Known as “the world’s cutest sheep,” the Valais Blacknose is worth learning about and seeking out while traveling in Switzerland. Not only is it valuable to the Swiss farming industry, but this cuddly and docile animal is a symbol of the country much like the Alpine Ibix.
Read on to learn the origin of the Valais Blacknose, its unique features, where to see it, and more.
Table of Contents
The Origin of Swiss Valais Blacknose Sheep
The Valais Blacknose Sheep originated in the 15th century in Switzerland’s Valais region, a canton in southern Switzerland. It is thought to be a direct descendent of the European short-tailed sheep, an ancient animal commonplace across the continent. However, it wasn’t until 1962 that the Valais Blacknose was recognized as a breed.
The early 20th century saw a decline in the numbers of this rare sheep, but thanks to awareness brought about by social media, the population has risen impressively. Once only found in Switzerland’s remote villages, they have now found their way to Germany, the UK, and New Zealand.
The Unique Features of Valais Blacknose Sheep
The Valais Blacknose is soft and cuddly with a teddy bear look. Its entire face is black which is why you may hear it referred to as the Valais Blackface Sheep. They also have black markings on the knees, hocks, and feet. They have very distinct spiral-shaped horns.
The forehead is broad, the mouth is wide, and the neck is short and well-muscled. Its ears are medium in length, and the sheep can twitch each ear independently of the other.
As for size, rams (males) weigh between 80-130 kg (176-286 lbs) and ewes (females) weigh about 70-90 kg (154-198 lbs). The horns of the rams are bigger and more prominent.
Why Are The Valais Blacknose Sheep Very Expensive?
Because it’s still quite rare and has wool that is much sought after, the price of a Swiss Valais Blacknose sheep can be steep. It’s not only the price that makes them expensive. They are prone to certain genetic diseases and may often require veterinary care. They’re also susceptible to conditions like foot rot and infections from parasites. Preventative measures must be taken to protect the entire flock.
The Blacknose sheep can graze outdoors with ease, but they must be provided with adequate shelter in inclement weather. This can become costly for large flocks. Grazing management is also an expense. To ensure their health and well-being, they must be provided with a variety of grasses and vegetation.
The Valais Blacknose can be purchased from several sources including local farms and breeders, in a newspaper’s classified, or on websites like Craigslist. Potential buyers should take care to research the breeder or seller to ensure they’re getting a healthy animal.
Generally, expect to pay around 4,000 euros for a Valais Blacknose sheep. That’s USD 4,240.79 or CHF 3,790.89.
Where to Find the Valais Blacknose Sheep in Switzerland
These days, the adorable Valais Blacknose shares its home with the upscale resorts of Zermatt at the foot of the famous Matterhorn. The most fun way to meet them is to take the Gornergrat railway to the Gornergrat mountain. Then hit the hiking trails on your own. You’ll be thrilled and filled with self-satisfaction when spotting one. Take binoculars!
A surefire way to see these iconic Swiss animals is to join a guided hiking tour. Look for the mountain guide office called Zermatters. This way you’ll learn even more about this fascinating animal.
The Role of Valais Blacknose Sheep in Swiss Agriculture and Culture
Switzerland has at least 50,000 farms around the country with roughly one-third of the land devoted to farming. Swiss farmers are an important pillar of the food industry and supply the Swiss population with high-quality foods including meats, milk, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.
Organic farming is popular on both large-scale and hobby farms in Switzerland, and cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and other farm animals have an important place in the country’s culture.
The Valais Blacknose is highly adaptable to Switzerland’s varying terrains and climate. They are well-suited to mountainous regions and can navigate the rocky terrain and steep slopes in the Alps with ease.
These highly adaptable animals have been used for meat, milk, and wool by the Swiss for centuries. Their fleece is sheared twice a year and yields around 4-6 kg (8-13 lbs) of wool per shearing. The wool is high-quality with a fiber diameter of 27-32 microns.
Sometimes called the “pandas of the sheep world,” the Valais Blacknose’s cute looks and friendly disposition certainly haven’t tainted its popularity and they have become endeared around the world.
They are often featured in Swiss cultural events like the Combat des Reines, an annual cow-fighting festival where they march in parades alongside the cattle. Shepard festivals and award ceremonies are held at venues like Schweigmatten/Furi. Awards for the best-looking sheep and the best shepherd are announced.
Breeding Practices of Valais Blacknose Sheep in Switzerland
The Valais region has a reported 13,700 Blacknose sheep registered in the breed flock book. Since they are large and relatively slow to mature, competent breeders don’t try to breed them until they are over one year old. Breeding the ewes and rams is referred to as lambing them, and it is typically done for the first time when the sheep are around 18-24 months old.
Breeding is non-seasonal for the Blacknose sheep with an average reproduction rate of 1.6 lambs annually. Natural breeding methods are followed, and artificial insemination is not typically used.
It’s common for the Blacknose sheep to produce twins so breeding them is popular among farmers looking to increase the size of their flocks
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Switzerland known for sheep?
Yes, Switzerland is home to several species of sheep that adapt easily to life in the mountains including the Valais Blacknose, the Black-Brown Mountain sheep, Brown Headed Meat, Charollais Suisse, and Texel sheep.
How many sheep are in Switzerland?
Switzerland has approximately 470,000 sheep or 0.03 percent of the global total.
Are tourists allowed to interact with Valais blacknose sheep?
Yes, tourists can interact with the Blacknose Sheep while hiking or on guided farm tours like the ones in Zermatt.