Co Mayo native April Higgins grew up showing commercial cattle from a young age with her siblings and parents and was a well-established young stockperson showing cattle for some of the top pedigree and commercial herds in the country.

April said: “It was what life revolved around and it was what sparked my initial interest and love of animals. It also taught us (my siblings and I) a great deal about responsibility and hard work in producing show quality animals, to be able to compete at summer shows throughout the country.”

In her later teenage years, April attended University College Dublin where she graduated with a degree in animal science and has since been working full-time in the animal pharmaceutical industry.

In 2017, April met her now fiancé, Alymer, through work. Alymer and his father, Michael Power, have been successfully breeding pedigree sheep and Aberdeen Angus cattle for over 35 years.

April Higgins with the BoPeep leading ladies at their farm in Cappagh, Co Limerick. \ Alfie Shaw

The family has bagged achievements across numerous sheep breeds including Suffolk, Charollais, Hampshire Down and Texel and has exported pedigree sheep to Northern Ireland, UK and Europe over the years, as well as breeding champions and record price breakers at major shows and premier sales.

April said: “Through spending endless days at sheep shows and sales with Michael and Alymer, albeit different to the cattle, it was inevitable that I caught the bug for breeding pedigree sheep.”

Given the fact that Valais Blacknose sheep are still considered rare in this country, we asked April how she got involved with the Valais Blacknose breed to which she said: “After admiring the breed online for a number of years and always thinking that they only existed on mountains far away, one day at our own kitchen table in Co Limerick, our Swiss dream came to fruition. Good friend and livestock photographer, Alfie Shaw, was photographing Michael’s Ballyhibben Charollais sheep in 2020 and he had recently photographed a tremendous looking Valais Blacknose ewe, which was for sale."

April Higgins.

“Amidst many words of encouragement, as well as an abundance of research into the breed and their bloodlines, we took the plunge and purchased our first foundation female, Beattie’s Daisy.

“Extremely well-bred and from full Swiss bloodlines, it was the best decision we ever made and, in August 2020, the BoPeep flock was established.”

Since the establishment of the flock back in the late summer of 2020, the BoPeep flock’s foundation female, Daisy, has not only bred its very first stock ram, but also the 2022 Balmoral Show Valais Blacknose champion.

Soon after purchasing Daisy, the BoPeep team made the decision to purchase three more females privately, mostly in-lamb and all from full Swiss breeding.

“This provided us with the opportunity to diversify our bloodlines and build a strong flock from the beginning,” April added.

Operating under the BoPeep prefix, April said: “Our prefix, BoPeep, is inspired by the female shepherdess in the movie Toy Story and the famous nursery rhyme. We thought it was memorable and fitting for a flock of the ‘world’s cutest sheep’.

Gemstone Pippa with her three-week-old twin lambs, BoPeep Kodak and BoPeep Keegan.

“Subsequently, we set up dedicated social media accounts for the flock to solely focus on all aspects of management throughout the year including lambing, showing and general pictures and videos.

“We simply wanted to bring people on this exciting journey with us, but our Instagram grew faster than we could have ever imagined and has compiled 112,000 followers in 2.5 years. It allows us to connect with people from all over the world and even Khloe Kardashian shared one of our videos last year!

“It has been a fantastic marketing tool for our small flock and most of our sheep sales have stemmed from our social media followers. We do also try to use our page as a platform to promote responsible breeding and management of this beautiful, rare breed of sheep,” April added.

Valais Blacknose sheep

Originating in the Swiss Alps, the Valais Blacknose is a mountain breed of sheep. They grow over 4kg of wool annually, hence require shearing twice in the year.

Breed standards are quite high in Switzerland and, of course, these standards are mimicked here in Ireland.

Blackfaces and ears, black knee and hock patches with no black markings on the body are the basis of a perfectly marked sheep.

Ewes have a black spot under their tail and rams do not. Mis-marked ram lambs are castrated and make good pets.

Both males and females have impressive horns that should grow outward from the head in a spiral manner.

The BoPeep flock is continuing to grow very successfully.

In 2022, the Irish Valais Blacknose Society was established to register and promote the breed, as well as educate breeders and organise events for its members.

The Valais Blacknose sheep are now registered on Sheep Ireland and DNA profiling is used in order to protect the integrity of the breed.

In 2022, 137 pedigree lambs were registered in Ireland from approximately 20 breeders.


Last month, April and her partner Alymer took the trip of a lifetime to the canton of Valais in Switzerland, the home of the Valais Blacknose sheep. Every year in the month of February, in a small school hall at the foot of the Alps, the Swiss Valais Blacknose society host the most prestigious Valais Blacknose show in the world, Miss Visp.

The breeders bring their very best females to compete for the overall most beautiful female in the breed, who is crowned Miss Visp.

April said: “It was simply breathtaking to see 200 of the best Valais Blacknose in one place, and all wearing bells so it was quite the noisy event.

“We spent the weekend talking to Swiss breeders, learning about their management practices and breeding strategies and were even interviewed on the Swiss national TV as international breeders.

“Our trip to Switzerland has really encouraged us to continue breeding full Swiss bloodlines and to do our best to better our flock each year in order to reflect and honour the true Swiss-type of Valais Blacknose sheep.

“As one Swiss breeder said, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day so take your time, choose your genetics wisely and you will build the flock you wish for over time’.

We have a lot of interest not only here in Ireland, but from countries all over the world including Korea, Canada, the US and Europe

“Now that we have established a small foundation flock, our plan is to solely focus on breeding quality over quantity. We plan to strategically breed our females over the coming years to introduce new genetics as well as to improve on many desired traits, one step at a time.”

While speaking to April, we wondered if she faced any difficulties when establishing her flock to which she said: “When we initially purchased our first females, many established breeders of other breeds of sheep thought we were mad. I suppose little was known about this very cute, rare breed of sheep – they were quite foreign to Irish farmers. We are glad to say that three years on that the demand for the breed and the BoPeeps is as strong as ever and growing, if anything.

“We have a lot of interest not only here in Ireland, but from countries all over the world including Korea, Canada, the US and Europe. A dual-purpose breed in their native country, they are now mainly bred for the breeders market."

“They are famous for their docile temperament and that makes them not only easy to manage, but very enjoyable to work with.

“The one challenge I do feel the breed is facing here in Ireland and the UK alike, is the overuse of embryo transfer, as it is a threat to our already small gene pool and hybrid vigour of the sheep,” April said.


While getting involved with breeds that are considered to be rare can of course have their difficulties, but with research, time and hard work also come successes both big and small and this was certainly the case for these Co Limerick breeders.

“We have been very lucky to experience many successes to date. The two that really come to mind are winning the overall champion and reserve champion at the very first Irish Valais Blacknose show last August in Bonniconlon with two homebred sheep. We later went on to win two red rosettes at the National Livestock Show in Tullamore, a dream come true.

“We also thoroughly enjoy helping new breeders to establish their own flocks, and not only do we enjoy celebrating their successes too, but we have made lifelong friends in the process.”

From spending just a few hours with April and the BoPeeps, it is very clear that the flock isn’t just a business venture but very much a labour of love.

Hard work, dedication and a love of the breed and her sheep are only some of the reasons why the BoPeep flock is continuing to grow very successfully.


Any of the BoPeep sheep that have been offered for sale have been sold privately on the farm.

April Higgins.

Both bloodlines and quality determine the cost of both males and females which can typically range from €1,000 to €5,000 for males and between €1,500 and €5,000 for females. Any males that do not meet breed standards are generally castrated and sold as wethered lambs.

There is no set price of what this beautiful breed of sheep can sell for. However, an exceptional example is the aged ram, Snowdonia Goliath, selling for 14,000gns (€15,143.82) in Carlisle in the summer of 2021.

Farm facts

  • Enterprise: pedigree sheep breeding– Valais Blacknose, Charollais, Hampshire Down.
  • Pedigree cattle: Aberdeen Angus.
  • Prefix: BoPeep (Valais Blacknose).
  • Farm location: Ballyhibben, Cappagh, Co Limerick.