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Valais Blacknose Sheep

Where are they from and how long have they been in the UK?

This breed can be traced back to the Valais region of southwest Switzerland, not so far from Geneva. Although the breed can be traced back to at least the 15th century, this mountain sheep was not recognised as a separate breed until 1962. They were happy grazing the steepest and stoniest slopes, so we are yet to discover how they cope with the British climate and terrain.

The Valais Blacknose Society “was founded in January 2021 following the merger of Valais Blacknose Sheep Society UK and Valais Blacknose Breed Society, both of which were established in 2015 soon after the first imported sheep arrived in the UK.”

Since then there have been shows every year (until COVID). Here is an example of what the shows look like and the prize winners.

Why do we now breed VBNs?

We recently changed from having a small flock of Shetland sheep, known for the exceptionally soft and fine fleece with a micron that matched our finest alpacas, as well as a herd of Angora goats that produced “the diamond fibre”. The two different styles and elements of fleeces blended so beautifully with the alpaca fibre and we are immensely proud of the products this blend produced.

However, as time has gone on, we have gravitated more towards rare and unusual breeds, rather than focussing on fibre.

When we started our journey into fibre farming, we did not realise that the fibre was only useable at a commercial level on the sheep and angora goats until they were 4-5 years old. With them living until they are 10-12, some even older, that was a lot of years to continue feeding, medicating, housing and caring for an animal that is no longer able to cover its costs. They all still needed to be shorn on welfare grounds, however their fleece was not useable. This posed an ethical dilemma for us and of course none were sent for meat, however it made us reassess whether being a specialist Fibre Farm as a vegetarian household was viable, so all our Angora goats and Shetland sheep were rehomed as pets.

We have realised over time that our passion is with rare and unusual animals, rather than being “farmers”. We found the Shetlands to be quite flighty and timid, whereas the VBNs are similar in personality to the Angoras, docile and friendly. They are hardier than the Angoras because of their thicker, warmer fleeces that contain lanolin, providing a waterproof element that the Angoras didn’t have.

We also need to breed animals that have a good market for castrated males, and we have found that the three species we have settled on all have that – miniature donkeys, alpacas and VBNs all have a very high demand as pets and males are just as in demand as females.

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What is it about this breed that has captivated us?

They have been described as ‘the cutest sheep in the world’ due to their black faces, ears, knees, feet and cute long shaggy white fleece, as well their cute and friendly personality. The rams and the ewes also have the most stunning horns that start growing soon after they are born.

They are ridiculously cute and look more like a stuffed toy than a real animal, but they are actually as cuddly and friendly as they look – except they don’t realise how big their horns are some days! They love to have a good scratch and are very docile and placid, making them perfect pets for children. We could comfortably take these to visit the elderly or to do therapy work with them and they wouldn’t be phased in the least.

What is their breed purpose?

It is a coarse-wooled breed and raised mainly for meat, although they are also a dual-purpose breed which is raised for both meat and wool. They make nearly 4kg of wool per head every year, however because it is extremely coarse, it’s typically used for carpets and felt.

Whilst their fleece doesn’t come anywhere near that of the alpacas, we are looking forward to felting with it. In the past we found the alpaca and Angora too fine for felting, so this will be an interesting change.