News and Events

The Valais Way

The “cutest sheep in the world” are winning hearts in Cambridge thanks to a journey of love by Farmlands shareholders Leigh-Anne and Andrew Peake.

 

The couple discovered the Swiss-bred Valais Blacknose sheep around 4 years ago and began a mission to introduce the breed to New Zealand – establishing their business, Rose Creek Valais Blacknose Sheep. That dream has now been realised with the Peake family among a handful of pioneers who have brought Valais Blacknose embryos from the United Kingdom to New Zealand.
They have now completed two lambing cycles and their 5 acre block is full of the “paddock puppies”, with interest in the designer sheep rapidly rising.

Valais Blacknose sheep are unmistakable with their shaggy coats, long spiral horns and black faces and ears. They have become the darlings of the sheep world due to their appearance and their charming personalities and nature. Leigh-Anne and Andrew say it was on a whim that they decided to purchase the breed, which has been dubbed the cutest sheep in the world.

 

“We began by simply falling in love with the breed but we are very interested to see where our investment takes us from a commercial aspect,” Andrew says. “At Rose Creek, we aim to develop a boutique stud, focusing on the best quality. Upbreeding and part-breeding are not a focus for us.”

 

When Leigh-Anne and Andrew first learned of the breed, it was not possible to import live sheep from Europe into New Zealand due to historic border protection for various sheep diseases that New Zealand is free from. A Ministry of Primary Industries review of the New Zealand biosecurity rules saw the testing regime modernised, making Leigh- Anne and Andrew’s dream achievable. Waikato-based Animal Breeding Services was brought on-board with donor ewes and rams sourced from the United Kingdom.

The process still took a while until finally the family got the call they had been waiting for – telling them the embryos had passed the rigorous testing and were on their way to New Zealand. The couple organised recipient ewes, which were placed on a programme of hormonal treatment, to take the embryos.

“We paid for the embryos, not the live lambs, so there was always a reasonable amount of risk,” Andrew says. The first embryos were inserted under anaesthetic on 12th March 2018, with Leigh-Anne and Andrew setting up a lab at their home and Animal Breeding Services carrying out the embryo transfer. The couple had many sleepless nights as they continually checked the ewes around birthing time. Their first lambs were born between 31st July and 5th August 2018 and were all birthed quickly and up and feeding within minutes.

“They are just super friendly and born with bright white wool and just as cute as could be,” Andrew says. “We bottle-fed selected pets for the school ag day and they all took to the bottles quickly and easily. Their growth was phenomenal, resulting in weaning at 8 weeks and onto NRM Starter Mix and Lamb Performance Pellets.”

Leigh-Anne and Andrew have now had two successful breeding programmes, increasing the lambing percentage from the original 65 percent to 93 percent for lambs born in the last week of September. A mature Valais Blacknose ewe is capable of having 1.6 lambs per year and can reproduce any time of the year.

They have sold lambs to the Agrodome in Rotorua and have also sold some as pets. All the sheep that are sold have a birth certificate complete with the Rose Creek Valais Blacknose seal. Leigh-Anne and Andrew have now decided to start their own pure Valais Blacknose natural breeding programme.

“We have excellent genetic diversity in our flock and have purchased breeding software to manage inbreeding and to selectively breed for desired traits,” Andrew says.

The Peakes have sold wethered pets but need more sheep on the ground to meet the strong demand for breeding stock ewes and rams. The intense demand for the sheep ensures the price remains high and will assist in paying back their investment.

“There is more demand than supply of the designer sheep and at the moment it is about competition.” There is also a strong demand for the Valais breed from other countries.

“The necessary protocols are not yet in place for us to be able to export the embryos everywhere but once countries like Australia and the United States start accepting them, we can develop the embryo side of the business,” Andrew says.

“If we get into that market, we will need our property to be deemed disease-free, so rather than bringing in ewes from other properties we will probably sell semen straws from our rams. That way there is no threat of disease and we won’t potentially compromise our ability to export.”

Andrew says there are future opportunities but for their family, it remains first and foremost about the sheep.

 

“They are like our pets, our paddock puppies,” he says. “We go and sit in the paddock, they love being petted and will walk all over us, nibble at our clothes and are just lovely to have around. They are so friendly, it’s so satisfying looking out at them in the paddock. That’s what has made it worthwhile.”

 

Designer sheep have not always been the breed of choice for the Peake family. Leigh-Anne and Andrew bought their lifestyle block in 2012 and started with a motley crew of Dorpers. Andrew says their flock was quite unruly and even treating their feet was like a wrestling match. They had other breeds come and go until they were able to secure the Valais Blacknose sheep.

Leigh-Anne and Andrew both spent their childhood in a rural setting. Andrew grew up on a farm in the Cambridge area and Leigh-Anne in Central Hawke’s Bay. They jointly run their lifestyle block, assisted by their 11-year-old son Nathan, who has inherited his parents’ love of the land and animals. Leigh-Anne also runs her own industrial consultancy business and Andrew works part-time at the local Farmlands store.

They are also currently restoring an old two-storey house that they bought from Merivale in Christchurch. The house was cut into seven pieces and relocated onto their property.

The couple both hunt and, in keeping with their cute animal preference, have two Gypsy Vanner horses – a domestic breed from the United Kingdom, which was historically used by gypsies to pull their wagons. Also known as the Gypsy or Irish Cob, the horses have big hairy feet with lots of feathers, long manes and tails and, like the Valais Blacknose sheep, have a lovely nature.

Andrew says they are very capable for both hunting and dressage and even though they are a heavy horse they jump well.

Leigh-Anne and Andrew also have a 45 acre property in Central Otago where they grow pinot noir grapes for Matua. While they have no set timeframe of moving south, they say their flock of Valais Blacknose sheep would be more at home in the rugged terrain of their Central Otago block.

 

From Switzerland to New Zealand – taking the world by storm

The super-friendly domestic sheep originates from the Valais region of Switzerland and is a dual-purpose breed raised for both its meat and wool. The Valais Blacknose are a hardy mountain breed, grazing the steepest stoniest slopes of the Alps. Andrew says they are accustomed to the harsh mountain environment and are probably quite spoilt grazing on the Peake family’s Waikato flats.

First mentions of the breed can be traced back to the fifteenth century. However, it is possible the current Valais Blacknose sheep are descendants of a breed introduced to Valais in pre-Roman times.

The Valais became endangered on more than one occasion and finally, in 1962, they were officially recognised as a breed. In 1964, they were admitted into the Swiss Sheep Breeding Association.

In February 2014, the first Valais Blacknose sheep arrived in Great Britain and, in April of that year, the first lambs were born.

While the numbers of Valais Blacknose sheep in Britain are still small (around 400), breeders are beginning to gain some notoriety by creating events dedicated specifically to the breed – and sales of individual animals are reaching record amounts. Both sexes have spiral-shaped twisted horns and adding to their striking appearance is the fact that they command a presence in their size. At around 2 years of age, rams can range from 80-130kg with a height of 75-83cm and ewes range from 70-90kg and 72-78cm in height.

They are known for lambing easily and producing rapidgrowing lambs year-round. They produce coarse carpet-grade wool, with fibres having an average micron of 38 in mature sheep and 28-30 for lambs. The wool is great for felting and has a long staple, growing around 30cm annually, making it ideal for spinning. Each sheep produces around 4 kilos of wool a year, with the wool comparatively low in lanolin.

Andrew says after 3 months, his lambs had grown about 8cm of their distinctive twisting wool. “We are looking to establish a niche market for the wool and maybe even develop some souvenirs as part of our business.”

The Valais Blacknose sheep meat has a low fat content and while the Peake family haven’t yet tasted the meat, they say it will happen – although they acknowledge it could be an expensive roast.