A FLOCK of Scottish sheep have become surrogate mothers to more than 20 impossibly cute Swiss lambs.
For the first time, Scottish ewes carried the fertilised embryos of valuable Valais Blacknose lambs and recently delivered 23 youngsters.
The lambs – dubbed the world’s cutest – are famed for their almost entirely black faces and shaggy fur and can be worth as much as £5,000 each.
Raymond Irvine and Jenni McAllister imported 11 rare and very expensive Valais sheep – 10 ewes and a ram called King Kong – from Switzerland to their Moray farm last year.
King Kong helped produce more fertilised embryos than the Valais ewes can carry and so Scottish “mule ewes” were implanted with 28 of the eggs.
Between last weekend and Wednesday, 23 healthy Valais Blacknose lambs – 20 girls and three boys – were born at the Tomintoul farm to Scottish surrogate mums.
The “embryo” lambs, the first of their kind born in Scotland, will be raised by their “ordinary” Scottish mothers who are already showing impeccable maternal instincts towards their glamorous charges.
A further 25 Blacknose lambs are expected soon when the Valais ewes deliver their own young.
Valais Blacknose are native to the upper Valais in the German-speaking part of the canton of Valais.
Raymond, 42, said: “Instead of the Blacknose ewes producing just one or two lambs a year, we can use their eggs and the sperm of our ram to produce a much higher number.
“This is the first time this has been done in Scotland with this breed and we’re over the moon with how successful it has been.”
The pregnant ewes had to be checked hourly during the day, and several times during the night when their due date neared.
All of the lambs which were born survived and are healthy.
He added that their flock have attracted the interests of animal-lovers from as far away as America, Spain and Norway.
“We’ve had people arrive in the country from all over the place, calling us up and wanting to come and visit the sheep.
“They just fall in love with them, and it’s easy to see why – they’re so cute.”
Raymond and Jenni, 35, now have the difficult task of naming the flock.
Raymond said: “It’s going to be fun trying to name them. We plan to get some of their fans involved.
“With the naturally-conceived lambs expected to arrive in a few weeks, we’re going to be struggling a bit with space.
“Due to the increasing numbers on the farm we are in the process of building a 100-ft long Agri tunnel.”