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
Not a breed for everyone
Soay sheep are extremely beautiful, low maintenance, easy birthers, great mothers and inexpensive to feed. They taste great and are low in fat. The lambs gain very quickly the first 4 months, but are finish slow (a plus and a minus). They will learn to eat just about anything, and are fantastic brush grazers.
On the challenging side, they are escape artists, and given their small size can get out through the tiniest holes. Fencing costs may be higher then wool sheep. Rams with their horns can be hard on fences if they are not properly managed. Ewes and lambs can get their heads stuck in some fencing. They are a very flighty breed and have to be managed properly to work with them so that they do not get injured or do not injure you. Small pens work best as they have poor flocking instinct and are lightning fast, so even with a herding dog can be difficult to manage. The other challenge is that there are not a lot of them available so they can be hard to find. Research your breeders and find reputable individuals!
The Soay breeding community is made up of many amazing people and are always willing to help new producers. I recommend that anyone that gains an interest in Soay do a thorough job of researching them and talking to many breeders before you buy them!.
From Chickie74 Dec 10 2012 2:18PM