The assured truths miss to attribute credible previous history to the race of Ouessant. Several hypotheses currently circulate :
1 °) One supposes the importance of natural selection. Certainly the island of Ouessant (Brittany), excessively windy, devoid of trees and offering few natural protections would have been able to favor the small animals. This explanation is partially acceptable in view of the small size which characterizes cows and horses on islands in the rough climate.
2 °) human selection would be more decisive. On the island of Ouessant sheep were raised in community. Now if the adults were identified by a cut with the ear registered in the city hall, lambs were not. During the sharing each had advantage in choosing the biggest lambs. A selection was then established because only the sickest animals assured reproduction. However, no serious study has confirmed this hypothesis yet!
3 °) Some assert that the black would prevail because of a selection wanted by sailors’wives to make tissues without artificial tints. Nervertheless old photos and picture postcards show mainly white animals !
4 °) After the extension of the markets which privileged the heavy English races, the small sheep would have been practically eliminated from the landscape of the island towards 1925-1935.
5 °) Another comment, not still demonstrated, assured that these animals transported by the Greek cargo boat ” Mykonos ” which made wreck on Ouessant, sheep of badly identified race would have finished interbreeding!
A rigorous historic search should be made. If you possess documents or information it is with pleasure that we shall publish them on this site. When Mister Abbé and his friends began the rescue of the race in 1976, they relied on the herds of the continent used to decorate big domestic properties. Most of these continental breedings come from the livestock of De GOULAINES’ family which possessed sheep of Ouessant for at least 100 years in their property of Saint Etienne de Corcoué in the country of Loire-Atlantique.
Due to the work of the G.E.M.O. the French herds go from 486 animals in 1977 to 3128 in 1996. It is thanks to its function of domestic animal that Ouessant’s sheep survived through this XX ° century. A standard, clearly established by ” the pioneers of the rescue ” and privileging aesthetic characters, now allows the motivated breeders to stabilize the race so as to guarantee its perpetuity.
Recent studies and the chromosome analysis confirm that the domestic sheeps (Ovis aries) come mainly from the mouflon of Asia Minor ( Ovis musimon), the smallest of all the sorts of mouflons. The biggest being Marco Polo’s mouflon in Central Asia ( Ovis Ammon) with exceeding horns 1.9 m of length. Urial ( Ovis Orientalis) is classified in an intermediate size. As for the bighorn and for Dall’s mouflon, they represent North American variety show. And it is in Africa (Sahara) that one meets the mouflon with cuffs but it is not not a sheep. But the mouflon with cuffs is more a goat than a sheep.
Resisting to coldness as well as heat, the domestic sheep shows itself capable of valuing the poorest meadows : mountains, steppes, plains, islands… we also met him on all the continents and under all the latitudes. Devoid of aggressiveness, he lives in an organized herd which submits itself to the dominant male. In case of danger, the individuals gather in a compact group which flees. Mouflons do not try to defend their territory, they base their survival on nomadism. The rustic races preserved this capacity of walking. The mouflon passed on to sheeps a very developed sensibility: good sight, heard fine, and excel smell.
The sheep spends a lot of time grazing by walking. The ruminant’s stomach is divided into four pockets of which the most voluminous is named the paunch. It stores the grass and assures a first decomposition of the cellulose in comparable products by fermentation. During the rest of the sheep this food is resurgited then slowly re-chewed. The fruit of this chewing will resume the road of the oesophagus, will pass in transit by the reticulum and the omasum to reach the rennet bag where the real attack with the gastric juice will begin . This specific digestion in the ruminating explains their inclination to lying rest.
It is a school of patience which requires time and develops the sense of the observation…
The sheep breeder will find it to be a fascinating adventure because of all the animals of the farm he is probably the least domesticated, the shiest, the most rebel. This makes him attractive as much as unpleasant : those that disdain that ” heap of alive and stupid meat ” pronounces a hasty and erroneous judgment. In fact there are the attitude of the herdsman and the circumstances of breeding which condition the reactions of a herd.
The sheep is effectively a very particular and strange companion: he does not look for caresses and stays in respectable distance when one approaches. He is afraid of any new presence, adapts himself with difficulty to changes, does not obey orders, does not bear any constraint and runs away in unusual noises! So enters the small lamb that the children caress for some minutes and the daily of a grown-up, gregarious and fearful sheep, there is a gap which risks to disappoint many families of amateurs.
MOUSTIQUE, 15 days old.
The spirit of the breeder relaxes in the presence of such independent animals . The essential activity consists in watching them living: the herd grazes by walking slowly, then ruminates and sleeps. The dominant ewe gives the signal of the flight, on the contrary the quitest pulls the herd in the sheepfold. The shepherd keeps an eye on them : speculates on the development of a lamb, tracks down the social organization, notices individual behavior and watch the changes of attitude which gives evidence of a disease or a birth to come.
Characteristic attitude of the males.
Peace, silence and slowness are essential to the sheperd accepted with its animals. He visits them every day, rather at the same moment , brings a greed, reassures them, listens and observes.
It is surely a school of patience which requires time and develops the sense of the observation.
Breeding sheep requires qualities which the beginner does not possess necessarily. But after some months the breeder notices that he is more domesticated with his sheeps than these last ones are with him! Only the acceptance of this reality enables a better knowledge of oneself and authorizes progress in the behaviour of the breeding.