Soay Sheep

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The basics:
The Soay sheep is a primitive breed of domestic sheep descended from a population of feral sheep on the 250-acre island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago, about 65 kilometres (40 mi) from the Western Isles of Scotland. It is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds.

The Soay is believed to be a survivor of the earliest domesticated sheep kept in northern Europe, and it remains physically similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep, the Mediterranean Mouflon and the horned urial sheep of Central Asia. It is much smaller than modern domesticated sheep but hardier, and is extraordinarily agile, tending to take refuge amongst the cliffs when frightened. Soay naturally molt their their wool, which can be hand plucked (called rooing) in the spring and early summer.

Appearance / health:
Soays may be solid black or brown, or more often blonde or dark brown with buffish-white underbelly and rump. A few have white markings on the face. Soay Sheep have short tails and naturally shed their wool, which can be hand plucked (called rooing) in the spring and early summer. Ewes are polled, scurred or horned and rams are either horned or scurred. They are most commonly brown or tan with a white belly, white rump patch and/or white patch under the chin (referred to as the Mouflon or wild pattern). Occasionally white markings on the face and/or body and legs occur. Rarely self-colored (solid color with no markings) black or tan individuals are seen.

This Soay Sheep has extremely fine fleece and, in contrast to mouflon, the inner fleece is highly developed and it is difficult to distinguish an outer coat. This is a clear indication that the Soay are indeed the product of a domesticated breed in prehistoric times. The breed also lacks the flocking instinct of many breeds. Attempts to work them using sheep dogs result in a scattering of the group.

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep and goats. It is one of several transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which are related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease") and chronic wasting disease of deer.

Housing / diet:
Soay are hardy and able to thrive on rough grazing, and so are often used as conservation grazing animals to maintain natural grassland or heathland habitats. They are particularly effective at scrub control, having a strong preference for browsing.


easy keepers, great mothers, delightful inquisitive sheep, independent homesteader, stunning appearances


escapologists, Fencing costs, flighty breed, poor flocking instinct, escape artists


loose wool, St. Kilda islands, small size, Northern Shorttailed group, genetic preservation

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