On the usual dull trip to the supermarket, I was amazed to see a small flock of sheep clustered around trees in the storage grounds of one of champagne houses - Castelnau. I couldn't wait to come back to take a closer look!
These fine beasts have been brought in to operate an eco-friendly grazing mission on the scrubby grass and it is not the first time that these 'green sheep' have been called upon to maintain the land in Reims. The cemetery has already benefited from the services of these live lawn-mowers and trimmers. Sadly, and I think perhaps predictably, this does not always end well for the poor animals in question as there have already been cases in other regions of France wherein the sheep are stolen and taken away for barbeque purposes, or simply butchered on the spot in the most barbaric manner, presumably in the same aim. The joy of seeing pretty creatures pasturing on otherwise non-descript land obviously does not register in the minds of individuals capable of carrying out such acts. Anyway, I was thrilled to see them, and to notice that a number of beehives have been installed in the same area.
Eco-grazing animals also include horses, donkeys and goats, but some tend to get a little too enthusiastic in their feeding habits! The sheep here are Moutons d'Ouessant, a hardy breed originating on the island off the coast of Brittany.
The breed's numbers dwindled dramatically in the early part of the 20th century, to the point that it died out on the island in the 30s. Since the 1970s however, an association - GEMO (Groupement des Eleveurs de Moutons d'Ouessant) has fought to safeguard its existence and support its promotion.
The Ouessant sheep are noticeably small - at about 35-40 cm in height - and therefore do not yield a great deal of meat. A distinctive feature is the horns, possessed by the rams alone. These are impressive, flattened forms that loop around over the back of the head toward their shoulders, growing back toward the face.
The Ouessant fleece is generally dark brown or black but pale cream exists too, as in the sheep in the grounds here. This lighter colouring is said to be due to cross-breeding for increased meat production and is therefore not characteristic of the pure Ouessant breed. The rams with the intense black wool did look a little sinister from certain angles! Males also bear a rather impressive ruff of wool around their necks, framing the head.
Although sheep of any breed are not known for great intelligence, I did think these had a rather interesting look in their eyes, which are a beautiful golden colour.
I hope this little flock will stay safe and that this will lead to other eco-grazing projects around the urban landscape.