Let me begin this blog with a big shout-out to any breeder who has a fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep in their barn! We know what it took to accomplish this and we can appreciate everything you've done to make this happen for yourself and the future breeders here in the US. It has been an emotional and costly adventure.
Fred recently received a phone call from a gentleman that introduced himself and then said, "Congratulations". After talking with him, Fred discovered he is a veterinarian and embryologist who a little over a decade ago was the first to introduce a new breed of sheep to the US. Fred was so excited to share the conversation with me because he learned so much and knows he's going to learn so much more because their planning to connect again. For now, his new friend is off to Brazil to implant 3000 embryos (yes, 3000!).
Getting a fullblood of any breed of animal not currently in the US is an accomplishment and I can say a major accomplishment when you throw Covid restrictions in the mix. It is time-consuming to do research and make connections. This includes traveling to other countries and seeing the breed personally and meeting other breeders.
The only way to currently have a fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep in your barn today (2023) is through embryo transfer. This is a whole new set of challenges. We began by purchasing live sheep in New Zealand with the hopes they could be transported to the US. With the Covid restrictions, this became impossible. At that point, the breeder agreed to flush our ewes and send our embryos.
After all the communication, the paperwork, and the transporting of the embryos to the US we had to coordinate the timing for implanting those embryos in our synchronized ewes who had a small window to make the transfer successful. Here comes the stress.....embryos were delayed at the airport on the east coast. We had a vet traveling with a mobile unit to implant the embryos the next day. Our recips were ready, our vet was ready, but our embryos? Not so much. With utmost determination, Fred drove for hours (with a major detour) and met another vet who agreed to drive part of the way and meet him. Fred pulled up in our driveway with the embryos about an hour before the vet arrived. When you look at the picture of Fred carrying that tank with a smile on his face, now you know why!
So let's think about everything that was an expense on this journey:
I have no doubt there are some expenses I missed. This year we had RSG implant our embryos, so that was a different expense than last year.
We've seen embryos priced from $2000 - $5900 each. Now multiply that number by however many embryos you want to purchase. Keep in mind there is never a guarantee (that we've seen) that embryos will take. It's a big gamble. So let's say you purchase 10 embryos at $3000 each = $30,000, that's just for the embryos. The expenses listed above equal thousand (and I mean thousands) more.
We've heard from others a variety of success rates from 20%-80%. Let's say you have a 50% success rate. That's 5 fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep. Of course, you're hoping for ewes because that is the way to grow your flock. We're running at about 70/30 ram to ewe. If you have 5, feel very fortunate if you get more than 2 ewes. Then we need to make sure they're healthy and nothing happens to them. We've lost one fullblood and have heard about others who have also lost some. So you have 2 ewes and 3 rams Whoo Hoo! You want to keep your ewes, so you now have 3 rams to sell. But, now you have to evaluate them. Good structure? Markings? Wool?
We have seen fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep priced in the US between $8,000 - $30,000 each. We're guessing this depends on markings, structure, and wool. I say guessing because we don't price ours until they have been on the ground a few weeks and are healthy. Then we go through a process to determine the price. What's our process you ask?
I want to begin by saying we're not telling anyone how to price their sheep. I'm just sharing with you how we do it. So here are our steps:
All the lambs are ear-tagged so there is no confusion.
Take pictures of each lamb. Good shot of front, side, and back.
Take notes to record thoughts
Pick up and feel each lamb
Make notes of their markings and wool
Gather our notes and pictures
Each lamb is ranked in 3 different categories 1)Structure 2)Markings 3)Wool
Fred and I rank each lamb from 0-10 in each category
We compare our rankings (usually pretty close)
We combine our scores and rate the highest to lowest score
Our higher number ranking equals higher priced lamb
We think this process is fair and allows the very best to rise to the top. If we had to choose the category we think is most important? Hands down it's the structure of the animal. So if the lamb you choose is the lowest price it doesn't mean you got a bad lamb, it just means maybe their markings weren't as strong or their wool wasn't as good as those above it, but the structure is there.
Back to the vet/embryologist that contacted Fred earlier. He explained from his experience the high prices for his sheep lasted for about 5 years. After the 5-year period, the prices dropped but remained high for the top-quality sheep. I'm guessing that's going to be the same scenario for the Fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep.
When it's all said and done, this blue-collar husband and wife team are pretty happy with the decisions we've made. We can look back and realize the time, money and stress it took to make this happen. We can appreciate others that have accomplished this and honestly respect at this stage, why each breeder chooses to price their Valais according to their own expenses and experiences. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it and we'd do it all over again.