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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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Soay sheep in field

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