The Fleece

Ouessants may be Black, Brown or White, with some variation of these basic colours and have a thick fleece of long wool with a dense undercoat. 

The base colour of Ouessant sheep, like many breeds, is black or brown.  The base colour is controlled genetically; black is dominant to brown.  A second gene pair controls which fibres in the fleece express the base colour (black or brown) and which fibres remain white.  So a white sheep is one where the expression of the base colour has been suppressed, and the fleece appears white.

A white Ouessant can often have a reddish or tan cast to the fleece, particularly on the legs, tail and around the head and neck.  This is often apparent in lambs but fades and becomes less noticeable with age. 

Black lambs may be born with a white patch or spot on the head; this too will disappear as the sheep ages.  And the wool colour of black and brown sheep also changes with age.  Black fleeces often develop a brown cast, while the shorter hair on the face and legs remains black.  The longer wool on a brown sheep can also fade to a golden caramel colour in sunlight.

Some Ouessant bloodlines display age-related greying, which produces a “salt & pepper” effect in the fleece, where white fibres grow in over time.  This is linked to ageing but can appear in sheep as young as 18 to 24 months.  Some black and brown sheep also carry a colour-modifying gene that produces a gradual fading of the base colour of the fleece: a black fleece fades to grey and a morrit brown fleece fades to light brown.  Additionally, Agouti grey, a fleece colour variation, which is also referred to as ‘Agouti’ or ‘Schimmel’, has been introduced to some continental flocks, but this colour pattern is not recognised in either the UK or in France.

Finally, research in France has identified two further variations in Ouessant colour; both of these colour patterns, however, are extremely rare and are currently only seen in a few flocks in France.

A full analysis of Ouessant colour genetics will be available to members, in the Resources area of the website.