This is Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, Gerallt Jones (43), Waunfawr, North Wales, Snowdonia Valais Blacknose, in this week’s sheep farming segment.
“My family has lived and worked on our traditional hill farm for over 90 years, spanning three generations.
One of my earliest memories was bottle-fed calves as a child. But what comes to my mind is attending my first cattle auction with my grandfather.
The bustling crowds: the abundance of sheep, cattle, poultry and vegetables for sale was incredible, as was the special treat of visiting the neighboring cafe for breakfast. The excitement of that day remains as vivid as ever.
My grandfather raised cattle and sheep and was a respected sheep farmer. When my father took over the farm, his main focus was and continues to be commercial sheep farming.
I work full-time off-farm at a hydroelectric plant and do my farming duties after work, on weekends, and in my spare time.
Valais Blacknose breeders
I manage the Snowdonia herd with my father, Alfred Jones, who manages the daily run; but myself, my wife Kerry and our young sons Alfie and Luca manage the Valais Blacknose herd.
We started our Valais journey with our little boys and their sheep obsession and hobby.
They were a little too young at the time to handle commercial sheep, but the Valais proved to be an excellent introductory breed due to their calm nature.
Their gentle demeanor allows the boys to learn husbandry skills safely and gives them the confidence to show their animals at agricultural shows.
We bought our first Valais ram in the summer of 2017, initially with the intention of crossing it with our Grey-faced Dartmoors.
Upon his arrival, we immediately fell in love and decided to focus on breeding stock instead.
After a lot of research, we racked up an inordinate amount of miles visiting flocks and cherry picking ewes of different bloodlines to build our core flock over seven months.
Our first lambs were born in 2018 and we have been breeding and competing on the show circuit ever since.
Now we have more than 40; we usually start the lambing season in early March to mid-April.
They lamb the walleyes indoors so we can watch them more closely. They tend to be easy lambers, but being breeding sheep, we tend to be a bit cautious and prefer to have support on hand if needed.
We have a CCTV system which helps a lot, especially as my wife and I work full time and live off the farm.
We find it very useful for nighttime checks, but we don’t rely on it completely. If I’m not sure about something, I get up and go to the farm regardless of the time to double check.
We lamb before the commercial herd to avoid taking over Dad’s stables, but we always run into a few stragglers demanding a bay.
The spring grass is also ready and the days are getting warmer, so now is the best time to get the mother and lambs out.
We let nature take its course when it comes to breeding, which often means lambing within a few weeks.
Valais Blacknoses are a non-seasonal but very slow maturing breed; therefore we do not lamb our ewes until they are at least 15-18 months old (some older) to give them the best chance of lambing.
If any ewes are not picked or blank scanned within the allotted time, we rest them until the next season so they are all in sync.
The main reason for this is that we do not like to push our cattle and at the same time we do not have the opportunity to lamb all year round.
Currently, we keep most of our offspring as breeding and show stock. We only butcher a small number of lambs each year, so this is a viable option for us now.
In time, we will hopefully be able to offer more animals for sale, that is, if I can convince my wife and kids to part with any animals.
Valais Blacknose: Prices
Prices start at a few hundred for the weanling males (in the air) that we sell as pets and ewes/ram lambs etc. for upwards of £2,000. good luck.
Prices vary widely, but as with all breeds, quality goods command the highest prices. Since 2019 we have set the Valais Blacknose Breed Society total sale record at 11,000gns.
In 2021 we broke our existing record by setting a new record of 14,000gns achieved by our shearing ram Snowdonia Goliath.
We focus on breeding high-quality animals from Swiss breeds that are faithful to the sheep found in their homeland.
This means they must meet all aspects of the breed standards, which are very specific. General appearance should be correct, including markings, fit and wool quality.
Breed standards were created in Switzerland and UK society follows the same principles.
We have been exhibiting our sheep at the breed society’s national show, Royal, county and local agricultural shows since 2018 with great success.
Our herd was the first to compete in any other breed class at the 2018 Royal Welsh show. Since then, we have worked closely with the RWAS to create breed-specific classes that were a huge success at the first post-pandemic show in July 2022.
Of course, it’s about the people we meet, the lifelong friends we make, the passion and joy of our children.
Our journey so far has been both enlightening and exhilarating. We feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit Switzerland several times to meet breeders and attend their national shows to further our knowledge.
The herd will naturally grow slowly due to the number of breeding animals we have; but the emphasis will be on quality rather than quantity.
As we keep our ewe lambs we are always looking at the different bloodline options we offer by buying new rams; over time, the goal is to become a closed herd.
Swiss breeding traditions
As a family, we have a real passion and are very invested in following the breed and Swiss breeding traditions. This breed has brought so much joy to our family over the past five years and opened up a whole new world of adventure.
This is definitely a lifelong love affair and we plan to continue to enjoy these incredible animals and breed the best we can into the future.
Our goal has always been to breed champion animals worthy of the Valais Blacknose Society (VBS) Blacknose Beauties National Show Supreme Champion title, which we have achieved this year with our senior ewe Snowdonia Halo, who is also national female champion.
Our ewe lamb, Snowdonia Jovie, was also 5-month-old female reserve champion. In 2021, our ram Snowdonia Goliath became the supreme and male champion in the national reserve.
Top show animals
The hope going forward is to continue breeding the best show animals and further promote this unique breed.
Earlier this year I was also invited by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society to judge the Valais Blacknose division at the Balmoral Show, another exciting chapter in our herd’s journey.
The last few years have been a whirlwind experience as newcomers to breeding and showing; it has been a huge learning curve.
We are extremely proud of all our achievements to date and especially of our boys; Their passion and commitment at such a young age is inspiring.”
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