As it’s spring and lambs are now making an appearance in the fields, I thought I would share this wonderful painting by Luigi Chialiva.
Feeding The Sheep’ – Luigi Chialiva
This Italian-speaking artist was born in Caslano, Switzerland in 1842. The Mylins Foundation awarded him first prize for his paintings of animals in 1868. Chialiva’s works can be found in museums in Luxembourg, Rome and even Sheffield! He died in 1914.
I was inspired recently when OSS member Anna Louise Kelly, shared a painting of Ouessant sheep on Facebook.
I thought it would be nice to share a painting with readers in each newsletter, which involves the presence of our woolly friends!
Of course, I think there may be a shortage of Ouessant specific paintings, so I will save the painting that Anna shared for one of next years’ newsletters.
As we are now feeling sufficiently wintery and the frost has been nipping our fingers, I decided to start by sharing ” The Shortening Winter’s Day Is Near A Close” (1903) by Joseph Farquharson.
Joseph Farquharson DL RA 4 May 1846 – 15 April 1935) was a Scottish painter, known for his landscapes which often included animals. Many of his paintings showed sheep, either at dawn or dusk, softly lit by the glow of the sun. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and died at Finzean, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The titles of Farquharson’s paintings often stood out too, as many of them were taken from poems by Burns, Milton, Shakespeare and Gray. Such was his fondness for painting sheep in winter, he was often known as ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’!
Following on from the article in the June Newsletter, Part Two was originally going to cover how colour genetics affects breeding decisions before looking in more detail at the variations to the basic colours.
But Part One has led to some debate on social media, and there are new proposals to update the Breed Standard, so I’ve been asked to say more about white Ouessants. Colour variations will now form Part Three.
I’d repeat that, although trained as a scientist, I’m not an expert on Ouessant Sheep, or on colour genetics, so remain grateful to Diane Falck, of the French Society, for her advice and permission to use her photographs. Links to a two part ‘primer’ on the colour genetics of Ouessants (which I played a very small part in developing) and a more detailed scientific paper by Diane may be found at the foot of this article. The paper covers the science in more depth, using the appropriate terms; in what follows I’ll try to use non-technical expressions wherever possible.
In Part One we learnt that the genes in two places are the key to understanding the basics of Ouessant colour: the Brown locus, which controls the base colour of the fleece (black or brown), and the Agouti locus, which controls which fibres in the fleece express the base colour.
Black or Brown
At the Brown locus there are only two different genetic variants; one producing a black base colour and one producing a brown. The gene for black is dominant to the gene for brown. This means that if both variants are present in a sheep (remember every gene is paired) then the black gene will prevail and the sheep will be black. It will look exactly the same as a black sheep with two black genes.
So, at the Brown locus there are just 3 genetic combinations possible:
A black sheep with two genes for black (Black/Black)
A black sheep that has one gene for black and one for brown (Black/Brown)
A brown sheep that has two genes for brown. (Brown/Brown)
So, what happens when you mate a black ram with a brown ewe? Well, that depends on whether the ram has two black genes or one black gene and one brown gene. We know that the brown ewe must have two brown genes.
If the ram has two black genes then, as every lamb gets one gene from each parent, and the ram can only supply a black gene and the ewe a brown gene, it follows that every lamb will have one black and one brown gene (Black/Brown). In other words, 100% of the lambs from this pairing would be black lambs who are carriers of brown.
But if the ram has one black and one brown gene then the pairings of one gene from each parent can be shown diagrammatically as:
And we might expect 50% of the lambs to be black (carrying the brown gene) and 50% to be brown.
A similar analysis for the pairing of a black ram and a black ewe, each of which carries the brown gene is shown here:
We can expect a 25% chance of producing a black lamb with two black genes, a 50% chance of producing a black lamb with one black gene and one brown gene and a 25% chance of producing a brown lamb. 75% of lambs born to this pairing will be black and just a quarter will be brown.
White or Coloured
There are several genetic variations at the Agouti locus, but only two need concern us today; one that suppresses the expression of the base colour of the sheep, so that the sheep appears white and one that allows the full expression of the base colour (either black or brown). The gene for white (more accurately for White/Tan) is dominant to the gene for base colour, so that a sheep with one white/tan gene and one base colour gene will be white.
So, when dealing with base colours alone, there are again 3 genetic combinations possible at the Agouti locus:
A white sheep with two genes for white/tan (White/White)
A white sheep with one gene for white/tan and one that allows the expression of the base colour (White/Coloured)
A black (or brown) sheep with two genes for the expression of base colour (Coloured/Coloured)
Again we can ask: what happens when you mate a black (or brown) ram with a white ewe? And again the answer depends on whether the ewe has two white/tan genes or just one white/tan and one gene that allows the base colour to be expressed.
If the ewe has two white/tan genes then, as with the first example above, every lamb will have one gene for the expression of colour and one for its suppression and as white/tan is dominant, every lamb will be white, carrying the coloured gene.
If the ewe has only one white/tan gene then the position is as shown here:
There is a 50% chance of a white lamb (which will carry the gene allowing the expression of colour) and a 50% chance of a black (or brown) lamb.
Mating two sheep that each have one gene for white/tan (White/White) and one for the expression of colour (Colour/Colour) produces similar results to the third example above: 75% will be white sheep and 25% will be black or brown.
You can get a hint as to the genetic make up of your sheep by checking their pedigree in the flock book. Once they’ve produced offspring you’ll have a better idea of their likely characteristics, and make decisions about breeding to stand a better chance of producing the colours you want in your flock. There are more examples – and fuller explanations – of the process in Diane’s colour primer, listed at the bottom of this article.
Since Part One of this article appeared there has been comment, on social media and elsewhere, about the status of white sheep in the Ouessant population. Some of the comments have been less than helpful, including suggestions that the display of tan pigmentation in white lambs (see Part One) is the result of cross-breeding or ‘impurities’ in the Ouessant gene pool (It’s not) or that white is a late introduction to the breed and that nineteenth-century photographs of lighter-coloured Ouessants are, in fact, of brown sheep (It isn’t, they are not and it is the brown base colour that, if anything, is a later introduction to the breed).
Since sheep were first domesticated, centuries ago, commercial breeders have selected for desirable characteristics, including the whitest possible wool. As a result, modern, improved breeds of sheep rarely display tan. But the Ouessant is an unimproved sheep – it has been described as the most primitive of the French native breeds – and it’s not surprising, therefore, that Ouessant lambs can display a surprisingly wide range of tan colouration at birth. This completely natural and normal display is produced by the pigment phaeomelanin, and is quite separate from the black or brown base colour of the sheep, which is a result of the pigment Eumelanin. For more detail on this see Part One, but a couple of points are worth repetition:
The amount of tan pigment displayed by a lamb is variable. Some authorities believe that the amount of display is controlled by genes at the Spotting locus, although recent research suggests that the situation is more complex and other genes / loci are involved. Regardless of the mechanism, there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer as to how much tan pigmentation a white Ouessant lamb may display:
The second thing to note is that the shade or hue of the tan pigment (phaomelanin) can be very variable. Although, as shown above a tan, or even a fox-red colour is common in Ouessants, other colours are found, ranging from dove grey to blackish brown and from a buttery cream to bright orange as illustrated in this picture from Diane’s paper:
The Breed Standard has always allowed for the display of tan in white sheep, both in lambs and as a base colour to the adult fleece. Following changes to the French breed standard, an updated UK standard is being presented to the AGM. This makes clear that the display of tan in lambs may cover the entire body and that, while the display usually fades over time, it may not do so completely. This is not a change to the standard; rather a clarification of the description to remove confusion.
The proposed Breed Standard has also been updated to note that the hooves of white sheep may be light or dark. This, too, reflects a change to the French standard which, in turn, reflects reality.
This picture of a class at the French society show demonstrates that many white Ouessants have darker hooves and the topic is also covered here
We hope to have a good discussion of the new standard, and the status of white sheep, at the AGM, and shall return to variations in the colours of Ouessants in the third (and definitely final) part of this article!
In the meantime, our recommended reading includes:
A lot is made of the French Ouessant rams and it seems to me mainly because they have no wattles or at least the majority don’t. Personally I don’t see a problem with wattles except when it’s shearing time, most of the year they are hidden in wool
But before deciding on French rams (and I know they were the originals), if you read the History of the Ouessant which the prominent Dutch Judge Hans Slenkhous allowed me to reproduce in one of the newsletters. You will read that some very good French rams and ewes were imported to the Netherlands from some of the big French parks (today would be known as large country estates) and those Dutch Rams are, in my opinion very impressive whether they have wattles or not. They have great conformation. I have bred three generations of rams from the original famous George Clooney the 2nd of Cammall who was imported by the late James Graham from Hans Slenkhous. (See the photos which are at the end.)
These matings have passed on some excellent genes, of course it depends on what ewes you use, you should always choose the very best ewes you have either by their genes or by their physical looks (that’s something to do with genotype and phenotype) I’m not an expert on genetics, but on one occasion and only once, I did mate a half brother to a half sister – something I would not normally do or advocate unless there is a very good reason to do so, this time it doubled up some very good genes but we must all be aware that it can also double up bad ones too.
The result of this mating was a stunning ram which I exported to Jersey and he was the first Ouessant to land on that island, his son I still own, he is magnificent and he has a lovely calm temperament (well to humans) he is boss of the flock.
It is such a pity getting such a good genetic line going, that I have now have to give up breeding these lovely little sheep, however this ram is the sort is the sort of ram I have always wanted to breed. I hope he enjoys his work and that I can keep him as long as possible. He’s already booked out twice for the winter.
Below, I am showing pictures of four successive rams in the order of the original George Clooney 2nd of Cammal, his son New Forest Beech, then his son New Forest Hawthorn and his son New Forest Birch (last two photos) to show that the four generations have a very good consistency in type and conformation.
I started a journey to upgrade my Rams but unfortunately the journey has ended. Although we live in The New Forest in the country we do have a few neighbours on one side of the paddocks and one of them objects every lambing time to the ewes bleating to their lambs, I know it was annoying but I suppose enough is enough so no more lambs and it’s the end of a great genetic line for me.
I would love to hear from anyone who knows how we are to keep Ouessants below the breed standard height. The trouble is that like humans which years ago were much shorter than we are today.
Access for all modern people to ample food has meant that on average today we are much more robust and taller than even a hundred years ago. I suppose we can say that in a hundred years, it is roughly four generations. In sheep, say in just fifty years they would have maybe twenty five or more generations. So, you can see in fifty years time it would be impossible to keep Ouessants to the size of their original counterparts on that windswept barren island. As far as I can see, the only way to keep them small is to emulate the conditions which kept them small in the first place. This means limited forage, tough living conditions and a helping of natural breeding, such as a few brother sister matings, and a very limited gene pool . So what have we got today? A lot of pampered sheep, given sheep nuts, grass to gorge on, hay in the winter, a shelter. Oh, I’m as guilty of all this as anyone, and of course we mustn’t breed anything remotely related together.
Ok we can choose to breed small to small, that’s very sensible, but first you have to find a mature ram that is not taller than the breed standard, then that must be set in his genes, otherwise he could just be a one-off small ram, then likewise in the ewe, this is very desirable, but not very practical.
Its quite sad to buy and breed sheep, which when measured at maturity, (after you have looked after them waiting for them to reach breeding age) are too tall, what do you do then? Serious breeders don’t want them. So please tell me….. how we are to keep these little sheep little? This is only my view and not the view of the Society.
I was asked a while ago to write an article on how I use the sheep for therapy and how I train them.
That is quite a hard question to answer as each sheep and child are different so I match the animal to the child’s needs
Animals ask nothing from you and do not judge however certain animals click with certain people. Sheep are very clever and can read people it is no good trying to be something other than yourself with animals The ability of an animal to create calm and confidence in people is remarkable, who would have thought you could take a sheep for a walk? This gives children and adults confidence, thinking they are having control, in fact the animal is in control and it will not do anything it does not want to do. I keep talking about respect and love and that is the key, without that you will get nothing from the animal. How do I train them? I don’t, is the short answer, all the animals do normal activities. all you have to do is watch and then encourage them to do what is natural to them when you want them to. People do not consider animals to be clever but they are. It is surprising how many spoken words they understand and how they want to please each animal is different. An example is walking them, it is natural to them,I go in a field they follow, I walk up a track they follow, the trick is putting a collar on them and take them somewhere different, they feel comfortable as they are with me and confident as I am close ie holding the lead. Then you ask a child or adult to hold the lead on a track the sheep know of course then they feel in control and will walk the person. I do not use a halter, one it is hard to find one small enough for it to be comfortable and two, I feel the sheep feel more comfortable with a wide collar they have the freedom to move their head which is a natural movement for them. If you want them to enjoy the activity they must be relaxed. Not everyone can do this, you have to have a naturally good way with animals and have the ability to read them and people must have patience be able to remain calm whatever happens and have the respect and trust of the animals.
Importantly be yourself, not what you think you should be. Hopefully this helps it is difficult to explain as each animal person is different.
Editor’s note. I am privileged to now own these two wonderful sheep that Dave has collar trained, you can just about see in the photo, Buddy’s black collar and at the bottom, George’s red collar. PS: Don’t worry, Buddy’s horns have been trimmed. also, funnily enough, George has never grown any horns, not even a mark where they should be, I wonder how many male sheep have this?
The AGM approved most of the recommendations of the Breed Development Working Group. These included a clearer breed standard, new registration regulations and new guidance on inbreeding and line-breeding.
The AGM considered the 3-column draft of the breed standard that was published with the last newsletter, and felt that this was perhaps a little complicated. A simpler and clearer version, in 2 columns, was passed round for discussion before being unanimously approved.
There is no change to the basics of the standard, although it now contains more information. It remains based on the French standard, with the exception of wattles (which remain acceptable in the UK) and a clearer statement of colours. The standard is now on the Breed page of the website or click here.
The next step will be to produce illustrated explanatory notes on the breed standard, so that we can all be clear on what it means. The notes are intended to assist breeders and buyers in selecting the best sheep, and may also be used by inspectors and judges. We also hope to hold workshops in 2020 to give practical examples of what the standard means. Watch out for more details in the New Year.
The draft registration regulations were discussed by the AGM. It was unanimously agreed that a new Annex to the Flock Book should be set up, to manage the registration of sheep that do not have satisfactory pedigree data. The registration of lambs, born to registered parents is unaffected by the change and the import of sheep properly registered with a European breed society will also continue to be allowed.
The AGM also approved the establishment of a voluntary ‘Ram Approval Scheme’, to indicate in the flock book those rams which have been inspected and found to meet the Breed Standard. Concern was expressed that the implementation of the new rules may prove difficult until, for example, sufficient inspectors have been trained. The AGM agreed that the committee should have some discretion over the implementation of the rules over the next 3 years, to ensure that no member is disadvantaged by their introduction. The committee will investigate the use of photographs for inspections and will report back on progress towards full implementation of the regulations, and their effectiveness, to the next AGM.
A proposal that ram lambs may not be registered until they are at least one year old was regarded as impractical, and was not approved by the AGM. Instead the Society will continue to discourage memebrs from breeding from young rams, until their conformation and potential can be assessed. Members also proposed that, whilst naming of sheep was not mandatory, the names of all sheep once entered into the flock book may not be changed and that the presence or absence of wattles should be recorded in the flock book at registration. Both proposals were unanimously agreed.
Finally, the AGM thanked member Sally Hoppins for producing draft guidance on In-Breeding and Line Breeding and unanimously agreed that the regulations should prohibit the registration of closely in-bred sheep (the product of a parent-child, or full sibling mating).
We considered two possible headlines for this article “New Breed Standard” and “No Change to Breed Standard” – both are accurate reflections of the proposals that the Breed Development Working Group will be putting to the AGM.
The Breed Standard itself is unchanged, and remains firmly based on the original French breed standard. But the Working Group felt that the presentation of the standard could be made much clearer – hence the headline above!
The new draft of the Breed Standard may be found on the AGM page – or follow this link. You’ll see that it is now presented in 3 columns: the first gives a description of the feature and is largely unchanged from the old standard; the second column amplifies the description and gives significant reasons for disqualification; and the third column gives a weighting of the relative importance of each feature to assist breeders and judges.
Included for the first time, but once again based on the French standard, are optimum height ranges for rams and ewes, an indication of the height range that should be observed in yearlings, and a fuller description of the characteristics of the fleece.
But what does the Breed Standard Mean? It’s all very well to lay down a breed standard, but what do we mean when we say, for example, that the withers should not be “prominent” or the legs “well-proportioned”? The Breed Development Working Group agreed that the written standard should be backed up by two important new resources:
First, a new set of Breeders Notes, illustrated with photographs to demonstrate exactly what the standard means and to interpret it for breeders and judges. The notes are now in production, an will be produced as soon as possible.
Secondly, Breed Standard Workshops, at which the finer points of the standard will be illustrated using live sheep. The workshops will be open to all members and will cater for all levels of experience from complete beginners to those seeking to qualify as Society inspectors and judges. It is hoped to hold two workshops next year, ideally one in the North and one in the South to allow maximum attendance. Details will follow early in 2020.
The Breed Development Working Group has been looking at ways to improve the quality of our sheep. It quickly became clear that we need to focus on our rams: A ewe may have a handful of lambs in her productive life; the average ram may sire dozens.
It follows that rams have the biggest impact on the quality of our flock. We’ll be putting to the AGM a number of proposals to help members breed from the best possible rams, including delaying registration until the quality of the animal can be judged, and a voluntary ram inspection scheme.
The Society has always encouraged members to Birth Notify all ram lambs and then register those that will be kept intact. The existing registration rules allow a previously birth-notified ram to be registered at any time in its first 3 years, without any late penalty. This allows breeders to gauge the development of the ram and select only the best animals for breeding. The proposal to be put to the AGM will further encourage the selection of rams by suggesting that ram lambs may not be registered until they are at least one year old. Only birth notifications would be permitted in the first year.
And to help members identify the best rams, the Society is proposing a voluntary Ram Approval Scheme. Under this, Society judges will inspect any ram that is at least a year old. Those that are judged to be good examples of the breed standard will be issued with new pedigree certificates describing them as ‘Approved Rams’ and they will be indicated as such in the Flock Book. Their offspring will also have an annotation in the flock book.
Many other breed societies operate similar schemes – in some it is mandatory – but the Society’s intention is not to impose restrictions on members, but rather offer an additional means of confirming the quality of rams, and hence improving the overall quality of the flock. What do you think? We welcome members views ahead of the AGM. Please comment below or, if you prefer, email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the early days of the Ouessant breed in the UK – which was not that long ago – it was difficult to avoid inbreeding or linebreeding to some extent, as there were simply not that many choices available.
Renée Hemming has done some excellent research on the flock book which shows that the majority of UK Ouessants can be traced back to just six rams.
As the flock size has grown, so have the choices available and, whilst this is not always easy for the owners of small flocks (the majority of OSS members), we should all be looking to improve the quality of the breed. This means not only taking into account the breed standard and the qualities discussed by Marie, above, but also looking at the closeness of the relationships between potential sires and dams. Linebreeding, as Marie notes, is a valid technique for selecting a trait or characteristic in the flock, but must be carefully judged and not simply allowed to happen by default.
Access to the online flock book has allowed members to research sheep’s pedigrees before buying or mating. The Grassroots system, which powers the flock book, also allows us to measure the inbreeding within the flock and to carry out ‘What If’ calculations to see if a potential ram is a suitable match for your ewes (or vice versa). This information can be presented in a ‘Kinship Report’ which is now available to members at no charge.
To request a Kinship Report, simply email me at email@example.com with the OSS numbers of the sheep that you would like analysed. The system then measures the degree of relationship between each ram and each ewe, allowing selection of the most suitable ram. As a rule of thumb, you should only select a pairing that results in an inbreeding coefficient lower than the flock as a whole (currently 0.035 for registered Ouessants in UK).
I’ll then email the Kinship Report back to you as soon as I can – unfortunately we cannot yet automate this within the online flock book. So if you are thinking about buying a ram, or deciding which tup should be used to cover your ewes, give the Kinship Report a try.
You can look up the breed standard on the Society website, it will tell you all about conformation and other aspects the breed, but I’m going to add my advice, though these are only my thoughts, but hopefully will make some sense.
1, If you are interested in getting near to the original Ouessant, look for a pedigree which contains plenty of Dutch or French ancestors and don’t forget, breed best to best.
2. Much is made of correct height and whether the animal has wattles or not, but I think we in Britain are not getting the message across for the overall shape of the animal, here, not much is mentioned of the line of back from the shoulder to hip line, this should be straight and not humped up at the hip. Many animals have this problem, in horses, the topline alters until it matures and the hips catch up. If you are looking for maximum height at the shoulder, you should wait until the animal is around 3 years. A good time to measure would be just after being shorn, with no fleece to speak of to make the measuring more accurate. (I shall show some photos of good and not so good examples below).
3. Fleece quality. So what are we looking for? Ideally, the fleece should be close-knit as it were, keeping the cold winds out whilst with a fairly long staple and a dense undercoat that will shed the rain from the long guardhairs. What we don’t want is fleeces falling apart along the spine which would let the water in and chill the animal. The fleece must be soft and strong. Spinners can tell if an animal has been ill at some point by pinging the hair which will snap if there has been a problem with health, a hair from a healthy animal will make a pinging sound. (pics below to show various fleece types.
A separate article is planned, looking at the different types of fleece and what is ideal with photos to illustrate.
4. Sheep feet. Are they strong, do they grow well, do they cross over, do they attain long and narrow toes? Traditionally black pigment is stronger than white, do they keep breaking and flaking as they have weak tissue?
5. Are they good mothers, do they lamb easily, do they have twins, ok this is not a conformation problem but having ewes which consistently lamb easily is a great advantage for them, the lambs and you in the long run.
6. Look at the pedigree to see if the ancestors have various colours as you may not want a white lamb crop up if you want a black flock.
7. Teeth. If you were buying a horse you would certainly look at its teeth to tell its age. OK, we believe the person who is selling the sheep, but what if the age is true, but the teeth are malformed or growing at a weird angle? Take a look yourself (don’t forget there are none at the top !!).
8. Looking for the right temperament for the right job. If buying a ram and he’s not going to be a pet, which they seldom are, if he’s feisty, that’s fine, but the quieter ram can pass this quietness and calmness down to his progeny. The ewes, if they are going to be in a breeding flock and not going to be handled much, then that’s ok, but those ewes who are friendly and calm can also pass this trait on to offspring,
9. Of course, the breeding tackle in rams must be present and well developed, we all know that.
Over the years I have kept Ouessants, I find there are some who are intent in making money, breeding any ram with any ewe and asking top prices, do be aware. Then there are breeders who are very interested in getting back to the original type of Ouessant, who take great care of how they are making their selections of mating the very best together. If you are serious and passionate about keeping the Ouessant true to its breed standard and original traits, then try to find well-bred animals with original lines.
Because I had the great opportunity to have the use of a purebred Dutch sire (George Clooney 2nd of Cammall), bred by James Graham whom I put to my ewes 2 years ago, the result was (New Forest Beech) a very nice ram who already has been very popular operating in Kent, the New Forest and is now in Dorset. As an experiment, I mated him to 2 of his half sisters. Usually, as David says in the article below, this is not the norm but it can be as advantageous as it can be just the opposite. But livestock breeders sometimes do this for (hopefully) a very good reason – to double up on a particularly good line and this is what I experimented with, and the two offspring were rams, both boys are vibrant healthy chaps which carry a considerable concentrate of these original Dutch genes. I was passionate about trying to get a heritage flock going with these original genes, but alas, I will not be breeding any more Ouessants as the neighbours have had enough of the noise especially after lambing, so its with great regret if the rams do not sell, they will have to be castrated and that would be a loss towards getting back to Ouessant origins
I have seen animals which are supposed to be Ouessants which looked more like Shetlands. Without a pedigree, you just can’t tell what they have been bred from. so beware of ‘copies’ , so make sure you get pedigree animals to check the breeding.
Take a look at the Marketplace on the website (link in the Editors Chat) as there are some pedigree ewes and rams there for sale, some of which have the famous Dutch Rexna lines.
The Breed Standard Working Group (DC, James Graham and Andy Chitty) reported to the AGM.
Earlier this year the Committee had corrected the error over heights that had crept into the breed standard. The AGM confirmed that the correct maximum heights for adult sheep are Rams 49 cm and Ewes 46 cm.
It was agreed that the Society would continue to operate an open flock book, allowing the import of sheep from European Societies and elsewhere, subject to the sheep meeting the UK breed standard. The aim is to allow the import of quality Ouessants into the UK flock, and where inspections are necessary they will be carried out to a much higher standard than was the case during the amnesty.
After much discussion, the AGM decided not to accept the recommendation of the Working Group on wattles. The AGM noted the Working Group’s view that, for a variety of reasons, wattles are not a desirable characteristic but decided to leave the breed standard unchanged. Wattles, therefore, remain acceptable in the breed standard. It was felt that it should be left to individual members to choose to select for or against wattles, as they do for all other characteristics of the breed. Although the breed standard will be unchanged, new notes will be produced for the guidance of breeders and judges.
After further discussion, it was agreed that the time was not yet ripe for the introduction of confirmation inspections of adult sheep, as practised on the continent, but that the recording of adult height and other features should be considered. A programme of education as to what constitutes a ‘good’ Ouessant was judged important. We will be investigating organising a workshop for members and the options for sponsoring a Ouessant class at one or more shows. It was noted that a future AGM could be linked to a workshop and/or show.
Thanks to all the members who responded to the survey on wattles. The aim was simply to find out how many sheep in the UK flock might carry wattles in order to inform the debate about future policy.
The headlines are as follows:
· 52 members responded, reporting on 571 sheep in 51 flocks · Of these, 141 sheep had wattles, in 35 flocks
Members’ comments include frequent reference to the difficulties posed by wattles when shearing – some said they couldn’t be sure which sheep had wattles as they might have been cut off! A founding member of the Society noted that:
“None of the original Ouessant sheep registered with the society had wattles and the breed standard at the time was based on the French GEMO, therefore in my view wattles are unacceptable”
And another member said: “French ewes no wattles, added in Dutch ram and all his lambs have wattles.”
But others were concerned at any potential change:
“Very concerned that society may devalue portions of breeders flocks by declaring wattles outside of breed standard.”
“This would seem to be one of the characteristics that are unique to Ouessants and it would be a shame to see the wattles go!”
Wattles are not present in the French flock, or permitted in the French breed standard, on which the UK standard was originally based. Of other European societies, the Belgians previously said that wattles were ‘permitted but not desirable’ but now plan to conform to the French standard from 2026, allowing time for wattles to be bred out of the Belgian Flock. Renée Hemming has written elsewhere* on how selective breeding could achieve this and the AGM noted that her advice was particularly helpful in explaining how we might go forward. However, members felt that with such widely different views expressed in the survey, and with wattles potentially affecting around a quarter of our sheep in two-thirds of our flocks, further consideration was required to take into account the views and needs of all members. This will be carried out by the Breed Standard Working Group (see previous item) in the coming months and recommendations put to members in 2017.
*See Renée’s posting on Society forums and email reminder for wattles survey
The lambing season is now upon us and Renée Hemming has kindly put together an article to share her experience and knowledge.
Ouessant sheep as a breed were developed and adapted to living conditions on the windswept salt pastures of the Brittany coast. They lambed unassisted in all weathers and if any greater evidence of this was required it is in the very fact that a shepherd is unable to manually assist with a malpresentation, in all but the simplest of cases. Excessive hands on assistance should not be necessary, these little sheep despite their size are tough. It is not uncommon to be out run by a lamb no more than a couple of hours old. Their glossy birth coats shed rain easily and the ewes thick fleece is the perfect place for a newborn lamb to seek shelter. Your best lambing aid is a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera to enjoy the spectacle unfolding before you.
Primitive breeds of sheep have evolved for the most part naturally, unlike modern commercial breeds with high, hands on selection criteria. Many of the requirements for commercial breeds do not apply to Ouessants. The breeds propensity to single lamb also means that heavy supplementary feeding in the run up to lambing is likely to do more harm than good. Good access to be able to free range on rough grassland with a mineral block to ensure trace elements levels are kept up along with supplementary hay is an ideal regime. Some owners like to supply a small amount of concentrate in the final month before their due date. If this is restricted to a handful per day per sheep it is more than adequate. Twin lamb disease is not commonly experienced in the breed, twin lambs being such a rarity in themselves and the lambs should be naturally small and less likely to be a drain on the ewe.
In many cases it is likely that the first an owner will know of any impending birth is to find a small blot of a lamb, more kitten sized than lamb sized tucked up next to the ewe. Impeccably cleaned off and ready to follow her easily, at a moment’s notice. Unless the weather is very inclement there is no need to do more than a quick check to ensure that both the lamb and ewe are well.
The first day of a newborn lambs life is generally spent sleeping quite a lot between nursing. By the second day, lambs seem to have magically filled out and gained in strength. They will start to explore their immediate environment, usually closely followed by mum. Later, as they gain in strength the lambs will form up into a little tribe and generally create mayhem. Often in the evening lamb races begin with the whole group rushing around, usually with an overly anxious ewe or two in pursuit. Such fun!
A guide to lambing and the events surrounding the birth can be found on the society’s website
“Bare, bleak and treeless Quessant, the notorious island of terror… The infrequent visitor sees funny flocks of little sheep, scarcely twice as large as hares.”* 1901
There are a number of contributing factors to explain the smaller than average size of Ouessant sheep. Past selection pressures that produced the diminutive sheep are largely not a consideration for owners today. Height is a polygenic trait, this means in addition to factors such as environment and diet, height is controlled by a number of different genes. But without those historic selection pressures, genetic drift allows the breed height to increase unless attention is paid to selecting animals which meet the breed standard.
With this in mind, many owners like to measure their sheep, the easiest time to do this is soon after they have been shorn. Pick a level solid surface with good grip to stand your sheep on. A path next to a wall will provide a good base as well as restricting to a degree the amount of movement your sheep can make. Calmly wait for your sheep to settle and ensure that their feet are evenly placed and that they are standing squarely.
Taking your time at this stage means less stress for the sheep and for you in the long run. Height is measured at the withers (the boney prominence of the shoulder blades on the sheeps topline).
With the sheep correctly positioned, you need only read off the height on the measure.
Measuring your sheep at one, two and three years of age will give you a good idea of their growth curve and when they have reached their final height.