As global interest in the Valais Blacknose breed grows, one Fife farm is offering breeders a high chance of gaining females from frozen semen.
Tom and Julie McKechnie have been breeding the sheep for two years on their 100-acre farm at Balmerino and, as demand grows, the couple say they are the first in the UK to offer breeders a greater than 90% chance of gaining a ewe lamb when using the farm’s frozen semen.
The Valais Blacknose originally comes from Switzerland, and the history of the breed can be traced back to the 15th Century.
Dubbed the “cutest sheep in the world”, the breed’s photogenic reputation comes from its unique black markings on face and legs, along with spiral horns topped with a curly white fringe.
Difficulties in importing the breed from Switzerland, combined with increasing demand in the domestic and international markets, has seen the value of ewe lambs soar.
Mr McKechnie said: “We pride ourselves in being at the forefront of innovations in the breeding of these beautiful sheep and already conduct embryo-transfer protocols on our flock to increase the number of lambs we can make available each year.
“However, this year marks a new breakthrough for us in the area of semen selection resulting in us being the first breeder in the UK to be able to offer frozen pre-sexed female semen for artificial insemination of Valais Blacknose sheep with more than a 90% chance of resulting in a female specific lamb.”
Much of the technical work on the farm has been done by the couple’s veterinary student daughter, Lorna, who wanted to explore this area of breeding which sees chromosomes separated by machine at lab level.
Mr McKechnie, whose sheep are mostly sold to other breeders, said that while male lambs can fetch as low as £400, the price of ewe lambs can reach £4,000.
Against a backdrop of commercial lambs making around £80, the high- value Valais Blacknose is making the farm, which also breeds pygmy goats, more viable.
Although still relatively rare, the breed is attracting the interest of high-end restaurants and foreign breeders.