In addition to our organic crops, we raise honeybees for pollination, hens for eggs, and a conservation flock of rare, primitive British Soay sheep for wool. Brina is our livestock guardian dog (LGD), and Pippy the cat takes care of rodent control. Everyone works on the farm! Our animals are as much family as they are farm workers. They receive a lot of individual attention from us and visitors.
Read on for their stories.
British Soay Sheep
A rare and primitive breed.
British Soay originate from the islands of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland dating over 5,000 years ago. Due to the remoteness of the islands, the breed survived for thousands of years in near total isolation, therefore remaining genetically unchanged.
Soay are considered by many scholars to be the only living relic of man’s earliest semi-domesticated sheep. It is believed Neolithic farmers began domesticating Soay for wool which is hand-plucked (rooed) as they molt in spring. The breed has fine fleece ranging in color from tan to dark brown and black.
Soay are much smaller than modern domesticated sheep. They are smart, social, hardy, and extraordinarily agile. Ewes grow to 40-50 lbs. and rams 70-80 lbs. Soay lack the flocking instinct of domestic breeds. Attempts to work them with herding dogs result in scattering the group.
We acquired our flock from Kathie Miller at Southern Oregon Soay Sheep Farms. Kathie and her friend Val were the first to foster the breed in the U.S. after importing a small flock under genetic study in Canada. Over the years Kathie sustained the breed through an artificial insemination program with UK flocks, while introducing it to hobby farmers in America.
Soay are the UK's oldest surviving livestock breed. They are designated At Risk, meaning there are less than 1500 known breeding ewes in the world. Breeders register sheep with the UK's Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), and genetics are recorded in an extensive database.
Our efforts support the global conservation of this primitive elfin breed. Our flock is accessible for viewing and feeding. Soay wool is available in our farm store Aug-Sep.
One of the great things about Soay is they don’t require a huge tract of wide open space. They are a small breed perfect for small acreage areas. We have comfortably raised up to 30 sheep on approximately 1.5 acres. This includes an inner sheep yard with shade trees, a 16x24 sheep barn, and three fresh grass pasture paddocks.
Soay sheep eat grass and broad leaf weeds. We alternate orchardgrass hay and fresh pasture grass in spring-summer and solely hay in winter. They will not eat coarse, brown, or stemmy hay. Soay sheep eat 2-5% of their body weight in hay per day. This equates to 15 sheep eating approx. 1.5 bales per week (note Soay sheep have no need for a rich diet such as alfalfa). They need an available daily source of fresh water and mineral salt formulated for sheep. Feed stores sell sheep mineral in granulated form. Do NOT use mineral formulated for other livestock or a ‘universal’ mineral because it may contain copper. Excess copper is toxic to sheep and it will kill them. Place a feeder of mineral salt where the sheep can easily reach it whenever they choose in a sheltered area out of the weather. Feed stores sell feeders that hang on a wall so sheep can't kick it over. Treats are the trick to get sheep to go anywhere you want. We use sheep creep pellets. Once they get used to hearing the rattling of pellets in a bowl they will follow you everywhere.
Soay sheep need shelter from severe weather. They seek shade on hot days and cover from storms on harsh, cold, windy, rainy days. An unheated, dirt-floor barn is ideal, or a three-sided shelter with roof will also work.
You will need to install fencing for your flock. Four-foot tall wire fencing installed with steel t-posts will work. If you plan to have multiple areas to allow your sheep to roam and graze or rotate pasture, you will need to design a gate system. Remember that both male and female Soay have horns so watch that they don’t get their horns caught in the fence or gates. Once they get the lay of the land this will not occur. Lambs in particular like to stick their heads through wire fencing to reach grasses on the other side so until they get older you will need to be watchful on a daily basis.
Coyote are common in our area and mountain lions have been known to steal a sheep or goat once in a while. Bring your sheep into a shelter or barn at night, or raise a livestock guardian dog (or llama) with your flock. Electrifying fencing helps. We installed electric tape to run the length of our fencing at top and bottom to deter coyote from digging under and climbing over. It is easy to install and made for use with t-post fence systems. There are several breeds of livestock guardian dog (LGD) that instinctively know their duty. LGDs must be socialized with sheep as puppies in order to learn early on.
Maintenance & Medical:
Soay sheep are relatively easy to care for. Once a year they need hoof trimming, oral deworming medication, and a Covexin 8 subcutaneous vaccination. This can be done by you, all at the same time. We also roo our Soay at this time (pluck wool). For serious medical issues you will need to locate a large animal vet or veterinary hospital in your area. Know their process, hours, and have their emergency care phone numbers handy. Injuries and illness will happen when you least expect it. We recommend you have one or two extra-large dog crates on hand to transport your sheep.
Honey Bees (apis mellifera) are an important part of the farm’s ecosystem. In 2010 we set up our first hive to establish pollinators for future crops. What started as an experiment became an integral part of the farm. Our goal is to raise bees naturally using integrated pest management, and yield enough honey for the bees and the farm store.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices strive to reduce chemical dependency to promote bee health and reduce the presence of pests by using a variety of tactics that are environmentally safe and economical. Examples include ensuring good ventilation for the hive, trapping mites in drone comb, and using screened-bottom boards.
In 2010 Wilderbee became one of the first Bee Friendly Farms in Washington State registered with Partners for Sustainable Pollination, whose mission is promoting the health of pollinators through conservation, education, and research.
Brina is our livestock guardian dog. Born April 22, 2011, she came home to Wilderbee at 9 weeks old. Brina is half Great Pyrenees and half Bucovina. Great Pyrenees have guarded livestock for Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and northern Spain for hundreds of years. Bucovina come from the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. Both breeds are confident, gentle, and affectionate especially with children. While territorial and protective of their flock, their general demeanor is composed and patient. LGDs are attentive, fearless, and loyal to their duties. They are also strong-willed and independent, and may wander if left unattended. Brina is a hard working member of the Wilderbee Farm family. She barks off curious coyotes as well as predator birds that attempt to swoop down and snatch free-ranging hens (and occasionally the cat). Once outside her gate, Brina is affectionate and playful. Her favorite greeting is The Paw.
Our hens free-range daily year-round. Their natural range diet is supplemented with oyster shell, oats, and layer pellets (non-organic). They share pasture with the sheep and help keep the bug and grub populations under control.
Buff Orpingtons originated in England. Prolific brown egg layers, friendly, affectionate, broody, excellent mothers.
Easter Eggers lay blue-green eggs and sport a pea comb, beard, and muffs. They possess the blue egg gene, but don’t meet an official breed description by the American Poultry Association.
Golden Laced Wyandottes originated in the U.S. in the 1870s. Docile, dual-purpose breed, variety of colors. Devoted mothers lay up to 200 brown eggs per year.
Speckled Sussex is one of the oldest English dual-purpose breeds. Alert, docile, good foragers, productive egg layers averaging 250 large brown eggs a year. Varieties include Speckled, Brown, Buff, Light, Red, Silver, and White.
Black Australorps are a large heritage breed from Australia. Hardy, docile, loud talkers, good mothers, and prolific layers averaging 250 brown eggs per year.
Barred Rocks developed in New England in the mid 19th century. Beautiful black-and-white feather pattern. Outstanding for meat and brown eggs. Hardy, long-lived, broody, and docile.