Valais Blacknose Sheep—aka “The Cutest Sheep in the World“—are new and relatively unknown to many American sheep farmers. But they’re hugely famous on social media platforms because of their attractive looks.
Although their breed goes back to 1400 AD, the breed standard dates from 1962. For hundreds of years, the sheep could only be found in the Valais region of Switzerland. However, in 2014 the breed was imported into the United Kingdom. In 2016 the United States began importing semen as part of an upgraded program. T
his makes Valais Blacknose an excellent candidate for your farm if you have an interest in rare and developing breeds. They serve as dual-purpose fiber and meat sheep.
The Valais Blacknose Sheep Society USA, formed in 2016, describes the Standard of Type as follows.
“The Valais Blacknose has a robust and large-framed physique. The black nose should be centered and it is preferred that it extend up to the eyes. The ears are also black and extend up to the base of the head. There should be black colorations on the ankles and on the front knees. The females have black tail spots. Helical or spiral-shaped horns are typical of both ewes and rams and should be well-balanced. The head and the legs should exhibit wool growth evenly and be well covered.”
Origins of the Breed Up Program in the U.S.
Since importing purebreds was not an option for so long, the Breed Up Program was designed to create an offspring as close as possible to a full-bred Valais Blacknose and was the only option for Americans between 2014 and 2020. The breed-up program begins by using a “foundation” ewe with as many qualities as possible as the Valais Blacknose breed.
The Scottish Blackface is the breed most widely used as a foundation ewe.
The next step is to artificially inseminate (AI) your foundation ewe(s) with full blood Valais semen. Due to the strict protocol mandated by the USDA, there are only a few places in the U.S. where full-blood Valais semen is stored.
The Breed Up Program follows this generational code:
- First generation is a F1 (50 percent Valais)
- Second generation is a F2 (75 percent Valais)
- Third generation is a F3 (88 percent Valais)
- Fourth generation is a F4 (94 percent Valais)
- Fifth generation is a F5 (97 percent Valais)
Huge Advancements Came When Embryos Could Be Exported
In 2020, embryo imports from New Zealand were finally approved. Several successful farmers who were well on their way to creating the 97 percent Valais now had the opportunity to shortcut the process through this import.
Purebred Valias in the USA
The first purebred Valais Blacknose sheep were born in the U.S. in 2021 at Shepherds Lane of Oregon. The farm is located in Lebanon, Oregon, and was already a part of the Breed Up Program when the option to purchase embryos from New Zealand became available.
Owners Martin and Joy Dally were able to fast track their breeding program and become the first farm in the U.S. to have purebred Valais Blacknose in 2021.
Since then the thrill of breeding this type of sheep has taken off. Three main registries have been established to register all percentages of Valais:
- Valais Blacknose Sheep Society
- Valais Blacknose Sheep Association of North America
- Valais Blacknose International Sheep Breeders Association and Registry
Exciting Time to Learn More & Get Involved
Thanks to the work of so many breeders, it is possible to begin breeding Valais Blacknose Sheep on your farm to help establish this breed in the U.S. You can choose to enter through the Breed Up Program or buy purebreds.
If you are looking to bring these animals to your farm, research the registries for farms close to you. Call and have conversations with the current owners about their programs. Being a part of a developing breed unites so many people on a mission to help each other spur the mission of the organizations.
Anne Davis of Davis Family Livestock is the secretary of the Valais Blacknose Sheep Society. She is a font of information. Davis can be contacted through her farm listing on the VBSS Registry website.
If you want to interact with the breed, the first ever National Valais Blacknose Sheep Show will be in Des Moines, Iowa, September 29 through 30. This is the first show to feature all things Valais Blacknose Sheep. The first time the breed was introduced to a national audience was just last January, in Denver at the National Western Stock Show.