The Soay sheep is a breed of domestic sheep from Scotland. It has descended from a population of feral sheep on the 250 acre island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago. Name of these animals is derived from the island of Soay. The island of Soay is about 65 kilometers from the Western Isles of Scotland. The breed is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds. It has been called the only living example of the small, primitive sheep which inhabited the British Isles before the coming of the Norsemen and the Romans. And before the time of Roman occupation, these animals were numerous.
The horned urial sheep of Central Asia and the Mediterranean mouflon breeds are the ancestors of this sheep breed. And the Soay sheep breed remains physically similar to their wild ancestors. The breed is much smaller in size than the modern domesticated sheep breeds, but they are hardier and is extraordinarily agile. Today the largest number of Soay sheep are now available on the Hirta, which is one of the island of the St. Kilda group. The breed has a small population living wild in and around the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. Read some more information about this breed below.
Soay Sheep Characteristics
The Soay sheep are a smaller sized animal. They are smaller in size than the modern domesticated sheep breeds. They may be solid black or brown in color, or more often blonde or dark brown with buffish-white underbelly and rump. White markings on the face and/or on the body and legs are occasionally seen. They are rarely of self-colored. They have short tails and naturally shed their wool, which can be hand plucked in the spring and early summer. The rams are either horned or scurred, and the ewes are polled, scurred or horned. Fleece of the Soay sheep is remarkable fine and in contrast to mouflon, the inner fleece is highly developed and it is difficult to distinguish an outer coat.
Average live body weight of the mature Soay rams is around 40 kg. And the mature ewes weight around 25 kg. Photo and info from Wikipedia.
The Soay sheep is a meat sheep breed. It is raised mainly for meat production.
The Soay sheep are much smaller than the modern domesticated sheep breeds, but they are much hardier. And they are extraordinarily agile, tending to take refuge amongst the cliffs when frightened. Currently the breed is raised mainly for meat production. And it is also pretty good for the production of wool. It has extremely fine fleece, and in contrast to mouflon, the inner fleece is high developed and it is difficult to distinguish an outer coat.
Although it is a meat sheep breed, but the lambs are generally late maturing and produce smaller carcasses than the commercial sheep breeds. Meat of the Soay sheep is lean, tender and low in cholesterol. The meat has a stronger flavor with a gamey taste when compared to more common sheep breeds. Crossing with other larger sheep breeds (such as the Mule or Suffolk sheep) can produce larger carcasses which will be lean and still retain much of the flavor. However, review full breed profile of the Soay sheep in the following chart.
Soay Sheep | Breed Profile
|Special Notes||Very hardy animals, smaller in size than the modern breeds, extraordinarily agile, currently raised mainly for meat production, have extremely fine fleece, lean meat with stronger flavor, good for crossing with other sheep breeds|
|Weight||25 to 40|
|Horns||Yes or no|
|Climate Tolerance||Native climates|
|Color||Solid brown or black|
|Country/Place of Origin||Scotland|