The Villnösser Brillenschaf (literally “spectacle-wearing sheep from the Villnöss Valley”) is the oldest sheep breed in Alto Adige, having developed in the 18th century from a local strain of the Austrian Kärntner Brillenschaf, which in turn derives from a cross between the Alte Heimische Landschläge, the Bergamasca and the Paduaner Seidenschaf.
The sheep can be recognized by their white fleece and black rings around their eyes (the “spectacles”), and the black coloring on at least a third or a half of their ears. In the past the breed was raised for meat and wool. It was lucky to escape the Fascist breed-improvement policies in the 1930s, which targeted livestock used for food and sought to replace native breeds with more productive international alternatives.
The attempt partially failed, thanks to the passion of local farmers who stubbornly held onto their sheep. Now, however, the breed is suffering from the abandonment of Alpine agriculture and the depopulation of the mountains. Just 2,400 adult sheep are left in all of Alto Adige, of which around 1,800 are females. Each year they give birth to around 2,500 lambs.
Until the 1960s, most farmers had Villnösser sheep, but now only three of the farmers registered with the breed association are full-time. All the others cultivate small plots as a secondary occupation. In Villnöss (Funes in Italian), the sheep’s place of origin, there were only 150 sheep left 15 years ago. Now there are 600, thanks to the perseverance of Günther Pernthaler, an expert in the breed, and before him Johann Messner, the former mayor of Villnöss and a great enthusiast of the breed. Both men worked on recovering the breed’s genetic purity, obtaining the publication of a breed register and the inclusion of the sheep on the list of breeds at risk of extinction, which gives farmers who keep and reproduce the sheep access to annual subsidies.
Lamb is available all year, except during the summer pasturing period.
c/o Federazione Zootecnica Alto Adige
Via Galvani, 40
tel. +39 0472 855016 - 347 5555853
Furchetta di Oskar Messner & C.
Santa Maddalena, 89
tel. +39 0472 840186 - 347 3668339
tel. +39 347 1911604
Slow Food Presidium Coordinator
tel. 339 8189965