I represented the Society at a meeting with our European breed society partners held during the 28th annual show of the French society, GEMO. This was a follow up to the first pan-European meeting, held in Belgium in 2016 and reported on last year.
The show was held this year as part of the Foire de Béré, a large agricultural and commercial fair at Chateaubriant in northern France. Around 300 Ouessants in their pens attracted a good deal of attention – not least because these tiny sheep they were sandwiched between large Charolais sheep and even larger Limousine cows.
A number of classes were held for rams and ewes of different ages, and coloured black and white – no browns! The sheep were generally small – rams standing around 43-45 cm and ewes around 40-41 cm – having been selected for the show.
The following day the representatives of GEMO (France), BOV (Belgium), IGOU (Germany), FOS (The Netherlands) and the OSS came together with Monique Brillet-Abbé the president of GEMO in the chair. The aim was to continue to cooperate and coordinate over all aspects of the breed, and particularly to work towards a common European breed standard. Each nation then gave an update on progress since the last meeting – my input was largely based on the report of the Breed Standard working group, listed above. In short, with the exception of wattles, our breed standard now matches that of GEMO.
It’s more complicated in Germany where there are two breed standards! The first is the IGOU society standard, which is the same as the French standard, except that wattles are allowed. The second standard is run by the flock book association, which is partly state controlled and is a standard that applies to several breeds of sheep, all controlled by the Association. In this standard all colours, including Agouti grey are allowed.
In Holland the FOS has some 400 members with 2,500 sheep in the flock book. Perhaps 10 or 15% of members are active breeders. The Dutch began in 1980 using the French breed standard, although it has since evolved. They were adamant that they had not invented wattles or added them to their sheep, saying that they had been imported on sheep from Belgium or France. In Holland 65% of sheep are black, 15% white, 18% brown, 2-3% grey and a very few are diluted colours.
The Belgian Society held a meeting immediately after the last international meeting at which a vote was taken to remove wattles from the breed standard from 2021. The current Belgian standard states that wattles are permitted but not desirable. The representative also implied that a similar change had been made concerning the colours brown and grey but was not sure of the timetable. It was clear, though unsaid, that there is some debate about this going on in Belgium.
And much debate, too, in France. Monique said that they are having a great deal of discussion about taking the breed standard in two directions – the ‘Ouessant tradionnel’ and the ‘Ouessant contemporain’. The former, heritage standard would be only black and white sheep but the modern standard would include browns, but not Agouti grey. I asked how many sheep in France were now registered in the flock book and was told about 450 (up from 300 in Jan 16).
The meeting finished with an agreement to continue to keep each other informed. Overall the atmosphere was far more constructive and less confrontational than 18 months ago. That is not to say that there isn’t still a great gulf between the approaches of the French and the Dutch, but I sensed that most societies can see that the twin track approach of heritage and modern breed standards may allow room for some form of compromise (as long as you don’t mention grey or wattles!)
Author: David Clements