The breed had never been on Australian soil until now, according to Andrew Tongue, deputy secretary at the National Biosecurity Committee.
“The breed has now spread to Europe, the U.K., and the U.S., and this year the first Valais reached Australia,” Tongue said.
The Valais is an ancient sheep breed hailing from the Swiss Alps, known for its black noses, black knees, and woolly coats that make it look like it was knitted.
“They are gentle and curious with very little fear of humans, making them the perfect pet,” Valais Blacknose New Zealand said on its website. “The Swiss say, ‘make friends with a Valais and you have a friend for life!’”
The Valais created a biosecurity storm in Australia last October when the company in Western Victoria imported the first tanks of genetics.
“Farmers and pet lovers have been interested in getting the Valais Blacknose breed into Australia for many years, but an Australian importer, Caprotek, finally succeeded following a request to the department to import embryos and semen from this breed,” Tongue said.
Due to Australia’s very strict import laws, it took a while before any genetic material, which can pose a risk of disease including scrapie—the ovine equivalent of Mad Cow disease—was permitted into the country.
Scrapie is a disease that can lead to the animals scratching or scraping patches of their fleece until skin is exposed, ultimately leading to their death.
“Following a long process over three years, complicated by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, the frozen embryos and semen were approved by the department and were able to make their way to Australia,” Tongue said.
“The importer was able to meet all biosecurity requirements to allow the import, and the result was worth the effort.”
The sheep don’t come cheap and at $7,000 for a wether and $25,000 for a ewe, the ABC nicknamed them “very expensive lawnmowers.”