ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Pets and Animals»
  • Farm Animals & Livestock

Drenthe Heath Sheep = Drents Heideschaap

Updated on July 20, 2017
Titia profile image

I raise and breed sheep for over 30 years. My breed is the oldest and most rare Dutch native breed, called Drenthe Heath Sheep.

Drenthe Heath Sheep - Drents Heideschaap
Drenthe Heath Sheep - Drents Heideschaap | Source

The Oldest Native Sheep Breed of the Netherlands Is the Drenthe Heath Sheep

The Netherlands have 5 different native Heath Sheep breeds of which the Drenthe Heath Sheep is the oldest. These sheep were roaming our country as far back as the 14th century.

It's the only native horned breed in my country and rams as well as ewes have horns. The sheep can survive harsh winters, it is multi colored, self supporting and it's one of the most beautiful sheep breed I know. They're still very close to nature and hardly lost their natural instinct.


I've been raising these sheep for over 30 years now.

5 Native Heath Sheep Breeds

The Netherlands Has 5 Native Heath Sheep Breeds

5 Dutch native sheep breeds
5 Dutch native sheep breeds | Source

Sheep Were and Still Are Kept in Big Herds

drenthe heath sheep
drenthe heath sheep | Source

Short History of This Beautiful Old Sheep Breed

Sheep are one of the oldest domesticated farm animals. The Drenthe Heath Sheep is the oldest breed of the main land of Western Europe. Sheep with great similarities were found in the Dutch province Drenthe as far back as about 4000 BC and it probably came along with French immigrants. This breed is therefore the last remnant of the way sheep were held as far back as 6000 years.

In the old days The Netherlands were covered with big heath fields of which you can still find larger and smaller areas scattered throughout the country. Contrary to the more improved breeds, these sheep are capable of surviving on the arid heath fields.

In the last centuries these Drenthe Heath Sheep have contributed in a large way to the improvement of Agricultural grounds.

Drenthe Heath Sheep in the Netherlands

Dutch heather fields with sheep
Dutch heather fields with sheep | Source

Why Is the Sheep Breed Named After the Province of Drenthe?

The Drenthe Heath Sheep were named after the Province of Drenthe in The Netherlands, because it was there that they were found most. Drenthe is a province that still harbors the largest heath fields and as the farming land was poor, the farmers were poor, so they used the sheep to fertilize their fields and it had to be a sheep that could survive the harsh winters on little extra food.

Selection occurred mostly in a natural way. The most hardened sheep survived, just like it happens with animals living in the wild. Ewes that rejected their lamb, got slaughtered for food. Those sheep needed endurance, because they had to roam the heath fields for hours and hours to get their bellies filled.

Sheep Poop a Lot.

Farmers Used Sheep Poop to Fertilize the Land

Old Postcard of the big Drenthe Heath Sheep Herd in Ruinen (Drenthe)
Old Postcard of the big Drenthe Heath Sheep Herd in Ruinen (Drenthe) | Source

Sheep Poop Mixed with Heather Makes a Good Fertilizer

The farmers in Drenthe were poor people and the soil in the Province of Drenthe wasn't the best soil to grow crop in, so they had to fertilize it a lot and they used the sheep to do that. Artificial fertilizer hadn't been invented yet.

During the day the sheep of different owners were joined together and the shepherd and his dog wandered off all day across the heather fields so the sheep could eat their belly full. At night they were brought back to their rightful owners and put into the sheep fold, in which they had spread cut peat. The sheep would poop on the cut peat which was layered over and over. Those sheep folds were deep litter houses. At the end of winter, they got the manure out and it was spread over the land. When it wasn't too cold and freezing, the sheep slept outside on the land.


Each farmer had a smaller or bigger herd of sheep.

Old Postcards of the Dutch Big Herds

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

Artificial Fertilizer

Artificial Fertilizer Nearly Dealt the Deathblow to This Breed

After the invention of the Artificial Fertilizer in 1903, the Drenthe Heath Sheep lost their economic value. They were not the number 1 fertilizer 'machines' anymore and as this breed was not developed for producing a big load of meat, meaning they're rather small and slim sheep, the farmers were looking for another way to make more money out of their sheep.

In the South of the Province Drenthe where the soil was quite a bit richer and more nourishing, they kept another sheep breed, called the Schoonebeeker . Farmers started to cross bred their Drenthe sheep with those Schoonebeekers in order to get more meat which they could sell at a higher price.

What happened was the development of a new type of sheep, which was heavier-built, which gave more meat on the lambs, but cross breeding is never a good thing for the original breeds. Slowly but steadily the old type of Drenthe Heath Sheep and Schoonebeeker were disappearing to the point of almost extinction.

The Almost Extinction of Two Beautiful Breeds

crossbreeding
crossbreeding | Source

The Rescue Alert

We Got Alerted in Time and Organized the Rescue Team

In 1977 a newly founded organization called Association for Original Dutch Livestock Breeds , made a country wide inventory of what was left of the original native Dutch livestock breeds, including the sheep. The outcome startled them, because the Drenthe Heath Sheep as well as the Schoonebeeker had almost vanished beyond repair so to speak.

It took however another decade before the Dutch Breeder Association the Drenthe Heath Sheep was founded in 1985 and I was in it from the start. At first it was an Association only for the horned sheep, but within a short time we were able to also take the Schoonebeeker under our protection, because it was a breed originated in the Province Drenthe too.

A breed standard was made up from what we read/heard/saw of how the original breed must have looked like. Photographs were not available, only a few drawings, so we had to go with books (one antique book actually) and hearsay from very old shepherds. We started slowly with a wide breeding base. There weren't very many sheep of the old type left and we had to be careful with a too close inbreeding because that would have made things even worse. Each year a selection was made to rule out the bad ones and keep the good (or as good as they got at that time) ones for breeding and we have been doing this for the last 30 years.



Old Type Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewe

Old type Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewe
Old type Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewe | Source

Old Type Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram

Old type Drenthe Heathsheep ram
Old type Drenthe Heathsheep ram | Source

I Started My Own Flock in 1984

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drenthe Heath Sheep EwesDrenthe Heath Sheep EwesDrenthe Heath Sheep EwesDrenthe Heath Sheep EwesDrenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes
Drenthe Heath Sheep Ewes | Source

These Sheep Are True Survivers

They are Survivers
They are Survivers | Source

We Stand for Healthy and Functional Sheep

I'm breeding these sheep for 30 years now, have served 9 years on the board, I keep the International acknowledged pedigree book since 2000.

One good thing in our Association is that our sheep don't get prizes, our inspections are solely focused on breeding back and holding on to the healthy, self supporting animals they once were. The health of the sheep and the natural necessity of being a good mom to her offspring are essential. We don't breed with lambs in the same year they're born in (we like to give them time to grow into their adulthood), the sheep can only be put up for inspection at the age of 1,5 years old and we don't do concessions to a specific color if the rest is below level. We don't accept that animals with inheritable failures are being sold for breeding to other breeders. Breeders can get banned from the Association if they keep on not following the rules.

I Became a Sheep Inspector

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A very, very cold inspection, February: temp was -7C (19.4F) and I obviously had doubts about the quality.Very, very hot inspection, temp was about 32C (89.6F) I'm sitting under my fishing umbrella.Inspection of the teethBreeders watch and learnInspectors' meeting
A very, very cold inspection, February: temp was -7C (19.4F) and I obviously had doubts about the quality.
A very, very cold inspection, February: temp was -7C (19.4F) and I obviously had doubts about the quality. | Source
Very, very hot inspection, temp was about 32C (89.6F) I'm sitting under my fishing umbrella.
Very, very hot inspection, temp was about 32C (89.6F) I'm sitting under my fishing umbrella. | Source
Inspection of the teeth
Inspection of the teeth | Source
Breeders watch and learn
Breeders watch and learn | Source
Inspectors' meeting
Inspectors' meeting | Source

Multicolored Sheep

Drenthe Sheep Are a Multi Colored Breed

colors drenthen moor sheep
colors drenthen moor sheep

The Original Colors of These Sheeep Often Change While Growing Up

The Drenthe Heath Sheep are multicolored. This means that each ewe and each ram have all colors in their genes and what colors will merge into the offspring is always a surprise. Some colors are dominant (Fox color), others are not (Black and White). Furthermore there's a great variety in some colors, especially in the Blue Fox and the Badger face colors, they range from very pale to very dark.

The color name depicts only the color of the head along with the color of the legs, because except from the real black sheep, every other colored lamb will get a grayish white fleece when they're grown up. Colors are set at the first inspection at the age of 1,5 years old, because sometimes the color will change during the first year of their life.

Below I'll show you a few photos with an embedded small photo of how the adult ewe/ram looked when she/he was born and I'll show you photos with ewes with their offspring.

How Colors Can Change from Lamb to Adult Sheep

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drenthe Heath SheepDrenthe Heath SheepDrenthe Heath SheepDrenthe Heath SheepDrenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep | Source
Drenthe Heath Sheep
Drenthe Heath Sheep | Source

Black X Black Isn't Always Black with Multicolored Sheep

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Multicolored sheepMulticolored sheepMulticolored sheepMulticolored sheepMulticolored sheep
Multicolored sheep
Multicolored sheep | Source
Multicolored sheep
Multicolored sheep | Source
Multicolored sheep
Multicolored sheep | Source
Multicolored sheep
Multicolored sheep | Source
Multicolored sheep
Multicolored sheep | Source

The Drenthe Heath Sheep Are Not out of the Danger Zone Yet

We Still Have a Long Way to Go in Preserving This Old Sheep Breed

The Drenthe Heath Sheep is an intelligent sheep. They will find every weak spot in the fence, they can jump from standing position over a 1.20 meter high fence if they want to or are forced to. They have a strong herd instinct and a strong order of ranking and will always follow the leader.

They can be loud too, especially the ewes in winter season, when the pregnant ewes get their concentrate. They're insistent nagging ladies when they want something. I compare them often - as a joke - to women on a sales event, working with their elbows, all wanting to be first, but I love them to pieces. I'm completely hooked to this ancient rare Dutch breed.

Officially we can't export them to other countries, due to some silly Government rules which we are unable to meet. The sheep are lacking a specific genotype that supposedly should to prevent them from getting a certain disease, while this disease has never ever been established in this breed. The breed apparently has some kind of natural resistance to some diseases that hit the manipulated, overly crossbred meat productive sheep breeds frequently. The Government however doesn't make exceptions.

A 100 Year Old Stuffed Head of a Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram

Stuffed head of a Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram
Stuffed head of a Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram | Source

A Surprising Gift

In 2015 we got a telephone call from a man, telling us that he found this stuffed sheep head when cleaning out his parent's house after they both had passed away, asking us if it was indeed a head of a rare Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram. The story behind it was that his parents got this stuffed head as a wedding present in 1923.

This was our lottery ticket, because now we have a 'living' example of how the old type Drenthe Heath Sheep Rams really looked like in the old days and now we also know that we have still a long way to go, but the path is clear.

© 2013 Titia Geertman

Love to read your comments on my rare sheep breed

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country

      Very interesting article about your sheep. I wandered over to your page after following the sheep-naming thread. Their expressions make them look very intellegent.

    • kimberlyschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 3 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      As a knitter, I'd like to have some sheep and angora rabbits some day. My favorite sheep are Jacobs--with those extra horns, they look like something out of the Revelation!

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      Very nicely done. I learned a lot. Thanks!

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 4 years ago

      What an interesting article! The photos are beautiful, full of great information too. I watched the drum carding video, and it was even more interesting than I thought it would be.

    • inkymama profile image

      inkymama 4 years ago

      Nice lens, thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      kimadagem 4 years ago

      Lovely reading about this rare breed, I'm glad you shared it. I can understand the reason for restricting export of the sheep; I think the breed would change if it were raised somewhere else, just because of the different climate and food. But still - I wouldn't mind trying to spin some of that beautiful fleece, especially if it doesn't felt.

    • tigerbait profile image

      tigerbait 4 years ago

      Great Lens! very informative

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      nice lens

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Excellent presentation of this valuable subject.

    • greenmind profile image

      FCM 4 years ago from USA

      Hey great lens. Who knew? Glad you saved these sheep.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Keeping sheep seems like pretty hard work although I wouldn't mind having a farm with them

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 4 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I'm very thankful for people who dedicate themselves to conserving and restoring rare breeds of animals. So many farms have gone to giant scale mono-cultures of livestock, allowing much of the wonderful diversity and strength of traditional and rare breeds of animals to die out. Thank you for preserving this useful, beautiful, and sturdy breed of Drenthen Moor Sheep!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I love your sheep lenses. I live in Devon, England, in the countryside, so I've seen sheep all my life, but not been as hands on as you are. I do remember going around a flock with the farmer's daughter to check if any sheep were on their backs. I rolled one over myself.

    • Tay Henry profile image

      Tay Henry 4 years ago

      great photos

    • VineetBhandari profile image

      VineetBhandari 4 years ago

      Great information & beautiful pics

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 4 years ago

      Very informative lens

    • tabster2 profile image

      tabster2 4 years ago

      I love the photos where you can see the sheep blending into the landscape, they're the same color range.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 4 years ago

      Great images

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 4 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      We've got sheep everywhere here. Our local breed is the herdwick. Hope it's not too cold for your lambing right now.

    • profile image

      pinoyrecipe 4 years ago

      love those pictures, hope i could see an actual shearing of a sheep

    • Titia profile image
      Author

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @SandraWilson LM: The fleece of this breed is very long. It used to be used for making carpets. It has a thicker hair in it which we call 'kemp', looks a bit like a horse tail hair. It's very easy to spin, but that kemp might cause a bit of irritation when worn on your bare skin. This wool is mostly used for making felt.

    • BobZau profile image

      Bob Zau 4 years ago

      What a wonderful lens. I'll have to visit your other sheep lenses.

    • SandraWilson LM profile image

      SandraWilson LM 4 years ago

      You are a spinner, so what is the fleece like from this breed?

    • moneyrat profile image

      moneyrat 4 years ago

      They look like a tough breed. A great lens !

    • GeekGirl1 profile image

      GeekGirl1 4 years ago

      the Drenther Moor sheep looks cool.

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 4 years ago

      Another one of your fantastic lenses. Keeping sheep seems like pretty hard work although I wouldn't mind having a farm with them. I like sheep, and their environmental impact is so much lower than cattle.

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 4 years ago from Manila Philippines

      Awesome lens! I just learned more about sheep. ^_^

    • Titia profile image
      Author

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @Fiorenza: Oh that's very interesting too, didn't know they did that. I know the herdwick. Close to me just across the border in Belgium they have some. They're pretty sheep to look at with their white faces.

    • Fiorenza profile image

      Fiorenza 4 years ago from UK

      Interesting to read about Dutch sheep. Here, the ones I know most about is the Herdwick, a beautiful sheep found only in the Lake District, and distinctive because it "hefts", which is an old dialect word meaning it is territorial so if land is sold with the sheep on it, the sheep must be included. Each ewe teaches its lamb the layout of the land and they "heft" and know that as their home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      sheep are so fun

    • Expat Mamasita profile image

      Expat Mamasita 4 years ago from Slovakia

      Raising rare breed sheep sounds really interesting. Thank you for sharing

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 4 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      What a cool, interesting lens, and I love your pictures! My husband and I lived on a farm for a while where we helped raise rare breeds of cows, pigs and chickens. The owners of the farm got some rare breed sheep just before we moved away, but I don't remember what type they were. The only sheering experience I've had, though, was with angora goats, and, wow, was that hard with their loose skin!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      Your sheep are beautiful, Titia!