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Moorland sheep - our four-legged landscape conservationists

Alles zum Wappentier der Lüneburger Heide

©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH
©Partner der Lüneburger Heide GmbH

The moorland sheep and Lueneburg Heath

The moorland sheep is an old breed of sheep that
purportedly stems from the mouflons that are at home in Sardinia and Corsica.
The breed is divided into six subspecies. The “German Grey Heath” sheep has
long since been at home on the dry heath areas. It would be impossible to
maintain Europe’s largest heath areas without the help of our four-legged
conservationists, the moorland sheep.

Moorland sheep - our four-legged conservationists

Where does the sheep’s German name, "Heidschnucke” come from?

The name “Schnucke” comes from the north German word "Schnoekern" (to nibble), as moorland sheep love variation and graze on heather, grass and wild herbs.

A silver-grey coat and a black bib are the identifying characteristics

The German grey heath sheep has a silver-grey fleece with a black bib. Both male and female animals are horned. Lambs have completely black, curly hair during the first year of life. This is later replaced by grey wool, so that only the legs, head and bib of fully-grown moorland sheep sport the black colouration. The birth of the first-ever white moorland sheep in 2012 caused a global sensation.

Our four-legged conservationists

Moorland sheep were once important suppliers of wool and fertiliser. Today, they serve mainly as four-legged conservationists.

Moorland sheep are, in fact, the most important countryside conservationists as they continuously gnaw on young trees, grass types such as crinkled hair-grass and the heather itself. This keeps the heather short and the maintains the nutrient-poor soil.

Europe’s largest Calluna heaths would not be maintainable in the long-term without the help of the moorland sheep.

Pasturing moorland sheep results in a savannah-like structure that is extremely rare in today’s largely intensively used landscapes of Central Europe. Hence the existence of many different types of flora and fauna that would otherwise be hard-pushed to find a habitat in our country: Among them are black grouse, great grey shrikes, wood larks, whinchats, stonechats, red-backed shrikes and the European nightjar.

Goats support moorland sheep

Every herd of moorland sheep counts a number of goats among its members. They support the moorland sheep as they can better gnaw pioneering tree species such as birch and spruce. 

Symbiotic relationship between moorland sheep and bees on the heath

Moorland sheep tear the cobwebs in the heather with their legs as they graze on the heather in the late summer months. This allows the bees to seek out the nectar for their delicious heath honey. In return, the bees pollinate the heather and, in doing so, maintain the food source for the moorland sheep.

Moorland sheep graze the heath on 365 days of the year

It is traditional to herd the moorland sheep on Lueneburg Heath all year round. The shepherd leads his flock 10 - 12 km through the heath every day. 

All in all, more than 9,000 moorland sheep in 13 flocks graze through Lueneburg Heath on 365 days of the year. How can I find the herds? We’ve put a few tips together for you on how to find them.

Roast moorland sheep - a delicacy

It’s no wonder that moorland sheep do not get fat and that their meat is ideal for a low-fat diet. A varied diet similar to that of game lends the meat of the moorland sheep its typical, gamey taste. Don’t miss out on this culinary delicacy during your holiday on the heath. The meat of the “Lueneburg Heidschnucke” (German Grey Heath) is protected within Europe under this name and carries a seal to show that it is a Protected Designation of Origin. On the other hand, its long, straggly wool is only suitable for coarsely woven fabrics such as carpets. Where can one try out moorland sheep dishes or purchase the meat on Lueneburg Heath?

By the way: 

In contrast to humans, moorland sheep are permitted to wander anywhere on the heath. Unfortunately, they might not always be visible to you as a guest on the heath. Please stick to the designated pathways in the interest of nature conservation.

Heidschnuck sheep - the facts:

  • Name: Heidschnuck (Ovis ammon f. aries)
  • Weight: 45 to 60 kg
  • Life expectancy: 15 years
  • Feed: Grasses, heather, cotton grass
  • Products: Meat for roasts, Heidjerknipp sausage, Heidschnuck lamb fillet, Heidschnuck ragout, bratwurst, sausages and many more
  • Size: Shoulder height 50-60 cm

Regular events relating to the Heidschnuck sheep

Every year, breeders, animal holders and friends of the German grey heath sheep convene at the Heidschnuck buck auction in Mueden (Oertze) to take part in the presentation and auction of the young breeding bocks at this grand festival celebrating the symbolic animal of Lueneburg Heath, the Heidschnuck sheep. Come and join the celebration!

There are many places on Lueneburg Heath where you can watch the Schnuckenaustrieb in the morning, when the sheep are driven out onto the heath. Some of the farms in the region will also welcome you to watch the Schnuckeneintrieb, when the sheep come home for the night.

Many guided tours and carriage rides include an encounter with a shepherd and his herd of moorland sheep. 

We have compiled many of these options for you further below under the heading "This may interest you". Or check out our Event Calendar!

Stories and more

You can find out what a day in the life of a moorland sheep shepherd looks like in an Interview with a born-and-bred moorland sheep shepherd