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      World’s cutest sheep not just a pretty face but hardy as well
Alicia McConnell, Alora Prestige Studs, with Tuppence, an F1 Valais ewe who will be on display at the Henty Machinery Field Days.

World’s cutest sheep not just a pretty face but hardy as well

The Swiss black nosed sheep breed, the Valais, dubbed the world’s cutest sheep, will be at the Henty Machinery Field Days for the first time in 2023.

Alicia McConnell and David Whittaker, of the Alora Prestige Studs, at Gollan, NSW, will exhibit purebred July 2023 drop lambs and Valais/Corriedale first cross ewes. 

The Valais is an incredibly docile and hardy breed ideally suited to small lifestyle properties, but purebreds are rare in Australia with only around 40 stud breeders nationally involved in pure and grade-up programs.

The sheep are characterised by their black nose, eye area, ears, hooves and fetlocks, and can have black spots on their knees and hocks. The horns spiral outwards from the head on rams and ewes, and the fleece weight averages 1-1.5kg for lambs at six months growth. 

Alicia grew up on a mixed cropping and livestock property at Dubbo, instilling a passion for large animal livestock and taking up a career as a vet nurse followed by a laboratory technician with Central West Genetics.

She established her own small commercial flock of 30 Corriedale ewes, impressed by their docility.

“When the Valais came to Australia, I decided to cross them with the Corriedale as part of a breed-up program,” Alicia said.

“The sheep originate in Switzerland from the Valais region and are a dual-purpose sheep. When the Valais were first imported to New Zealand, I flew over there to see them.

“What I had heard and read on these sheep they were very much a docile, friendly, inquisitive breed – I love to go out in the paddock, call them and have them come running.

“They need to be shorn twice a year as they punch out 10cm of wool every six months. We are still pursuing options for the wool as it is quite a coarse fibre used mainly for felting and carpets. It could be blended with the likes of a Corriedale or English Leicester. 

“The first cross Valais/Corriedale average 26 micron.  There are only about 50 purebreds in Australia so there is very little data on the wool. Worldwide the Valais is recognised as a rare breed and Switzerland has closed its borders to exporting genetics to protect the Swiss flocks.

“Genetics is now being sourced from the UK and Australian breeders have formed the Valais Blacknose Australia which manages a DNA verified registry.”

The first F1 lambs were born in August 2022 and of the drop, Tuppence and Topaz will be on display at the Henty field days along with the first purebred Valais lambs born at Alora in July. 

“In Australia they are mainly being marketed as pets due to their friendly nature and uniqueness -they are not trying to target the wool-meat market,” Alicia said.

She has artificially inseminated a portion of the Corriedale ewes with Valais semen and uses first cross ewes as recipient mothers for embryo transplant programs.

“The Valais are quite large at birth and we do not recommend maiden ewes being used in breed up programs – it is better to use a mature, experienced mother.”

Alicia has sold most of her F1 wether lambs but has retained all the F1 ewes for grading up purposes.

Alora displayed the F1 ewes at the Dubbo and Wellington shows, with plenty of showgoers likening the crossbred to a Hampshire Downs cross. To purchase a nine-month-old F1 wether will cost you $500, F1 ewes around $5500, purebred ewes and rams $25,000 each, semen at $550-$1100 a straw and frozen embryos are priced around $10,000. 

Alicia said the Valais was a late maturing breed with mature ewes weighing 75-85kg and the rams 100-110kg. She said the preferred cross for grading up is English Leicester or Dorset Horn ewes.

“I have never been to the Henty field days so it will be exciting to be exhibiting there – the field days give us the best opportunity to present the F1 Valais. As they are not purebred at this point, we cannot show them so the field days and ag shows are ideal for promoting to a mixed group of people.

“I’m expecting my next shipment of genetics from the UK by Christmas but am happy to take contact details from interested people and speak to them about their options. If I can’t help them, there are plenty of other breeders who can.”

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