The Ouessant, also known as Ushant, Breton Island Dwarf, or Mouton d’Ouessant, is the smallest domesticated sheep in the world.
A mature Ousessant ewe stands 18 inches tall at the shoulders, while mature rams measure 19 inches at shoulder height. The Ouessant originates from Ile d’Ouessant island, off the Coast of Brittany, France.
The Ouessant sheep breed was initially popular on Ouessant island in France until the early 20th century. Today, the breed is found in several parts of the US; California and Massachusetts, and most European countries
Below is all you need to know about the Ouessant sheep, including behavior and care.
History of The Ouessant Sheep Breed
The Ouessant draws its name from Ouessant Island, France, where it was first domesticated. The sheep breed is closely related to the North European short-tail breed.
Originally, Morbihan and the Vendeen were the only two lines of sheep breeds on Ouessant Island. However, the two later merged to produce the single line of the Ouessant.
The Ouessant sheep breed almost went extinct in the mid-1900s due to insufficient grazing land. However, aristocrats who allowed them to graze on land near their chateaux saved the still not-so-popular breed.
It’s believed that their small stature is due to the lack of enough grazing ground from the early time on Ouessant island.
To date, the Ouessants are famous for their small frame—18 inches shoulder height for the ewes and 19 inches for the rams. The sheep weighs 45 pounds on average.
Despite their petite bodies, Ouessants grow a thick undercoat with a dense fleece of high-quality long wool. Many farmers keep Ouessants for their quality and versatile fleece, suitable for hand spinning, felting, and weaving.
Quick Facts About The Ouessant Sheep Breed
|Country of origin||Brittany, France|
|Breed purpose||Wool, hobby|
|Mature body weight||45 pounds (for both sexes)|
|Average fiber diameter||25-28 microns|
|Grease fleece weight||6lbs|
|Fleece staple length||3 to 5 inches|
Characteristics of Ouessant Sheep
You’ll mostly find Ouessants in black, dark brown, and white colors. Rams have large horns curled in one spiral, while the ewes are hornless.
Black and dark brown Ouessants grow dark horns. The white ones have light-colored horns. The Ouessant sheep breed also grows short tails, which are not docked.
Many farmers keep Ouessants for their impressive wool production. Wool on their bodies covers almost every part. This includes cheeks, forehead, and in rare cases, even the legs.
Their estrous cycle is quite similar to other sheep breeds. Their lactation period is around 240 days.
And while Ouessants are not good milk producers compared to breeds in the same category, they can produce enough milk for up to 180 days to nourish their young ones.
Typical Behavior of Ouessant Sheep Breed
The Ouessants are strong and hardy. They survive better, even in areas with scarce grazing opportunities.
They adapt well to various climates, and like most breeds, they come into heat for 15 to 20 days on average. Their breeding cycle is approximately 24 to 36 hours.
The Ouessant sheep are more sensitive to their surroundings. They can sense threats and danger from over a hundred feet away.
As a result, they tend to graze and stick together for protection from predators.
Advantages of Ouessant Sheep
Both ram and ewe Ouessants make good pets, thanks to their small frames and friendliness.
They are mainly kept for wool production.
In addition, their low temperament means they are easy to handle. This makes them a good choice for small hobby sheep farmers.
The Ouessant sheep are great for controlling grass in orchards. Since they are typically small, you don’t have to worry about any damage to your trees.
Disadvantages of Ouessant Sheep
Commercial viability is the greatest undoing of the Ouessant sheep breed. Despite their high-quality wool production, you may need to keep a significant number to produce enough wool for the market.
Furthermore, they have low carcass quality compared to other meat sheep breeds.
Additionally, they take a long time to mature—the growth cycle exceeds 3 years.
And finally, Ouessants have low production rates as they almost give birth to one lamb at a time.
Taking Care of the Ouessant Sheep Breed
Caring for the Ouessant sheep is relatively easy compared to other sheep breeds, thanks to their low feeding needs and adaptability to various climates.
Here are helpful tips on caring for Ouessants for maximum profitability.
- Ouessant sheep are prey animals. As a result, they love to stay together as a flock to watch each other against predators. Aim to keep several on your farm to give them emotional protection when they stick together.
- Ouessants also have fast wool growth that requires shearing at least once yearly to keep them fresh and charming.
- Due to their tiny bodies, the Ouessant sheep require attention to ensure they are not trapped in fences or other objects.
- Check and trim their hooves whenever necessary and pay attention to any worms, which may signify a need for treatment for internal parasites.
- Ensure they have enough clean water. You may add feed supplements in extremely deplorable feeding conditions, such as during winter, to provide essential nutrients.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ouessant Sheep
Below are common questions people ask about the rare Ouessant sheep breed.
What are Ouessant sheep breeds good for?
The Ouessant sheep are primarily kept for wool or as a hobby for those who love sheep as pets.
How big does a mature Ouessant sheep get?
A mature Ouessant ram measures 19 inches tall at the shoulder, while ewes measure 18 inches at peak maturity. The average weight of a mature Ouessant sheep is 45 pounds.
Do all Ouessants have horns?
Male Ouessants develop horns, which are usually curled in one spiral. Their female counterparts do not grow horns at all, even at maturity.
Do Ouessants need shearing?
The Ouessant sheep are famous for their high wool production, which requires shearing at least once yearly.
The Ouessant sheep are kept mainly for their high-quality wool. But due to their tiny bodies and friendly attitude, many small-scale farmers keep them as pets. As a result, they thrive even in extreme conditions and rarely get sick.
And while many people prefer keeping the Ouessant sheep for wool, meat, and as a hobby, others are keen on preserving the rare breed, which almost became extinct at some point.