Warning: attendees at this year's New Zealand Agricultural Show should prepare themselves for some serious cuteness overload from what is possibly the world's cutest sheep.
The Valais Blacknose is the unbelievably cute breed of sheep taking the world by storm, and they're about to melt hearts in Christchurch at New Zealand Cup and Show Week.
Their adorable appearance is matched by their warm temperament, described by devoted breeders Sally and Lindsay Strathdee as "more like dogs than sheep."
They first fell in love with the Valais Blacknose breed five years ago, after making the sea-change from Christchurch to the sunny hills of Motueka.
Former midwife Sally spotted the breed on the internet and was immediately smitten with their black faces, ears and feet, shaggy fringes and white fluffy fleece.
They joined forces with friend and business partner Christine Reed from the Wairarapa to import the valuable animals as embryos from top prize-winning flocks in Scotland and the UK, becoming some of the first New Zealanders to do so.
Christine took charge of the selection of the genetics and interpretation of the importation rules.
Today, they are the proud owners of a flock, which combined with Christine's, will number around 50 Valais once lambing is complete. They are in the throes of gearing up to showcase their standout sheep at the New Zealand Agricultural Show in November.
New Zealand is currently home to an estimated 100 purebred Valais Blacknose sheep and Sally says they're in hot demand, but notes: "They're an expensive hobby – some people sink their money into jet boats; whereas we're investing in sheep," he says.
To assist enthusiasts into this breed as a more affordable option they have also cross- bred Valais rams with English Leicester ewes to enable people to start a breeding up program. Lambs from these will also be at the show.
The addiction is understandable – these cute, affectionate and intelligent sheep love human contact and often follow them around the field, angling for a scratch behind the ears.
The Valais Blacknose breed is native to Switzerland, where they traditionally spend their summer months frolicking in the Swiss Alps, yet their popularity has skyrocketed around the world, with Britain's Valais Blacknose Sheep Society proclaiming them the fastest growing sheep breed in the United Kingdom.
New Zealand Agricultural Show Director Geoff Bone says the Valais Blacknose is a great example of the innovative agribusiness on display at the show this year.
"Our packed schedule of top livestock and equestrian events, live music, Endurocross, fun-filled family entertainment as well as the opportunity to explore the latest and greatest in innovative agribusiness will see visitors spoilt for choice at this year's show," Bone says.
* The New Zealand Cup and Show Week is running from November 10-17. Events include the Al Basti Equiworld NZ 2000 Guineas Day at Riccarton Park Racecourse, the Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup Day at Addington Raceway and the New Zealand Agricultural Show at Canterbury Agricultural Park. For more event details and to buy tickets, go to www.nzcupandshow.co.nz/events