Jan Jackson/For the Capital Press
LEBANON, Ore. — After four years of plowing through USDA and EU protocols, Martin and Joy Dally have welcomed the births of the first Valais Blacknose cross lambs at their farm.
The first to import the genetics into the U.S., the Dallys say they are eager to see them flourish in he U.S.
Martin Dally operates Super Sire Ltd., which offers genetics for the sheep industry, and Joy Dally operates Shepherd’s Lane, which deals in fiber, fleece and pelts from their farm.
The Valais Blacknose sheep, a heritage breed native to the Swiss Alps, is small and cute enough to look at home in any toy store. As is most Swiss livestock, the people-friendly Valais graze in the mountains all summer and are brought down to the valleys in traditional sheep drives and kept housed through the winter.
“It was 2014 when we first saw a photo of a Valais, and it was love at first sight,” Joy Dally said. “We knew we had to have them. Knowing that the sheep had recently been imported into the (United Kingdom), we began our search for breeders there.
“Our knowledge of importing genetics was put to work and after countless phone calls, international flights and filling out reams of paperwork, the semen arrived on U.S. soil,” she said. “We now are the first in the country to have lambs on the ground.”
Before he retired and moved to Oregon, Martin Dally spent most of his 25-year career at University of California-Davis directing the sheep research programs at the Hopland Research and Extension Center.
As one of the first people in the U.S. to use laparoscopic insemination as a means of improving reproduction and genetics in sheep — in 1986 — his main love is breed preservation and the development of fiber sheep.
“It is important to pick a foundation breed that has traits similar to the breed you are introducing,” Martin said. “A likely choice would be the Scottish Blackface as they also have the black face, coarse wool and both the rams and ewes are horned. Our Scotties weren’t ready yet so we used the Teeswater and Gotland ewes for this project.”
The Teeswater has similar face coloration and fiber, though the breed is a little flightier in nature than the calm Valais, he said.
“The Gotlands, which have great mothering instincts and milk well, share the Valais’ calm temperament,” he said. “It is going to be interesting to see how the breed develops over the years.”
He is also lending his knowledge and experience to others who have a similar desire to establish high-quality sheep in the U.S.
“I classify myself as a steward of these new breeds and establishing sound upgrading programs is part of introducing a new breed,” Martin said. “Good guidelines are very important as every deviation leads breeders farther away from the breed’s desired characteristics. Creating a sound gene pool ensures the breeds health and success in the coming years.”
Joy is spearheading a group effort to organize a Valais Blacknose Sheep Society and website with the idea of bringing potential breeders together as the new breed gets a foothold in the U.S.
“This isn’t a breed that commercial breeders in the United States are likely to run three to four hundred head of, but because of its visual appeal and calm nature, I do believe it will be one that may be added to the small farm flocks for its fiber and appearance,” she said. “We expect the fiber, which is a little course but has a bright luster, to take dye well and will be well-suited to outerwear, weaving or felt design. I will also caution to add that as good as the fleece is, if you are going to wear Valais Blacknose underwear, you are a real man.”