May Member Focus of the Month – Alex and Chris Burch, Lancaster 🏴
1.Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a hill sheep farmer’s daughter who has always wanted to be a farmer but by circumstance instead became a physiotherapist! I have a full time private practice based in Carnforth, Lancaster which I began back in 2007. However, the need to have some form of farming life has never left me and after many years of dreaming I managed to persuade my husband Chris to buy a little 12 acre small holding between the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. My father sadly passed away just before we moved to the smallholding and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to him to buy some sheep in his memory. I came across the beautiful valais blacknose sheep and the rest is history!
2.Do you have a website/facebook page?
As yet I do not have a website but I am on facebook under Valais Blacknose Sheep Birchfield
3.Flock Prefex Birchfield
4.When did you get your first Valais Blacknose Sheep?
I bought a starter flock of two ewes and a ram ( not forgetting a wether to keep the ram company) from Tim Dunne of the Westmorland flock. They are lovely sheep and remain in the flock today.
5.How big is your flock?
I now have a total of 20 sheep, 4 of these are the result of crossing mules with my ram. They have some nice traits but are still more wary in nature than my valais.
6.Who has been your favourite sheep and why?
Derrick remains my favourite – though each one has their own great character, He was my first ram and is a great example of the breed. He is such a friendly lad and adores a fuss. Sadly he is now only kept as a pet because of an injury to his knee last summer which means he can no longer be used actively with the ewes. I have semen straws from him and hope that his genes will continue down the line with some of my new ewes. His off-sping have been very successful, despite there only being a handful of them, with a 5th place at Carlisle last year for his ram lamb Fabian who I bred and who has now gone to Jackie and Jack Simonini. Derrick also sired two maximum point ewe lambs at Carlisle in 2019, both owned and bred by Heather Allan. I was really proud of Derrick’s part in that and so pleased for them.
7.Do you have any tips you have learned about the breed along the way?
I have definitely learned and am still learning about this breed. In our Cumbrian climate the weather is often against us, being much wetter than their original Swiss home. Shearing at the right time twice a year together with frequent foot care are the most important elements for me. My flock live out the best part of the year and cope very well but they come in for three to four weeks after shearing in Feburary. A pair of hoof trimmers and blue spray are always in my pocket! I am also learning a bit more about show preparation from some of the excellent breeders both here and in Switzerland.
8.What are your ambitions for your Valais Blacknose Sheep?
First and foremost I want to breed valais that are fit and healthy and well cared for. They deserve the best lives and they give so much back. Next on my bucket list has to be winning a bell at Blacknose Beauties in Carlisle! It may be some time off yet but a girl can dream can’t she?
9.What other animals do you have?
I have an ex-racehorse Maddie who is another love and passion of mine. She is the best horse I have ever owned and we take part as often as we can in a variety of horsey activities including eventer derby, hunting, cross country and flatwork. There’s Hector the donkey who is a great companion and such a cheeky fella! Then the dogs Lola and Rey.
10.What is the best thing that has happened to you because of owning Valais Blacknose Sheep?
As many breeders have already said, one of the best things has to have been meeting the other passionate valais blacknose breeders around the UK and in Switzerland. I have been so fortunate to have managed to visit Visp on two occasions to see Miss Visp in 2018 and then Widdermarkt in 2019. Every sheep shown there was absolutely gorgeous and perfect and the company was second to none! It was a great experience. I will not expand too much further but the Coffee/ Schnapps left Chris and I somewhat worse for wear on both occasions! Will we ever learn?