The Dutch VIew – Permission given by the author, Henk Slaghuis, to use some of his original Dutch text.
WHERE AND HOW IT ALL STARTED
In the first half of the 20th century there were similar breeds. In the Netherlands, the foreign sheep breeds almost disappeared. The Texel ruled strongly and had the name for the best sheep. The origins of Dutch breeds such as the heath and milking animals fell in such a way that they were threatened with extinction. The Dutch Rare Breeds Foundation (which means a foundation for rare animals) has successfully prevented the complete disappearance of these animals. The Texel, on the other hand, still had popularity in the second half of the 20th century. But the keeping of Texel’s became less attractive, not only as an economic sheep but also for the hobby-like holdings. The strong attention paid on meat type by the Texel breed bought negative side symptoms as birth problems and decreased vitality.
Due to the scale of livestock farming, much changed in rural areas, more and more, small farms came into the hands of non-agricultural farmers, who wanted as new rural residents, to have some rare and special animals in the meadows. Interest for other sheep increased: construction, type, size, colour and sometimes with horns. The first foreign varieties were predominantly meatcuts such as the English Suffolk, the Hampshire Down and the Clun Forest. The Gotlands were also one of the first as wool sheep. The economically less interesting varieties such as Jacob, the Shetland and the Soay attracted more and more sheep lovers. These were more easy to care for and handle. These were graceful beasts, which could also be kept on a smaller piece of land.
The Ouessant sheep enjoyed great interest from their introduction in the Netherlands. However, it was a very rare breed, held in Belgium by a limited number of sheep lovers. In France or in Brittany, almost no breeding material was obtained because of an export ban. As a consequence, it took more than ten years for the enthusiasts in the Netherlands to register for herd books. From 1987 there was a great enthusiasm for the Ouessants. After a quarter of a century, the Breeding Society in the Netherlands was characterised by a simple, low-threshold approach to breeding. An inexpensive registration system and a method of selection based on volunteering, which indicates the quality of the animals, but not the ranking in quality.
In Brittany originally sheep came from an old type with three variants, namely the Breton Mouton or sheep des Landes, the Race des Deux and the Ouessant sheep. The very barren conditions in which the Old Age, primitive possessions were held on the island, the poor food, the harsh climate, and perhaps the selection by the residents, had a great influence on the small size of the animals.
The Ouessant sheep is a typical example of “insular dwarfism”. A phenomenon that occurs in animal populations that lived on an island or a strong sealed area for a long time under very bad conditions From recent research by Gilles (M.G.) Tronson, it has been found that the sheep on the coast of the island of Ouessant have long drawn the attention of fishermen and sailors. In 1754, the excellent, but little old-sheep were signaled. (Marked) In the year 1852 it was reported that on the island with a surface area of 1562 hectares, 6000 sheep were kept marked by an indentation in the ear. By the end of the 19th century, with moderate success, larger sheep were tested out. Around 1906, a flock of white Ouessant sheep was discovered on a castle estate in the Common Vertou, not far from Nantes. During that time it was crossed with white Arree or Breton Landes sheep to obtain the more requested white wool and a larger sheep.
In 1920, the Ouessant sheep is described as follows: “It’s a small late-breed breed that does not exceed 35 to 40 cm in size. The colour is black with sometimes white spots on the head. The wool is short and curled. The meat is good quality “. (A height of 35 to 40 cm is unlikely to be small, but it is possible that it has not been measured on the shaft. Furthermore, Probably that the bad and harsh environment has influenced the development of the animals at the time.) In 1935, the Greek ship, Mikonos, suffered a shipwreck at the island of Ouessant, leaving behind a ram and two ewes that merged with the sheep on the island. From the beginning of the 20th century, however, a mixture had already occurred with other alien sheep and after about 1920 the original Old Ouessant sheep disappeared from the island.
In France black was the dominant colour. Brown almost did not exist because the inhabitants of the island for the manufacture of clothing for fishermen and sailors had a strong preference for black fleece.
The coat is long with a very tight undercoat, which provides protection to a rough sea climate. The weight of the fleece varies with the rams from 1.2 to 1.8 kg and in the ewes of 1.0 to 1.5 kg. The Ouessant sheep has a wool yield per kilo of live weight, which is not matched by many other varieties. The spring season is short, from October to January. The ewes usually throw one lamb, twins are born only exceptionally. Birth problems are hardly any. The ewes have good maternal properties and the lambs are very vital. The Ouessant sheep is very calm, has great resistance to sickness and does not set high demands on nutrition and care.
But the original type of Ouessant sheep would have been extinct were it not for many individuals, including castle men (owners?), and animal parks (zoos) also large garden parks or chateaux/estates with meadows, who had saved the race from a complete disappearance. These sheep lovers were attracted to the original type, the small size and the mainly heavy wool. The family Goulaine held a flock on the estate of Saint Etienne-de-Carcoué in the south of the Loire Atlantique, near the Vendeé, a hundred years ago. Thanks to the cooperation between the Parc Regionel d’Armorique and the Groupement des Eleveurs de Moutons d’Ouessant (GEMO), founded in 1970, the populations of Madame Fou de Kardinel from Valtorte (Mayenne) and Madame Humières from Bignan (Morbihan), These sisters of the Goulaine family had preserved these Ouessants and the breeding could be continued. Paul Abbé raised the last flocks in the seventies.
From the description of the history of the old sheep types, it appears that Paul Abbé found a four-tribe tribe in his inventory in the 1970s, which still showed variation in horn shape and size. The sheep from the Jardin des Plantes had the best-developed horns but were quite large. The same was true for the Vendeé and the Northern Tribal sheep. The Morbihan tribe was by far the largest group. Here, some exceptions were found after moderate horns but a small size. The Ouessants who were purchased by Frans Haccou and Evert Jan van Tongeren at Mark Verhaegen originated from Jean Edouard Ducatillon breeding from northern France. It can also be assumed that some of the Ouessant sheep moved from Belgium to the Netherlands had Ducatillon genes in their veins. The fact that the “Beekse Bergen” sheep also go back to the same source is obvious because Ducatillon also operated an animal park. All of these sheep were characterized by a rectangular structure with well-developed horns, relatively long slacks(backs?) and relatively long legs. This type corresponds most closely with the description of the sheep from the northern strain and from the Vendeé and the strain of the Jardin des Plantes from Paris. Most were still found in Loire Atlantique, Morbihan, Vendeé, Maine et Loire, Sarthe, and Indre et Loire. All those animals fed the blood of Goulaine’s lines
Paul Abbé found four different tribes, each with their specific characteristics:
- 1. 10 animals in the Jardin des Plantes te Paris: all black with nice frames, beautifully placed horns and some big size
- 2. 250 animals in the department of Morbihan: predominantly black, a minority of white, with few exceptions after moderate horns and a small size
- 3. 90 animals in the department of Vendeé: all black with beautiful, sufficiently well-spaced horns and slightly large size
- 4. 12 animals of a northern strain, all black with beautiful frames, beautifully spaced horns and some big size This inventory shows that there were differences between the four tribes. The Morbihan tribe is by far the largest and is undoubtedly of major influence on the current population. A larger size is reported from the other three groups. These tribes have formed the starting material for the present Old-age sheep population. The spread of the land, the different insights, the basis of breeders and the way in which they were selected resulted in heterogeneity, which did not occur in the original breed.
The second import of Frans Haccou and Evert Jan van Tongeren came from Abbé. These sheep were different from type, smaller, slightly shorter with curly coat and slightly shorter head and wider beak. The current differences in the type of Dutch Ouessantschapen population can still be observed. The uniformity has grown even though there is still variation in type.
Paul Abbé founded the breeders’ association Groupement des Eleveurs de Moutons d’Ouessant (abbreviated GEMO) in 1970, of whom he was chairman for many years. Paul Abbé was a breeder and president of G.E.M.O. For many years played a very important role in the Ouessant Sheep Breeding and the ancient sheep breed was was preserved from extinction and reconstructed.
Ed. Next issue will be how the Dutch obtained their first Ouessants and about some of the Dutch breeders and their bloodlines which influence some of our Ouessants here today.
Author: Henk Slaghuis