"World's Cutest Sheep" Make U.S. Debut

Promoted as the cutest sheep in the world, a small group of Valais Blacknose sheep are now at home in Oregon. Joy and Martin Dally imported semen from select flocks and are leading a breed-up program to establish the breed in the U.S. The horned breed has long, coarse wool and black nose, eyes, ears and leggings.
"People think they are ornamental, but they are large, and they have a lot of hybrid vigor," says Martin. "Bred with Teeswater ewes, the lambs have a stupendous growth rate."
For centuries the breed, raised for both meat and wool, was found only in one region of Switzerland. In recent years it has spread to other countries in Europe and to Great Britain.  
Initially the Dallys tried using Scottish Blackface ewes as a foundation breed for the breed-up program. They hope to breed successive generations back to Valais Blacknose rams. By the fifth generation the lambs will be 97 percent pure. The problem is getting the right characteristics to breed true. The Scottish Blackface had a similar coloring, but the Dallys like results with Gotland and Teeswater ewes better.
"I saw a Gotland in Sweden that had been crossed with Valais and the F1, F2 and F3 generations looked wonderful," says Joy. "The Teeswater wool is superior, and both crosses have the facial and leg patterning of the Valais. We have 7 to 8-in. wool on the F1s."
The Dallys have established the North American Valais Blacknose Sheep Association. They are working with other breeders around the country to establish breeding flocks and build interest in the breed. 
Rams can reach 32-in. heights, while ewes run 28 to 30 in. Weights can vary for rams from 176 to 276 lbs., while ewes range from 154 to 190 lbs.
While they are big, they are also very docile and friendly, almost too much so, suggests Martin. "Our sheep dogs don't like them because they won't move," he says. "They are always in your face."
This fall Gotland, Teeswater and Scottish Blackface ewes carrying 50 percent Blacknose lambs will be available. Prices ranging from $1,750 to $2,500 will depend on the number of lambs (twin or single) and the breed of the ewe. Semen is $500 per straw.
"We are only offering 50 percent (F1) rams at this time and they are running between $1,500 to $2,500," says Martin. "We are also offering wethers for $500."
The Dallys suggest novice sheep breeders enamored with the looks of the Valais breed start with a wether. Getting involved in a breed-up program is not for those without sheep breeding knowledge, advises Martin. 
Joy adds that when selling breeding stock from any of their breeds (Gotland, Teeswater, Wensleydale and now Valais) they match the animal to the buyer. 
"We want the right sheep for the right people, their acres, their expertise and their location," she says. "We want them to be successful."