The Breed

The Isle of Ouessant, off the coast of Brittany, is swept by the full force of Atlantic weather, and its hardy sheep adapted to survive in all weathers on poor grazing. As a result, the Ouessant is the smallest recognized breed of sheep in the world, with a ram’s shoulder height up to 49cm and a ewe’s up to 46cm (around 18 inches).

Some suggest that the breed was introduced to the island by the Vikings and it was found only on Ouessant until the 19th Century. The inhabitants raised the sheep for wool - from which they wove their traditional, dark-coloured clothes - and for the highly prized, sweet-tasting meat that results from grazing on salt meadows beside the sea.

Ouessant sheep are black, brown or white and have a thick fleece of long wool with a dense undercoat. The fleece is of high quality and can be hand spun, felted or used for weaving. The unique mix of natural colours makes the wool particularly desirable.

Ouessant sheep are intelligent, inquisitive, gentle and full of character. Rams carry impressive, outward turning horns; the ewes do not have horns. Tails are naturally short and are not docked.

The breed almost disappeared at the start of the 20th century but was rescued from extinction first in France, and is now bred in several countries in Europe. It was brought to the UK in the early 2000s and remains on the EU and UK lists of ‘At Risk’ rare and heritage breeds.