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.
Author: Marie Clarke