Wolli, show us your legs!

On Sunday, 10 September 2017, the widely popular Schäferfest (shepherd’s festival) takes place at Furi/ Schweigmatten. Besides festival catering, open-air church service, children’s games, and a birthday party for Zermatt’s mascot Wolli, experts will choose the most beautiful black-nose sheep for 2017 from 140 female animals. But how will they really know that one sheep is the most beautiful among all of Zermatt’s beauties?

Heini Biner, Shepherd from Zermatt, was asked

Someone who should know is the 82-year old Zermatt shepherd, Heini Biner. Already at age 3, this youngster walked along with his father’s sheep. And Heini received the gift of a sheep named Uta from him. "I had a soft spot for her," said Heini, who has been breeding black-nose sheep his entire life along with his normal work as a cook and butcher. He once had 300 sheep and today still has over 80.

Heini Biner

Heini, why does every shepherd always think that his sheep is the most beautiful?

That’s natural in this work. It is like men and women: Every man looks at women in his own unique way (he laughs). When twenty shepherds sit around one table and talk about sheep, each of them thinks his sheep is the most beautiful. And then the experts come from the valley, and they are specially trained and very picky, and they do the rating. The shepherd is not really very happy with what the expert has to say about his sheep.

What criteria do the experts use?

The type is very important. The gait. It has to walk very broadly, the legs must be straight, no knock knees or bow legs. A beautiful, deep chest, broad standing legs, beautiful horns must be there. These are the little things that the shepherd does not always regard. He looks at his sheep and says: "That is a beautiful sheep." But ultimately, the experts are there, and they are very serious about this. Figuring out which is really the most beautiful is not so easy.

Did you ever give your colleagues some advice? You have a lot of experience.

They used to come to me and ask, "How should a sheep look? You are an expert, Heini. Is this a good sheep?" Then I said: "That is a good sheep. But someone else will count the points for the final score." Afterwards, the experts passed out one point too few, and then my colleagues said: "Hey, Heini said that this sheep should get this many points!"

Are sheep really as dumb as many say they are?

The black-nose sheep is very intelligent. It is very fixed on – loyal to – a location. In summer, we also sometimes have snow and thick fog up here. A sheep always knows where it is and how to get home if it has to. When I was young and herded sheep, my father always said: When you don’t know how to get home at night, just drive the sheep in front of you, and you will get to the stall with absolute certainty.

Schwarznasenschaf Nahaufnahme
© Pascal Gertschen

The Valais Black-Nose Sheep – a Special Breed

The Valais black-nose sheep is a distinctively large breed perfectly adapted to the mountain world. It is evenly covered in wool, has spiral-shaped horns and specific colour features. The black nose is characteristic. The black colour continues to the eyes. The ears are also black and there are black spots on the legs. The female animals have black spots on their tails.

Shepherd Festival Programme (weekend of 08 – 10 September 2017)

  • Washing the Black-Nose Sheep - Friday, 08 September 2017
    from 9 am in the wash facility in Zen Stecken near the Forest Fun Park
  • Awarding the Most Beautiful Black-Nose Sheep - Saturday, 09 September 2017
    at 1:30 pm at Furi/Schweigmatten; experts select the most beautiful individual sheep out of 140 sheep.
  • Schäferfest - Sunday, 10 September 2017

    11:30 am: field church service including music with Pastor Stephan Roth
    Afterwards: Beginning of the festival with traditional Ländler music and festival programme for young and old with the mascot Wolli, who celebrates his birthday during the Schäferfest
    Between 2 and 3 pm: "Miss Zermatt" prize for the most beautiful black-nose sheep of 2016, and then the "2016 Shepherd of the Year" prize

Arrival by foot using the signed hiking trails from Winkelmatten to Schweigmatten (45 minutes). Optional: A 10-minute trip by Matterhorn Express gondola from the end of the village to Furi. From there, it is a ten-minute walk down to Schweigmatten.