicester than with the Cotswold. Typically, the rear part of the flank on a Cotswold starts its upward angle a bit farther forward on the belly.
Old-timers used to refer to this as "weak in the flank." It is now known that this tapered, funnel-shaped flank actually assists in easier yeaning (lamb birth).
The Leicester has always had a reputation for larger loin chops than the Cotswold. (It has now been found that if Cotswold lambs are fed slightly more protein than usual, their chops rival those of the Leicester.)
The leg-of-lamb of the Cotswold is normally bigger and meatier than that of the Leicester.
The Cotswold matures later than the Leicester, and some believe it "plumps up" later in its growth cycle.
The Cotswold has somewhat less marbling in the meat than the Leicester, and the grain of the Cotswold's meat is said to be coarser, though it's doubtful if the degree of its texture difference is readily discerned.
Like the Lincoln breeder, the Leicester Longwool breeder must feed plenty of grain for best growth. He therefore prefers his sheep to have a short neck to minimize the percentage of the carcass devoted to a cheap cut of meat.
Leicester skin is typically thinner than Cotswold skin. An easy place to tell the difference is to feel the ear. Leicester ears are normally thinner of skin than Cotswold ears. Despite having a "cutting fat" layer beneath the skin, the Leicester is not as cold hardy as the Cotswold, perhaps due to that thin skin.
Cotswold sheep, being more of a grazing animal than a feedlot animal, cannot safely digest as large quantities of grain as the Leicester Longwool.
Why Not Cross Them?
Cotswold and Leicester Longwool sheep can be crossed to improve growth rates in the crossbred offspring.
Such crosses should never be kept on a purebred farm past puberty, because resulting crossbred sheep are very hard to distinguish from either parent breed, except when the next generation's growth and feeding traits start to become erratic.
Then it's too late.
The "improved Cotswolds" will have lost their ability to thrive on grazing alone. Their funnel-shaped flanks are lost, and births are not so easy. More colored-wool lambs start appearing. As was remarked by early British Cotswold writers, the cross with the Leicester greatly decreases the hardiness of constitution of the Cotswold.
To those who would "improve the Leicesters" by crossing with the Cotswold, remember such crosses---as soon as their second generation---start to lose their ability to withstand high-grain diets.
The Leicester/Cotswold crossbred fleeces start matting into felt as they produce less lanolin without becoming more "open."
Leicesters should NEVER be crossed with Cotswolds in order to win purebred shows.
The resulting crosses may have high growth rates and hybrid vigor, but for all the damages done, growers caught doing so should be severely punished.
They must be made to buy back all crossbred breeding stock sold as purebred. They must pay damages to the defrauded buyers of their lambs. They must pay damages for awards fraudulently acquired in shows.
Longwool growers without a lot of capital ( or who don't live where grain or alfalfa hay is cheap), find the Cotswold their best choice. Let us never tolerate its money-saving traits being stolen from them by illicit crossbreeding with other, similar-looking breeds.
Border Leicester look totally unlike Cotswolds.
The Cotswold has a thick forelock (and often a wooly head), but the Border Leicester sheep's head has no wool. The Border Leicester has a pronounced "Roman" nose, while a Roman nose is very uncommon in Cotswold sheep, except for slight Roman noses in some rams.
The Cotswold is generally hardier and doesn't require the quality of feed of the Border Leicester, though the Border Leicester is hardy and better at handling rough feed than other longwool breeds.
The Cotswold matures more slowly than the Border Leicester, and generally has a somewhat lower birth rate.
The Cotswold's lambs are said by some to be hardier than those of the Border Leicester, though that would be debatable and probably varies from flock to flock.
Last Updated: 05/09/2011