By Michele F. Mihaljevich
JAMESTOWN, Ind. – When Diane Squibb and a friend watched five Scottish Blackface sheep walk off a trailer at her farm in January 2019, she didn’t know what the breed up program she was starting would eventually mean to her.
“I remember the huge sheep that were coming off the trailer,” she recalled. “We looked at each other and asked, ‘what are we doing. What did we get ourselves into?’”
Squibb’s plan was to start a breed up program to increase the number of Valais Blacknose sheep in the United States. To do that, she would artificially inseminate Scottish Blackface sheep with semen from Valais Blacknose and after a few generations, would end up with domestic purebred Valais Blacknose. The process must be done this way, she said, because there are restrictions on bringing live animals into the country. Only semen and embryos are allowed. Scottish Blackface are native to Scotland and Valais Blacknose to Switzerland.
There are less than 100 Valais Blacknose currently in the United States, while Scottish Blackface are more prevalent, Squibb said. She’s using Scottish Blackface because they share some of the same physical characteristics. Their personalities, though, couldn’t be much different.
“The Scottish Blackface (coming off the trailer) had never been around humans. My friend took two and I took three. The Scottish Blackface are very skittish, they’d prefer not to be around people. The Valais Blacknose are very calm, they love people. They’re so sweet. If you ever meet one, you’ll fall in love. You’ll have a friend.”
Scottish Blackface are known for their wool and meat. Their wool is very coarse and is used in plaid and tweed in Europe. The wool of Valais Blacknose grows long and curly, and is great for spinning and weaving, she said. Their wool is good for rugs, arts and crafts and outerwear such as jackets and mittens.
“We started off with Scottish Blackface (for the breed up program) because of their horns and markings,” Squibb explained. “They’re a hill breed, they’re hearty. They’re great, a very solid animal. They’re also a very forgiving sheep health wise, especially for someone who has never raised sheep. They don’t fall to disease as much as other sheep in the United States.”
The genetics she used originated in Switzerland. The semen had to be quarantined for six months. Squibb inseminated a Scottish Blackface ewe with semen from a purebred Valais Blacknose; that produced an F1 – 50 percent Scottish Blackface and 50 percent Valais Blacknose. If the F1 is a ewe, it is inseminated with the semen from another Valais Blacknose. That produces an F2, which is 75 percent Valais Blacknose and 25 percent Scottish Blackface. By the time an F4 is produced, it is about 97 percent Valais Blacknose. An F4 ewe is considered a domestic purebred, as is an F5 ram.
Her first F1 was born in May 2020 and this spring, three F2s were born.
“The Scottish Blackface are very doting mothers,” Squibb said. “Lambing is a very emotional and physical process. It’s very rewarding when you see the mothers dote and care for their lambs.”
As Squibb was researching the breed up process, she found Reni Melvin, from New Jersey, who shared her expertise and became Squibb’s mentor.
“That first year, I had no clue what I was doing,” Squibb said. “I was going off what Reni was telling us to do. I think I spoke with her every day. She was so gung ho about helping.
“I’ve read every book possible. I’ve looked up things online. I’m grateful I’ve had people who have helped me. My vet, he tells me if this happens, this is what you’ve got to do. That’s helped me gain confidence that when I do something, I’m doing it for the good of the sheep. I get butterflies when I think about the process and how much I’m in love with the sheep.”
She has 20 sheep – three F2s, 12 F1s and five Scottish Blackface – at her Valais at Squibb Ranch in Boone County.
Squibb doesn’t have a farm background. She was raised in the country in Pennsylvania and jokes that she didn’t do anything farm-related except help shovel manure for neighbors. She served in the Army and came to Indiana for another college degree. She’s a wound, ostomy and continence nurse and her husband, Joel, is a firefighter for the Indianapolis Fire Department.
Her journey to raising sheep started with German shepherds. “I have a love for them and always wanted to raise them. It took me five years to find the right male and female (German shepherds) to start a breeding operation. As I was waiting, I started looking for something new. I saw a picture of a Valais Blacknose back in 2017. I started following people on Facebook because their sheep were so adorable. It just blossomed from there.”
Raising and breeding sheep can sometimes lead to the unexpected, she said. “With German shepherds, I never had to pull a puppy out (of the womb). Most of the sheep will lamb out comfortably. But with some, you have to go in, reposition the lamb and pull it out.”
Her goal is to bring Valais Blacknose to the United States, uphold Swiss breed standards and promote the breed. “I want others to have exposure to the breed. It’s a love. It’s not about how many sheep we have. I could have one purebred and I’d be happy. I’ve put my whole heart into this. You learn as much as you can to give them a quality life.”
What the sheep give back to her is just as important, Squibb said. “I have an hour drive home from my job. This last year has been so stressful. But when I round the corner and see the sheep in the fields, I just relax. There’s a calm. I can feel my blood pressure drop.”