The Valais Blacknose, also known as Walliser Schwarznasenschaf, and commonly referred to as “the cutest sheep in the world”, is a hardy breed of sheep originating from the mountains of the Valais region of Switzerland.
In their native country, they are highly prized, much-loved animals, that are often seen being walked on leads by their farmers around the villages in Valais – some are even allowed into restaurants….!
Thought to have existed since the 14th Century, the breed was officially recognised as a distinct breed in 1962. Both ewes and rams are horned and reach typical weights of 70 – 90kg and 80 – 130kg respectively.
A rare breed in their own country, and only a few thousand in the world, a few flocks have been imported into the UK since 2014, a practice that has now been stopped due to insufficient numbers to cope with demand. This means that the numbers here in the UK must mostly grow organically from the few hundred already here.
Valais Blacknose sheep are a naturally docile, friendly breed of sheep, unlike many other breeds, making them such perfect pets. They love a cuddle and can even be easily lead-trained – see Maud one of our lamb’s first time on a lead here! Their unique appearance, lovely nature, together with their rarity, makes them quite a conversation piece for people wanting something unusual to keep the grass in their paddocks down!
Quality vs. Quantity
At New Forest Valais Blacknose we prefer to use natural reproduction of our Valais Blacknose sheep for domestic (UK) breeding, focusing our efforts on breeding the best quality animals and protecting the lovely characteristics of this rare breed here in the UK. Only in very exceptional circumstances would we ever use Embryo Transfer (ET) here in the UK, for instance if we wished to grow particularly important bloodlines. 99.9% of our lambs are born here in the UK via natural reproduction and we'll explain why we choose to do this in this article.
For the export markets, Embryo Transfer is the only way to get the breed to new markets and is preferable to shipping livestock long distances. We have a thriving Embryo export business, shipping embryos to New Zealand and a number of European countries.
To increase numbers of Valais Blacknose sheep in the UK at a faster rate, some breeders use ET. Whilst this is a practice routinely used in farming and is effective in growing numbers quickly, it can have a number of undesirable effects, which we’ll outline.
Potential downsides to using Embryo Transfer vs. natural breeding methods include:
1. By using the ET method of breeding, a breeder can quickly breed quantities of offspring from only a few Valais Blacknose ewes (you can harvest multiple eggs from each ewe and implant these into non Valais Blacknose recipient ewes, of which there is no shortage!). However, this can severely restrict the gene pool, breeding so many from so few – something of a concern with so few animals from varied bloodlines already in the UK. Also, there can be the temptation to breed from individuals not complying with the breed standard, so long as they’re healthy, which perpetuates and worsens the UK Valais Blacknose breeding pool.
2. Although genetically the offspring will be purebred Valais Blacknose, lambs born to non-Valais Blacknose breeds of sheep are likely to take some of their learned/non-genetic characteristics from the mother that raised her, some of which may be undesirable. For example, if the non-Valais Blacknose mother is aloof, nervous, wary of humans, there is a potential that her Valais Blacknose lamb may adopt these characteristics from her. This is a great shame when you consider much of the appeal of these sheep comes from their docile, friendly natures.
3. Should you decide to buy an ET lamb, there is a chance you will not meet its genetic mother/father so you will have to make assumptions about the quality of the lamb you’re buying. We recommend to our customers when buying Valais Blacknose sheep to follow the same guidance as you would when buying a puppy; it’s always best to buy a puppy that’s been raised with its mother and litter mates in a safe environment until it’s fully weaned, and to meet the puppy’s mother, and if possible father, as the best guide of what to expect from your puppy in terms of health, appearance, temperament, and so on. Since you’ll be paying the same for your Valais Blacknose sheep as you would for one of the more expensive dog breeds (prices start from £1,000 for a wether), it’s important you get it right!