Valais Blacknose Sheep in New Zealand

The first embryos brought into New Zealand were implanted in early 2017 with lambs on the ground in late August. This followed a change in import conditions that had been reset after a fresh look at the disease risks. New genetics for sheep milking were brought into the country in 2016.

There are now 4-5 small flocks located in both islands, with another handful of breeders implanting a few embryos each.

The breed have been a huge hit at the Christchurch show in 2018, the Auckland Easter show earlier this year, at Fibre festivals in the Wairarapa and Upper Hutt and local shows in Masterton and the Manawatu. Even the faces of the most traditional sheep farmers light up as they see these animals for the first time.

There is now a Valais Blacknose Breed Society, newly registered under the NZ Sheepbreeders Association. Progeny from imported stock will continue to be registered in the UK system (Grassroots) as well as a register under the breed society. Bred up animals will also be recorded for multiple generations. The NZ Breed Society has developed a Breed Standard based on the Swiss one and some Breeding Up guidelines.

Valais Blacknose
Valais Blacknose

How Much Can You Expect To Pay For A Valais Blacknose?

There is a huge variation in quality of Valais Blacknose on the market at present and unfortunately similar money is being asked for a bad sheep as a good one. You can’t beat original Swiss stock although there are also animals now in other parts of Europe as well.
And as much as we all love these very special sheep, the reality is that they are still very expensive to buy, even in the UK where they have now been for 4 years.

In the UK you can still expect to pay £2500 – £7500 for a lamb depending on genetics, sex and markings. Embryos are generally selling for over £1000 each and still climbing, as markets like New Zealand are opening up and the borders from Switzerland (their native home) remain closed. In the USA where semen has recently been imported for a breeding up programme (given that embryos are not yet able to be imported from the UK), semen straws are selling for USD $500 (NZD 685).
Most recently at the annual Valais Blacknose auction in Carlisle, England, the top price was 10000 guineas (NZD 20,000) paid by Valais Blacknose NZ for Highland Egbert. In the previous year (2017) there were 15 lots in the sale and they sold for £2562 on average (almost $5000 NZD). Prendwick Dancer, a gimmer (ewe hogget) from Jamie Wood made 4500 guineas ($8618 NZD). Highland Duke sold for 4200 guineas ($8000 NZD), Prendwick Dandelion (7 month old ewe lamb) sold for 3800 guineas ($7280 NZD) and Westmorland Elsie (5 month ewe lamb) sold for 3600 guineas ($6900 NZD).
Young rams in New Zealand have just started to become available for sale, reaching between $5000-7000 plus GST each. As ewe lambs are still very expensive to get on the ground (up to $NZ10-20,000 for a well marked ewe) and flocks are building up, it is unlikely that they will become available for some time.
If you are considering embryos then there are several things to watch. If they are easy to import from the UK then chances are the quality is not high. Successful breeders are busy breeders so they can be much more of a challenge to source from.
There are several grades of embryo and they can vary in their likelihood of successful implant. Grade 1 is the best and grade 2 are also frozen for export. There can be as much as 25% difference in survivability between these two grades so you don’t want to be paying £1000 for one that has a lower chance of success.
Grade 2 also have more likelihood of not surviving the defrosting procedure and the odd one cannot be implanted. Having said that though there has been good success with implanting grade 2s. Grade 3 embryos are not suitable for freezing and are usually implanted fresh into recipient animals.

Embryo lamb from a Poll Dorset recipient
Embryo lamb from a Poll Dorset recipient

The Breeding Up Programme

As there will be limited purebred ewes (if any) available for purchase for some time in New Zealand and they are likely to be expensive, some breeders are crossing the Valais Blacknose rams with NZ breeds. A popular choice for the foundation ewe is the English Leicester which is similar in size and wool to the Valais. Others have crossed with Romney, Suffolk, Coopworth, Poll Dorset, Drysdale and even Jacob Cross and Arapawa. Very few of these breeds are horned unfortunately so the offspring tend to be without horns from polled breeds. The subsequent generations should begin to show this trait as crosses continue. The first cross lambs are generally strongly marked like the Valais already and have the same quiet temperaments.

Valais Blacknose
Valais Blacknose

Exports to North America

Semen was allowed for import into the USA from the UK in 2017 and the first F2 lambs have now just hit the ground there, showing great quality already from Scottish blackface foundation ewes with their similar size and horns. Unfortunately we don’t have Scottish Blackface in New Zealand (yet!). The first semen from New Zealand entered Canada late last year and into the USA early this year. There are some lovely F1 lambs already on the ground in Canada.
There are at least two registries in North America for the breed – the Valais Blacknose sheep Association of North America and the Valais Blacknose Sheep Society USA.