As new Ouessant owners/breeders we have asked many questions ourselves since we started, and continue to do so. If you need to seek advice there are several ways that you can do so.
There is a members forum within the website of the Ouessant Sheep Society of Great Britain. There are also several very good facebook groups devoted to Ouessant Sheep which you can join without being a member of the Society. These groups have a lot of very experienced owners/breeders amoungst their membership who in our experience are always willing to help. We have used all of these to learn and they, along with lots of comprehensive advice from our breeder and our vet, have given us the knowledge that we have so far. We know that we still have much to learn and as we continue to learn we will share this knowledge via this page.
Below are some of the questions that we have asked so far. We hope they are helpful to other new or prospective owners.
Do Ouessant Sheep require a lot of looking after?
No. Ouessants do not typically require a lot of management. They require fresh water, grass, hay when grass is particularly poor and a mineralised salt block.
What kind of environment will I need to provide for my Ouessants?
They will need a small shelter to protect them from the extremes of the weather. Paddocks should be fenced and gated to prevent escape, but in our experience, Ouessants are not great escape artists. Fence posts should be sturdy for paddocks containing rams, as they do like to use them to practice their butting skills!
It is also advisable to check the place where you intend to keep your sheep for poisonous plants.
Do Ouessants get sick frequently?
No. Ouessants are not as susceptible to common sheep ailments, such as foot rot or parasites as many other breeds. Feet rarely need trimming, maintenance should really just be a yearly shear and foot check. Worming is discussed further down.
Being low maintenance makes them ideal for first time sheep keepers. Owners should however be observant and learn to spot any potential problems early. We would also suggest that a new owner registers with a large animal/farm vet so that they are to quickly to hand if ever needed.
What type of Mineralised Salt Lick can I use for Ouessants?
You will need to choose one that states that it is suitable for sheep. Do not select one that contains copper as it is toxic to sheep. For a small number of sheep you can buy the stable size ones, which are about the same size as a house brick. Generally they can be found in the horse section of your local feed merchant, as the field ones are very large and heavy. We use “Rockies” salt licks, the yellow ones.
Do I need to Vaccinate my Ouessants?
This is a matter of personal choice. We were advised to, and agree, that it is best to vaccinate against the most common sheep ailments, as do many other breeders. We use Heptivac P+. There is detailed information about this vaccine available online.
The manufacturers literature advises that
Lambs - Can be given their 1st dose from 3 weeks of age. This must be followed by a 2nd dose 4-6 weeks later. They will require a yearly booster thereafter. The dosage for lambs is the same as for adults 2ml.
Adult Sheep not Previously Vaccinated – These animals will require two doses separated by an interval of 4-6 weeks. In adult breeding ewes, the second
2ml dose should ideally be administered 4-6 weeks prior to lambing as this will give the lambs protection for the first month of their life, until they receive their own course.
Boosters - A booster injection needs to be given not more than 12 months after the last one. In adult breeding ewes these yearly booster injections should ideally be given 4-6 weeks prior to lambing. If the booster date is missed the animal should be started on a new course.
Our vet has advised us that it is safe to vaccinate more than once a year with Heptivac P+. Therefore over time you will probably want to bring your booster vaccinations into synch for all animals, and with your tupping schedule, to reduce the number of bottles you have to buy. If you are unsure whether or not your sheep have previously been vaccinated our vet advised that in this scenario it is best to start a fresh course of two injections 4-6 weeks apart. In our experience vets are always happy to advise on vaccinations.
Heptivac can be obtained from your vet and some country stores. If not buying from your vet, be sure to check that it has been stored correctly as it is a live vaccine that must be kept in the correct conditions to remain viable. You will also need to do a little planning around vaccination time as the vaccine only remains active for a number of hours after it is opened. All of this is detailed in the leaflet that accompanies it.
There are many other types of vaccine for sheep, targeting many different things. The owner is advised to consult their vet about what might be relevant for their flock.
Will I need a Holding Number to keep Ouessants and where do I get one?
Yes. If you live in England, Scotland or Wales you will need a CPH number (County Parish Holding Number) before delivery. This will also be needed for the movement form which will accompany the sheep in transit. Follow the link below for more information. There will obviously be different rules applicable to other countries.
What is a movement form?
In the UK, a movement form is a form that needs to be completed when certain livestock (including sheep) are moved between holdings. When you buy your Ouessants, the person selling them to you will complete the form and give you copies. The form will list the breeders details and your own, plus details of the individual animals to be moved, identifying them by their ear tag numbers. You will both need to send signed copies of your respective parts of the form to DEFRA to record the movement. Please follow the link below for more details.
There is also an online submission website with which you can register to record movements. Please follow the link below for more details.
When I buy my Ouessants, how do I know if they are registered and how do I change their ownership with the Society?
If a sheep is registered with the Society the breeder will have a certificate for each registered animal, which was issued by the Society . If you are unsure that the certificate is genuine you should contact the Society to verify the information that you have been given before you buy your sheep.
In order to change the ownership of the sheep into your name you will first need to be a member of the Ouessant Sheep Society of Great Britain. You then need to complete and return the small “tear off” portion on the bottom of the individual registration certificates that will be given to you by the person selling them to you. The Society will then return to you a new certificate showing you as the owner.
Once you are an established member, details of your registered flock will be added to the online flock book and many of the changes relating to your flock can be done online.
What is the gestation period for Ouessants?
The generally accepted gestation period is 152 days. However, an experienced breeder has advised us that she has had ewes lamb as early as 146 days or as late as 159 days. One method to avoid too much calculation, is to put the ram with the ewes on Bonfire Night (November 5th) and expect lambs around April Fools Day (April 1st).
There is a Gestation table available via the Ouessant Sheep Society of Great Britain. A copy of the link has been added below.
How old does a ewe need to be before she is used for breeding?
There are differing opinions on this. Some breeders do not put lambs born in early spring with the ram in November as they consider them to be too small and too young to give birth. Some breeders have reported an increased instance of the need for caesarean births from using very young females. These breeders would not put the ewe to the ram until the following year.
Some other breeders state that they have bred from the current years lambs with no issues.
With our flock, in this first year of breeding, we based this decision on the size of the ewe lamb. We had one that was quite big and robust looking and she went to the ram in November and gave birth with no issues. We had another that was much smaller and delicate looking, she still looked like a baby. We did not put her to the ram until early the following year and she gave birth in August, by which time she had grown a bit bigger. There were no problems with the birth, but I would not have been comfortable doing it earlier based upon her size.
At what age do ewes stop producing lambs?
There are reports of ewes lambing into their mid-teens. Like most animals it will depend on the individual and the correct care, for example not being too fat. We have not yet reached this age for any of our ewes so cannot yet comment on this from personal experience.
How will I know if my ewe is pregnant?
In this, our first year, we found it very difficult to know whether or not our ewes were in lamb. The advice from the vet was that the only way to really be sure is to have the ewes scanned. This was not cost effective for our little flock so we took the wait and see approach.
Although some of our girls certainly looked pregnant, some did not look as big. For us, with our first time lambers, it was not until about two weeks before the actual lambing, when the ewes began to develop their udders, that we could be sure. I am told that for a first time lamber the udder can remain quite small until they actually give birth, which can add to the uncertainty.
The only other indicator that we will also look for next year is the behaviour of the ram. With Samson, we saw a change in his behaviour towards the individual girls. He started chasing certain ones away and butting them. We took the ones he was butting out when this started and sure enough they gave birth in exactly the same order as his changes of behaviour towards them took place. He obviously has a way to know after a few weeks, even if we don’t!
Do I need to worm my Ouessants?
Worming is another area where there are differing opinions. Many owners do not worm routinely, but instead use their vet to carry out faecal worm egg counts. If they get a negative result there is no need to worm. If they get a positive result the exact type of worm can be targeted. This approach seems to be the most popular for Ouessants.
Others worm routinely (our vet advised twice a year) rotating each year between the clear, yellow and white type wormers to help reduce the instance of resistance to the treatments.
There is a great deal of information online about worms and worming, which it is not practical to reproduce here. This leaflet we found particularly useful in selecting which products to use when we needed to (Click Here to see PDF version of leaflet)
Where can I buy Ear Tags and which type might I want to consider buying?
Because of the small size of Ouessant ears, you will want the smallest ear tags that you can find. We purchased “Bubblegum Combo B” from www.fearing.co.uk, having been advised that these are the smallest, and they are indeed quite small. However we have subsequently been made aware of www.daltontags.co.uk, which I am told do a slightly smaller tag with a smaller shaft.
After seeing my link to their site, Dalton very kindly sent me some samples. Below are pictures for comparison.
Please note that I am not specifically recommending either one, this is purely for information, and you will need to make your own decision as to which tags you wish to use for your sheep. Click on images to see full size version.
I have also subsequently been made aware of Shearwell ear tags http://www.shearwell.co.uk/c/149I which I am advised are also very small tags suitable for Ouessants. Below are some pictures of the Shearwell tags next to the "Bubblegum Combo B. Click on images to see full size version.
At what age should Ouessant lambs be weaned?
Lambs should be weaned at 16 weeks of age. Some will wean themselves, but some will not, therefore it is prudent to separate them from the ewes for a while to ensure that they are successfully weaned. When weaning your lambs you should keep an eye on your ewes for signs of mastitis.
Which plants are poisonous to sheep?
Please see this link for details.
Some of my ewes had late lambs. Can these ewes still go to the tupp this year ?
In this, our first full year of breeding Ouessants, two of our ewes did not get pregnant during their first time with the ram. We don't know why, but perhaps it was all of the change and that they needed time to settle down after their arrival. However, this meant that we had two lambs born in August. This gave me the need to ask this question myself.
The advice was that the first and most important thing is to successfully wean the lambs at 16 weeks. Separate them from the ewes at this point. Give the ewes 2-4 weeks to rest and for their udders to dry up. When the ewes have put on some condition (some weight, but not fat) they can be put with the ram. We were advised that their not being thin and tired is very important, but that if they are generally in good condition, as the embryo in the ewe does not grow very much until the latter stages of pregnancy, they will get a little additional time to pick up condition during this time as well. This may mean that you get late lambs again the following year, but over a number of years you can get them back into the normal cycle. The other equally valid option of course is to give them a year off and breed from them the following year.
How long should I leave my ewes in with the ram?
The ewes should be left in with the ram for a minimum of 34 days.
However, we were advised that in some instances, especially where the ewes is in with the ram for the first time, some can take longer to become pregnant. We were advised that this is because sometimes the ram going in with them causes them to come into a “false” oestrus which is not fertile, then if they do not take on the next “true” season you are looking at the third season at 9 weeks. Therefore for first timers, or if you want to avoid this scenario, you can consider leaving the ram in for 10 weeks.
What gender of Ouessants should I buy if I don't intend to breed them ?
If you do not intend to breed your sheep you will not want a Ram (an intact male). Rams can be aggressive and should not be petted, as this removes their fear of humans, which in an aggressive animal can be dangerous. Rams most definitely should not be handled by children or people who are not strong enough to control them. If you only want sheep as pets or as organic lawnmowers you will want either ewes or wethers (castrated males). Both ewes and wethers have the same friendly gentle temperament. Ewes are far more expensive than wethers. As pets or lawnmowers wethers are equally as good, more readily available and much cheaper than ewes.
How many Ouessants can I keep on my available grazing land and what can I do when the grass become poorer in winter?
We were advised by our breeder, when we increased the size of our flock, that the normal ratio is 12 to the acre. During periods of time when the grass cannot fully support all of your animals and becomes nutritionally poor (normally late autumn to eary spring) clean dry hay should be readily available at all times.
How long do Ouessant Sheep live ?
A healthy Ouessant can live into its teens. Bought as pets they can be expected to have a similar lifespan to a medium sized domestic dog. Ewes can continue to produce lambs into their early teens if healthy.
How can I increase the chances of getting the of colour lambs that I want?
In order to try and better understand sheep colour genetics, in relation to the production of black, white and caramel (brown) lambs, we collated information freely available in the public domain into the chart below. You are welcome to use this chart but please be aware that for us this is a work in progress, which may not yet be 100% accurate. This information will be updated as we prove or disprove these couplings and move forward with our breeding programme.
In order to give credit where it is due it is important to state that the information used to create this chart was collated using information published on the following websites:
Please remember that you should always consult your vet for advice as to what is appropriate for your own flock
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