It's Fred, yep Fred (my husband) and he's not going to like this blog post. It's all about him and he's not one to be in the spotlight. I was told last Summer that if there was a grasshopper competition Fred would produce a champion grasshopper. Honestly, I can't argue. He is a competitor but more than that, he has a passion along with a gift.
His passion is sheep. From genetics, to breeding, feed programs, and everything in between. His gift? He can spot a champion almost every time. I've seen him touch the back of a lamb and tell the fat thickness. I've seen him say how much a lamb weighs only for it to get on the scale and be within a pound. I've watched him create feed mixtures, measuring a scoop from this bag and a scoop from that bag and adding a little of this and that. He knows when one of the lambs doesn't eat and when one is acting differently. I've seen lambs and pigs survive because he'd recognized a symptom as soon as it happened. I've witnessed over 40 years of this and it never ceases to amaze me. He has an f1 ewe in the barn that he won't get rid of because he sees that "special something" and a purebred ewe that he sees as the future of our flock.
So why am embarrassing Fred and sharing this with you? Simple, it's important to know your breeder. Let's face it, the Valais Blacknose Sheep breed is still in its infancy in the US. There are no experts in the US. Becoming an expert takes time and experience. There are breeders with more experience than others, there are breeders with an animal science background, and there are breeders who are even veterinarians. With that being said, there is still so much to learn about this breed as it pertains to being a new breed introduced to the US. A breed from the Swiss Alps to the heat of Texas, from grazing in the mountains to eating alfalfa hay in the barn. There are adjustments to be made and it will take actively raising the Valais Blacknose and facing new experiences to learn how to grow this breed in the US and allow it to thrive.
When doing your research to purchase any level of Valais, from a foundation ewe to a purebred, you're going to want to ask yourself questions as well as the breeder. You're making an investment. A long-term investment. You need to be prepared and by that I mean you need to know what your goals are. Ask yourself:
Do I want to start with the breed-up program?
Should I consider an embryo?
Am I looking for a pet or a quality show sheep?
What kind of time and money can I commit?
How far am I willing to travel or transport?
Do I have a vet or facility close enough I can use when needed?
Below is a list of questions to ask a breeder that I think would help you make an informed decision:
How long have you raised sheep? or other livestock?
If you started in the breed-up program which breeds would you use as a foundation ewe and why?
Have you ever raised "rare" breeds of any kind of animal?
Are your sheep at your location?
Are you the caretaker of your sheep? Who shears, gives shots, bands, ear tags, drenches, and trims hooves?
What is your history with livestock? Is it showing, raising as pets?
From the time you've started in the breed-up or purebred Valais, what have you learned?
If you had to start over again, what would you do differently?
What made you want to raise Valais Blacknose?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years with the Valais?
If you live in a hot climate you may want to call breeders in similar climates and ask how the sheep handle the heat.
If you have AI'd or have implanted embryos what was your success rate (each time)?
Is AI done at your location or elsewhere?
Are embryos implanted at your location or elsewhere?
Since Valais are fairly new to the US, what are your resources for learning?
No doubt there are lots more questions you can ask but I think the answers to these questions will give you a good idea of what type of breeder you'd be dealing with.
Don't be afraid to contact as many breeders as you feel necessary. There are a lot of good breeders out there and I'm sure each of them has valuable information to share no matter how long they've been involved. Ask as many questions as you need. Good breeders are happy to share their knowledge. They want the breed to thrive. You'll also want to think about how the breeder communicates with you. If you need them in the future will they be someone you can build a relationship with?
As a breeder, raising livestock with over 40 years of experience we've had different problems arise with the Valais. We had to reach out and do our research to help resolve the problems. Each time learning something new. Keep in mind, only a small number of veterinarians in the US have even seen a Valais Blacknose Sheep.
With all of this in mind, contact a variety of breeders, do your research, and ask a lot of questions. By the time you've done this, you'll have a better idea of what you want and what kind of breeder you'd like to purchase from or connect with as a future resource.