The smallest sheep breed in Europe is the Ouessant sheep, also called Breton dwarf sheep. These dwarf sheep from France are also becoming increasingly popular among hobby farmers, because they are robust and small and therefore do not make great demands on the attitude.
Learn more about these lovely dwarf sheep in our guide.
Origin: Where does the Ouessant sheep come from?
The dwarf sheep come from the French island of Ouessant, which is located west of the Breton coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Sheep were kept there as livestock for many centuries. The harsh climate on the island, which is barely 16 square kilometers in size, the sparse vegetation and the year-round outdoor husbandry presumably meant that the animals were particularly well adapted.
The Ouessanten sheep became extremely undemanding and increasingly smaller in relation to other sheep breeds on the mainland. Experts consider another reason for their small size to be the fact that large-bodied animals were slaughtered early and not used for mating.
In the middle of the 19th century, there are said to have been about 6,000 Ouessanten sheep on the small island. In the course of industrialization, their population dwindled to so few specimens that the breed almost fell into oblivion.
Thanks to targeted conservation measures in the 1970s, the lovable dwarf sheep breed was able to recover and has since spread – for example, in landscape conservation, in animal parks or as a pet and ecological “lawn mower” for private owners.
Breed characteristics of Breton dwarf sheep
What does the Ouessant sheep look like?
The Dwarf sheep has an almost rectangular build (when viewed from above) with comparatively long, slender legs.
The head is dainty and wooly up to the forehead. In the ram, the head is slightly rammed.
The short tail is also woolly and ends above the hock.
The fleece is mixed wool with a very dense, fine undercoat. In bucks, a “tie” of longer awn hairs often forms on the lower neck, nape and forelegs.
The short ears are somewhat erect.
The topline is straight and the pelvis is large.
The female dwarf sheep is usually hornless or bears only a small, non-ossified horn base. In contrast, rams develop strong, once-turned horns similar to those of a mouflon.
What color are Ouessant sheep?
Originally the Ouessant sheep were black. Most Ouessant sheep are still black (over 70% of all animals). But gray, white, brown or mold colored animals are also allowed for the breed.
How big and how heavy are Breton dwarf sheep?
Adult rams should have a maximum shoulder height of 49 centimeters with a weight of 15 to 20 kilograms.
Female Sheep (Flocks):
The dams are much smaller with a maximum of 46 centimeters and 13 to 16 kilograms.
The birth weight of lambs is only one to two kilograms.
What are the peculiarities of the Breton Dwarf sheep?
Some animals of this breed develop so-called “bells”. Bells are small skin protrusions on the underside of the neck, like those usually seen on goats. You need to watch for them when shearing. A cut bell will not grow back.
The wool contains a lot of lanolin. This becomes noticeable during shearing by quickly clogging the clippers.
Husbandry: How to keep Ouessant sheep?
Sheep are moving animals and need a lot of space. However, compared to other breeds of sheep, the dwarf sheep is content with a much smaller amount of space. As herd animals, they are happy to have conspecifics. As a rough guideline, a grazing area of 1,000 square meters serves for keeping at least three dwarf sheep. However, the quality of the forage available on this area is also decisive for the size.
You can set up a rotational pasture. With a rotational pasture, you provide the animals with a fresh area of pasture at regular intervals. Since sheep are very selective eaters and focus on the tasty, lush grasses first, a lot of forage will otherwise be trampled on a pasture that is too large. You can also keep the endoparasite load low with a rotational grazing system. The excreted larvae die on the grazed area due to sunlight and heat before the sheep graze on that section again.
You must adapt the fencing of the grazing area to local conditions. A fence height of 80 to 100 centimeters is sufficient to prevent the dwarf sheep from crossing over, but to ward off possible predators (fox, dog or even wolf), you should design the fence accordingly higher. Mobile electric sheep nets can also be considered. Since the lambs are very small and slender, you must pay attention to a close-meshed fence mesh with a maximum mesh size of 10 centimeters, especially near the ground.
For weather protection, a simple shelter closed on three sides is sufficient for the robust Ouessant sheep. It protects against rain and from strong sunlight. As a rule, a permanent stable is not necessary, as the animals can survive a Central European winter in an open stable. However, if there is massive snowfall, you will have to find another solution in order not to endanger the dwarf sheep with its small body size.
Bucks and ewes can be kept together all year round, as this breed has a strictly seasonal heat from October to early January. At about seven to eight months, the females are sexually mature and can be occupied for the first time. Between March and May the lambs are born. Almost always single lambs are born, twin births are the exception and are not sought after for breeding purposes.
Can Breton Dwarf sheep be kept in the garden?
If you want to keep sheep in the garden, you will definitely need a large plot of land – as mentioned above: for three dwarf sheep at least 1,000 square meters. In themselves, the dwarf sheep are undemanding and easy to care for. However, when keeping them, as with any other animal husbandry, you must observe the principles of the Animal Welfare Act. This means, among other things, that you must feed, care for and house them according to their species and needs. This means, among other things, that you must ensure that the animals have suitable food, always fresh water and protection from the weather. As a keeper, you must have the appropriate expertise.
You also need to prepare your garden for the Ouessant sheep:
Poisonous plants must be removed.
With a fence you ensure that the animals do not run away and are protected from predators.
With a browsing guard on trees you ensure that they do not eat the bark of the trees in the garden.
Feeding: What do Breton dwarf sheep eat?
The most important food source for the dwarf sheep, which are ruminants, is fresh green forage such as grasses and forbs. However, even sparser forage still provides good nutrients for the animal’s particular digestive system.
Depending on the available pasture area, hay can or must be fed year-round. Very young, high protein grass in the spring can cause digestive problems. Therefore, after a snowy winter or being housed on dry feed, you should first slowly acclimate the animals to fresh grass. Leaves and twigs of non-toxic and unsprayed woody plants are also eaten with pleasure.
In winter, feeding for the dwarf sheep consists mainly of high-quality hay, which at best could be harvested in the summer on their own pastures. If you place the sheep hayracks at head height, you will prevent the feed from becoming contaminated with feces, urine or mud.
Fresh feed and concentrates
Dwarf sheep also like to eat fresh feed such as turnips or root crops. As a rule, the robust Ouessant sheep do not need special concentrated feed in the form of grain, corn or pelleted dry feed. On the contrary, such feed can cause digestive problems in the long run.
Very important for the health of the dwarf sheep is a sufficient supply of minerals and trace elements. Special salt licks or bowls for sheep should therefore be part of the permanent supply on the pasture or in the barn.
NOTE: Mineral mixtures for other animal species, such as horses, contain high levels of copper, which is toxic to sheep. You must pay special attention to this, for example, if you keep sheep together with other grazing animals.
Water requirements for extensively grazed animals depend, among other things, on the ambient temperature and the moisture content of the feed. Ewes require more water during the lactation period, and confinement to a barn with only dry feed, such as in winter, also drives up water requirements. In general, you need to make sure your sheep have access to fresh clean drinking water at all times. Connectable sheep waterers provide the animals with optimal water.
Usage: How are Breton Dwarf sheep used today?
The breeding goal is a hardy and undemanding sheep with low feed and other care requirements. The Ouessant sheep is therefore used in particular for the following areas:
Landscape maintenance, even on the smallest areas
Ecological “lawn mower” in private, but also commercial or public green areas
Care: What about shearing, hoof care & Co. with Ouessant sheep?
You have to shear the dense wool of the Ouessant sheep once a year. The best time for shearing is in early summer, around mid-June, when the so-called “sheep cold” has passed. The higher the outside temperature during shearing, the easier it is for the wool, which contains a lot of lanolin, to come off. At best, a professional and patient sheep shearer will take over this task.
TIP: You can find out more about shearing sheep in our guide “Shearing sheep properly – Everything you need to know about shearing sheep here”.
Depending on the mobility and grazing surface, you must also ensure that your animals have sufficient hoof care to prevent malpositioning of the limbs and hoof diseases such as limping.
To prevent your animals from becoming weakened or even sick due to infestation with parasites such as worms, mites or hair lice, you should discuss with your veterinarian how you can treat the animals preventively.
TIP: The Interessengemeinschaft Ouessantschaf e. V. promotes the breeding and keeping of Ouessant sheep in Germany. Here you can get in contact with other owners and breeders and for example exchange questions about dwarf sheep keeping.
Buying Breton Dwarf Sheep – What you have to consider!
In addition to the above-mentioned requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, you must comply with the provisions of the Livestock Traffic Ordinance and register your sheep with the competent authority. For this purpose, you must provide your name, address, number of animals kept on an annual average, type of use and location.
But there are also other legal regulations to consider when keeping Ouessant sheep. These include, for example, the Animal Welfare Transport Ordinance, the Feed Law and the Building Law.
Even though dwarf sheep are uncomplicated to keep, you should plan at least half an hour a day for the animals to be checked and cared for. Remember, the animals want to be cared for even on weekends. Do you have someone to look after them even during your vacation? All this should be considered before you buy animals for your garden.
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