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.