Key Characteristics

The Wensleydale is a fairly hardy breed well able to cope with life in the Dales. The Wensleydale is very prolific and can achieve a lambing percentage of up to 250%. 175-200% is more usual. Lambs are large and often weigh 6kg as twins or up to 8kg singles. Generally lambing is easy but particularly large lambs can cause difficulties. 

  • A large longwool sheep, visually striking with deep blue head and ears - the face being free of wool except for a forelock known as the 'topping'.
  • Ewes weigh around 90kg and rams, 135kg.
  • The fleece is purled and in a shearling will reach the ground.
  • There is a separate section in the Breed register for black Wensleydales which come in colours ranging from jet black through to a silver grey. The tips of the coloured fleeces weather to ginger or cream.


  • The Wensleydale originated in the early 19th century from a cross of a now extinct local longwool breed and a Dishley Leicester ram named “Bluecap”.
  • The breed developed to produce wool and mutton and to supply crossing sires for the local hill breeds.
  • The breed was not named until 1876 and there were two rival breed societies formed in 1890, amalgamating in 1920.
  • As with the Teeswater the Wensleydale’s numbers declined as its role as a crossing sire diminished.


The Wensleydale is a good crossing sire, putting size, conformation and prolificacy onto a hill ewe providing an excellent crossbred ewe for the lowland farmer.

The Wensleydale produces an excellent quality fleece, prized by hand spinners and the Black Wensleydale’s fleece is definitely a product that would benefit from direct marketing.  Wool has a fine lustre with total absence of kemp. Staple length- 20-25cm. Fleece weight- 4.5-6kg. On a purebred shearling staple length can reach 40cm with a fleece weight of up to 9kg. Quality- 44s- 48s.

The Wensleydale grows well and the breed stays lean meaning the lamb can be slaughtered as lamb or grown on to hogget/mutton age. Trials on the Wensleydale as a terminal sire have indicated that although Wensleydale x lambs do not grow as rapidly as the Down crosses and are not as well conformed, the lambs can be taken to higher weights without running to fat.

Did you know?

It is said that the wool that fall from between the ears across the face, known as the 'topping' was developed to allow the quality of the fleece to be easily judged. 

Breed Societies

For more information about the breed visit the Wensleydale Sheep Society