The 8th World Congress of Coloured  Sheep, 2014 Rambouillet, France 





The 8th World Congress of Coloured  Sheep  

Rambouillet, France

19 - 22 May 2014


When sheep were domesticated about 10 000 years ago, they were most probably still coloured because all sheep have instructions at a molecular level to be coloured.  When man however started to dye fabrics about 3 centuries ago there was a relentless selection especially in the wool breeds for them to be white. White is not a colour but only absence of colour pigment in the wool or hair of sheep.

  Research into the coat colour genetics in sheep started in the 1920s.   During the 1950's and 1960's Prof. J A Nel from South Africa, did some groundbreaking research into the the coat colour of Karakul sheep.  Then in 1979 in Adelaide, Australia coat colour geneticists and breeders of coloured sheep attended the the first Congress on Coloured Sheep.  At the next Congress in 1984 in New Zealand it was decided that a Scientific Society COGNOSAG should be formed. This is how Prof. Phil Sponenberg recalls the workshops that a group of geneticists had in the latter half of the 20th century to sort out coat colour genetics of sheep and goats:  

Several scientific colleagues are especially important. The crew at COGNOSAG (Committee for Genetic Nomenclature of Sheep and Goats) stands out as one unifying group for early progress in the color genetics of these species. In the 1980s we would get together once a year in Provence at Les Doux Moulins. We would talk genetics during the day, eat well, and then rub shoulders while doing the evening dishes.   J.J. Lauvergne was instrumental in getting the group started, and Stefan Adalsteinsson and Scott Dolling were essential in providing leadership and vision to the group. Several hard working, clear thinking colleagues were closely involved in those important early days: Paul Millar, Roger Lundie, Carlo Renieri, Xavier Malher, Bernard Denis, Snejana Alexieva. To all of these I owe a debt of gratitude for the organization they provided to this subject.




World Congress on Coloured Sheep 2014


The 9th World Congress on Coloured Sheep to be held in Rambouillet, France, continues a unique tradition in which people from many countries meet every five years to share friendship and knowledge on all topics and activities of mutual interest involving natural coloured sheep and their wool.


The 2014 Congress will mark four decades of these gatherings:


1979: AUSTRALIA: National Congress on Breeding Coloured Sheep and Using

            Coloured Wool

Planned as a National gathering in Adelaide, South Australia, with overseas speakers invited from U.K., Iceland, France and New Zealand, the event attracted 200 participants.  Papers presented covered Genetics of Colour in sheep, Husbandry of Coloured Sheep, Coloured Sheep and Wool Industries in Various Countries, Coloured Wool in Handcrafts and Marketing of Coloured Wool.  A range of Australian coloured wools was featured in a National Coloured Fleece Competition.

 1984:  NEW ZEALAND:  World Congress on Coloured Sheep and Their


New Zealanders attending the Australian Congress were inspired to promote a similar event in their own country five years later, to be designated a World Congress.  Conference sessions were held and accommodation provided firstly at Lincoln College in South Island and then at Massey University in North Island.  Fifty four papers were presented to 275 participants from nine different countries of the world, including New Zealand.  Coloured fleece exhibitions and competitions displayed the wide range of New Zealand wools, while bus trips provided visits to sheep farms.

 1989:  U.S.A.:  World Congress on Coloured Sheep:  Coloured Sheep and

            Wool; exploring their beauty and functions

The U.S.A. Congress, held in the western state of Oregon, attracted 354 participants from twelve different countries of the world including the host country.  Sixty four papers were presented within areas including Breeding, Conservation and Genetics of Natural Coloured Sheep, Sheep Health and Management, Understanding and Preparing Wool, Processing Coloured Wool and Marketing Natural Coloured Products.  An international fleece competition attracted over 400 entries.  An adjacent annual event was The Black Sheep Gathering, where Congress visitors could observe the wide range of American sheep breeds entered for exhibition and competition.

 1994:  UNITED KINGDOM: The World Congress on Coloured Sheep and Other

            Animal Fibres

Located in England at the University of York, this Congress attracted over 200 local U.K. participants and considerable numbers from U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand and Japan.  Presentations included Genetics of Coloured Sheep, Sheep Breeding, Sheep Breeds of European and Other Countries, Conservation and Survival of Endangered Sheep Breeds.  A coloured fleece competition comprised of an International section and a Breeds section displayed a total of 87 entries.  An organised Congress visit enabled participants to view an exposition of the majority of British sheep breeds at the Malvern Sheep Show.

 1999:  AUSTRALIA:  Fifth World Congress on Coloured Sheep and their

            Products:  “Coloured – Naturally!”

Located at Deakin University in the important wool centre of Geelong and featuring optional tours through New South Wales and Victoria before, during, and after the Congress, plus a further opportunity to attend the Royal Melbourne Show.  Presentations were mainly by Australian and New Zealand authors with further contributions of overseas speakers from U.S.A., Canada, U.K. and France.  These included sheep breeding, wool marketing and wool handcraft topics including dyeing, spinning, knitting, crochet and curing sheepskin rugs. A coloured fleece competition demonstrated the variety of mainly finer breed wools produced in Australian conditions.

 2004:  NEW ZEALAND:  Sixth World Congress on Coloured Sheep:  The World

            Of Coloured Sheep

Held at Christchurch city in South Island where the Chateau on the Park Hotel provided indoor conference facilities and a large marquee in the hotel grounds to accommodate two hundred participants during workshops and demonstrations with live sheep in all weathers.  Coinciding with the Royal Show held in Christchurch, Congress visitors had opportunity to view New Zealand’s largest display of sheep breeds and the National Coloured Fleece Competition which is consistently of world class.  2004 Congress proceedings are incorporated in “The World of Coloured Sheep”, a special book produced at the time and designed to bring together various peoples’ knowledge about the breeding of coloured sheep throughout the world.  Colour photos of sheep breeds are a feature of this high quality publication.

2009:  BRAZIL: 7th World Congress on Coloured Sheep

Based in the small attractive town of Canela in the province of Rio Grande do Sul  but including bus trips to one of the world’s largest agricultural and pastoral expositions near the large city of Porto Alegre.  The Congress was conducted in two official languages, English and Portuguese, with simultaneous interpretations for individual participants. Presentations included descriptions of hair sheep breeds in the hot climates of Northern Brazil and Southern Africa, and on other sheep breeds, sheep genetics, production, health and marketing and on aspects of wool handcrafts.  Additional bus tours were organised to visit sheep establishments, farms and research centres.



Countries that have hosted the previous Congresses: Australia, New Zealand, The United Kingdom, The United States of America and Brazil.   We look forward to bring the Congress to Continental Europe for the first time.  

The International Committee:

Dawie du Toit, 

South Africa, Co-ordinator,

Eduardo Bernard, Brazil,

Maree Vinnicombe, Australia,

Wendy Dennis, Australia,

Rolly Thompson, the US,

Barbara Allen, New Zealand,

Olwen Veveers, the Uk,

French Committee:

Dr. J J Lauvergne, France,

Pierre Delporto, Framce,

Marie Therese Chaupin,,


I trust that we will also be able to identify Scientists to present papers on molecular coat colour genetics;

Present papers on the coat colour of other mammals like the Alpaca


Since it will the 40th anniversary of the Coat Colour Sheep movement, somebody who attended all the previous Congresses to give a retrospective of previous Congresses and the  personalities involved.


It will also be an appropriate time to consider and celebrate the contribution that COGNOSAG made to coloured sheep movement.

If you want to find out more about the heights one can scale with coloured wool, you can read the interesting article, A Woolly Fairy Tale, by Dana Kennedy, which appeared in the Financial Times:




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  Dawie du Toit
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