26 February 2024

World's cutest sheep was woolly popular with near-record crowds at the Royal Canberra Show

| James Coleman
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The Valais Blacknose sheep won third place in the interbreed championship, among other awards. Photo: Alicia McConnell.

Selling for between $8000 and $25,000 each, the Valais Blacknose Sheep is unlikely to compete with other breeds in the Australian market for wool and meat. But there’s one thing they’re very good at – pleasing crowds at the Royal Canberra Show.

Dubbo-based breeder Alicia McConnell says her rare flock “absolutely loved” the action at Exhibition Park over the weekend.

“They were a bit wary on the first day – like they’d never seen a pram or balloons before – but on the second and third day, they were sitting at the gate, waiting for people to come and give them a cuddle.”

The Valais Blacknose originates from the Swiss Alps and is widely regarded as the world’s cutest sheep for their panda-like faces and soft, shaggy coats.

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“They’re very unique in the markings,” Alicia says.

“Predominately white-bodied with black markings, and don’t look like any other sort of sheep we have. It’s really just personality. They’re naturally friendly and inquisitive and just love being with people and interacting with people.”

The sheep were only first imported to the country in 2020, and this was their first time attending the Royal Canberra Show for Alicia. They took home several awards from the show, including the one she’s most proud of – third in the interbreed championship.

“So that’s when the champions from all other breeds come together. I’m really happy with that.”

She’ll definitely be back.

The sheep had warmed up to the crowds by the second day. Photo: Alicia McConnell.

The total number of visitors over the two-and-a-half-day event didn’t quite match the record-breaking 90,000 figure for 2023, but it was “very close”, according to the Royal National Capital Agriculture Society.

“People came out in droves and stayed in the park for a long time, attending all the activities, which is great to see,” CEO Adelina La Vita says.

In addition to the world’s cutest sheep, there were purebred pig races, sheep-shearing competitions, Ferris wheel rides, and a whole host of games and arcades (like where you have to get the ball in the revolving clown’s mouth – you know, the one). Show bags were in the mix, too.

Despite a wet start to the show on Friday, the sun came out in time to set and for the fireworks to begin on the first evening. Adelina then describes Saturday and Sunday as “perfect”.

Royal Canberra Show

Visitor numbers got “very close” to 2023’s record. Photo: Photox, Royal Canberra Show, Facebook.

Most popular of all was the woodchopping competition, which returned after a one-year hiatus.

“The section head said it was the most successful Canberra show they’ve ever been to,” Adelina says.

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Adelina took up the baton of CEO of the society from Geoff Cannock in October last year and described this first show as “a huge learning experience”.

“The sheer amount of hours volunteers put in, not only over the weekend but in the lead-up, just demonstrates the generosity of people and their passions,” she says.

“So yes, I definitely would love to see how and where we can improve. I’d love to be able to create more unique and vibrant experiences for the Canberra community.”

Woman in pink blazer

Adelina La Vita has been Royal National Capital Agriculture Society CEO since October 2023. Photo: RNCAS.

She describes herself as a dog person, so naturally, she names the dog show her favourite part.

“They’re just amazing, and I don’t know how those judges actually pick a favourite.”

The Royal Canberra Show traces its origins back to events organised by the Ginninderra Farmers’ Union, formed in 1905. It grew to the point it was recognised as the “inaugural” Canberra Show in 1927, only pausing for World War I.

It earned ‘Royal’ status in 1979, placing it up with other shows in Sydney and Melbourne of similar scale. When it was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID, that was the first time since World War II.

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