2008 Watchlist; Category 4, At Risk.
The Soay has the most primitive appearance of all
domestic breeds, and is regarded as a modern day
representative of the types of domestic sheep first
brought to the British Isles. The breed is descended
from sheep found on the island of Soay in the St Kilda
group of islands off the Scottish coast. The word Soay
is Norse for “sheep island” and it is probable that the
Vikings found sheep of a similar type to the modern
breed on the islands.
The Soay is a small, hardy breed. Average adult ewe
weight is about 25kg. Fleece colour is usually brown,
either chocolate or tan with light markings under the
belly, on the rump, over the eyes and under the jaw.
Self-coloured (without markings) animals occur,
including black, and there are some with white markings.
Rams are usually horned. Ewes can be horned or polled.
Some scurred (small misshapen horns) animals occur in
both sexes. Tail is very short and the fleece is shed
naturally each year if animals are not shorn.
The Soay has been used successfully in the reclamation
of low fertility grazing; its light tread and ability to
survive on sparse vegetation make it ideal for such
work. The Soay ewe is an excellent mother, and Soay
mutton has excellent flavour. Shelter is sought more
readily than other breeds of sheep due to their small
body size and lightweight fleece.
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