The Villnösser Brillenschaf (which literally means “sheep with glasses from the Val di Funes”) is the oldest sheep breed in South Tyrol: it developed in the eighteenth century, a local South Tyrolean strain of the Austrian “Kärntner Brillenschaf” sheep that comes from a cross between the “Alte Heimische Landschläge”, the “Bergamasca” and the “Paduaner Seidenschaf”. It is recognized because it has a white fleece and black rings around the eyes, the “glasses” in fact, and the black color of at least a third, or half, of the ear. In the past it was bred for meat and wool.
Like other rustic local breeds, it escaped in the 1930s the fascist policies of “improvement” of food-related breeds which required the replacement of native breeds with other more productive international ones. This attempt failed in part, thanks to the passion of local farmers who stubbornly guarded it.
Unfortunately, today it is affected by the abandonment of the mountains and alpine agriculture: there are about 2400 adult heads left throughout South Tyrol, of which about 1800 are females who give birth to about 2500 lambs every year. Until the 1960s, everyone raised the Villnösser Brillenschaf, today only three of the breeders registered in the breed association work exclusively on the land, all the others raise and cultivate small plots as a secondary occupation.
In Funes/Villnöß, the area of origin, fifteen years ago there were only 150 sheep left, today they have increased to 600 heads thanks to the tenacious work of Günther Pernthaler, the breed technician, and before him, of Johann Messner, former mayor of Funes/Villnöß and great lover of this breed, who worked on genetic recovery. They obtained the publication of the cattle registry, kept at the South Tyrolean Zootechnical Federation in Bolzano and the registration of the breed among those at risk of extinction, which entitles the breeders to annual contributions in order to preserve and reproduce it.
Like other breeds with fewer than 3,000 surviving heads, it is recognized by the EU as an endangered breed.
Today the custodian farms are about eighty, each with a few dozen animals bred with great passion, especially in the Val di Funes.
Its meat is of great quality, thanks to the natural diet, based on the grass of the pastures and on the local hays, with only a small percentage of cereals (corn, oats, bran). From mid-May to mid-September the sheep of the valley are all gathered together in the Ochsengarten pasture, at 1950 meters above sea level, where a shepherd looks after a flock of over 600 sheep, then they go down to the valley and graze the grass in the meadows until the cold arrives and are then sheltered in the stables for the whole winter. A group of three friends, two restaurateurs (Oskar Messner and Stefan Unterkircher) and a merchant (Kurt Niederstätter), gathered in the Furchetta company, collect the lambs weekly from the breeders, take care of the slaughter and distribution, especially to the restaurants and, together with a butcher from Varna, Amort Werner, is also experimenting a production of cured meats.
The Presidium intends to restore this breed to greater consistency, thanks to the enhancement of its meat on the market, and to transform the Villnösser Brillenschaf into a resource for an Alpine area of great beauty.
Valle Isarco, Valle Pusteria, Val Sarentino and Valleys of the Dolomites (Val di Funes, Val Gardena, Val di Tires, Val d’Ega and Val Badia), in the province of Bolzano.