There may be more than 1000 distinct sheep breeds worldwide, but the tiniest of them all has made its debut at the Lake District Wildlife Park near Keswick.
The pint-sized Ouessant sheep were originally named after the French island of Ouessant, off the coast of Brittany. They are renowned as the smallest naturally occurring breed of sheep globally, with a fully-grown ram standing at just 45cm at shoulder height.
Lovingly nicknamed as the ‘oh la la’ sheep by Keepers at the Lake District Wildlife Park, Dee Dee and Donna have arrived from their previous home ‘Wild Discovery’ in Lancashire, as part of a joint initiative to ensure the survival of rare breed domestic farm animals.
The dainty sheep are currently on the EU and UK lists of ‘at risk’ rare and heritage breeds, and staff at the Lake District Wildlife Park are now hoping to find mates for the pair as part of a longer-term breeding programme.
Sailors visiting Ouessant originally recorded sightings of the breed back in the 1750s. Two centuries later they had completely disappeared from the island and only survived due to flocks being exported to villas and chateaux in mainline France during the 19th century. As recently as the 1970s, there were less than 500 Ouessant sheep worldwide.
Manager of the Lake District Wildlife Park, Richard Robinson says, “These latest additions are tiny sheep, but they have big personalities! Inquisitive, intelligent and known for their hardiness, Dee Dee and Donna have adapted quickly to their new surroundings here in Cumbria and are already a big hit with the keepers.”
The Ouessant sheep join two other sheep breeds at the Wildlife Park; the Cameroon sheep from West Africa and a flock of Soay sheep, which descend from a population of feral sheep in the Western Isles of Scotland.