Introduction: Deemed ‘The world’s cutest sheep’ the Valais Blacknose have taken the UK by storm since their introduction in 2014. This breed was brought to the world’s attention when BBC Countryfile went to Switzerland to visit the sheep and bring them down from the mountain. We have been lucky enough to see the sheep in their natural habitat in Switzerland and it really is an amazing spectacle. (Right – Sheep waiting to be judged for ‘Miss Visp’ in Switzerland when we visited in February 2019)
Since Countryfile aired a few hundred were exported from Switzerland to the UK to establish the UK flock which now numbers around 2,000. In recent years the Swiss banned exports of the sheep and the limited supply partly explains the premium prices attached to them.
In Switzerland the Valais Blacknose are a dual purpose breed, used both for their meat and wool. Whilst they are used for meat and wool in the UK they are also very popular as pets as they are very docile, friendly and undeniably cute.
The breed originates in the mountains of the Canton of Valais – from which its name derives and the sheep have been documented as far back as the fifteenth century. There are now around 13,000 of the breed in Switzerland where they are coming under pressure from the re-introduction of the Wolf.
The strict breed standard gives them their striking looks. They should have a black face, black knees and black hocks and a black tail spot in ewes. Rams should have large circular horns with ewes horns more helical. The breed is a long-wool sheep. They are prized for their docile temperament.
Feeding – The sheep have adapted well to the UK climate. The sheep originate from the high mountains of Switzerland where grazing can be poor. In the Spring and Summer grass should be sufficient for them. In winter grass supplemented with a bit of hay/ haylage would be advised. Pregnant Ewes and Ewes with lambs should receive additional sheep nuts/ corn.
Lambing – Valais Blacknose sheep unlike many other breeds are able to lamb throughout the year. It is possible to lamb them twice a year but not generally advised due to the toll it takes on the ewes. Due to the ability of the breed to get into lamb at any time of the year care should be exercised when exposing Ewes to Rams to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Shearing – Valais Blacknose sheep are typically sheared twice a year. In Switzerland they do this in October and February. The Breed society is yet to determine a standard for shearing dates in the UK from a showing perspective but we would advise shearing to be completed at times in the best interests of the animal – certainly it would not be desirable for a Valais to have a full fleece during the height of the Summer. We have typically sheared around Christmas and then again in late June/ July.
Full details of the breed standard can be found on the breed society website