Gathered in a dusty hall back in 1896, a group of Border Leicester enthusiasts met for the inaugural meeting of the Border Leicester Sheep Society. Some 125 years on, and a large number of pedigree and commercial breeders are continuing to reap the benefits of this versatile, dual purpose breed.

The Society’s first flock book was created in 1898 to record, in alphabetical order, breeders from across the country. Assigned flock No 81, the Deuchrie flock has a long and proud history with the Border Leicester Society and is the oldest flock recorded. Sadly, it is the only one still in existence that appeared in the original flock book.

Founded by James Jeffrey at Prestonkirk in 1873, the flock is run today by Scottish Rugby legend, John Jeffrey, who has followed in his family’s footsteps and runs the flock at Kersknowe, Kelso, Roxburghshire.

President of the Border Leicester Sheep Society, Pete Brown said: “The Jeffery family has been tremendous supporters of the breed from the start and has provided three society presidents – James in 1922-24, John in 1943-45 and Jim in 1968-70.”

Dating back to 1767 in Northumberland, England, the Border Leicester name originates from the breed’s birthplace, which is near Scotland’s Border, coupled with its base flock of Dishley Leicester rams.

Originally bred and made famous by Robert Bakewell (1726-1795) of Dishley Leicestershire, he started with the old Lincolnshire breed, crossing them with the best of local Leicestershire types.

By developing a system of breeding termed ‘in-and-in’ (line breeding), combined with careful selection and culling, he was able to successfully achieve desirable characteristics for improved meat quality and production through pre-potency. Known then as the ‘New Leicester’, this soon become known as the ‘Dishley Leicester’.

With Borders farmers preferring hardier redlegs by 1850, this variation of the ‘Dishley Leicester’ soon became known as the highly versatile ‘Border Leicester’.

Border Leicesters were also taken out to the colonies. Australia and New Zealand in particular continue to run large flocks with the breed playing a huge part in the development of many of the composite breeds for which these countries are renown.

Known in the sheep industry as the 'Great Improver', the Border Leicester is the crossing sire for producing profitable, commercial, breeding stock. Often crossed with hill breeds to produce a Half-bred lamb, the breed is known for their hybrid vigour, strong maternal qualities, and the ability to produce early maturing lambs.

Categorised as the largest indigenous breed in the British Isles, it also produces very popular Scotch Half-bred when crossed onto a Cheviot, as well as the tremendous Welsh Half-bred, when crossed onto a Welsh ewe. Border Leicester rams are increasingly used across downland crosses to produce cross-bred ewes, which have improved prolificacy, milkiness and mothering ability.

Originating with 160 fully registered flock owners, the society now welcomes 220 members, including 14 junior members, four life members and 14 associates.

Registered flocks are now found in all parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with the geographic spread of the membership being 35% Scotland, 35% England, 20% Ireland, 10% Wales and one flock on the Isle of Man.

“The society’s council was determined that we should be able to celebrate the considerable achievement of the many breeders throughout the British Isles who have contributed over the years to the success of the breed. To mark the legacy of the 125th anniversary year, we’ve decided to host a National Show,” explained Pete.

The show will be held today (Saturday, August 7) at Borderway Auction Mart by kind permission of Harrison and Hetherington, with judges selected from every area that the society covers.

The event is open to all members for MV and non-MV sheep, with numerous classes for males and females and generous prize money and trophies up for grabs. Young handlers, the key to the future success will also be accommodated. A celebratory awards dinner will be held in the Market Restaurant at 7:30pm.

For further information on the 125th Anniversary celebrations or to enter the National Show, visit