About Soay Sheep

Soay sheep are a primitive breed of sheep (Ovis aries) descended from a population of feral sheep on the 250-acre island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago. They are much smaller than modern domesticated sheep but hardier. They are extraordinarily agile, and unlike the more commercial sheep they tend to scatter when frightened, rather than flock. This can make rounding them up a frustrating, if not entertaining, experience.

Until 1932 pure-bred Soays were only found on the island of Soay, then a flock of 107 Soays were rounded up and moved onto the main island of Hirta, Today flocks of Soay sheep are found all over the world.

Soay sheep are excellent conservation grazers, being content in woodland and on hillsides. The Soay have short tails and naturally shed their wool in the spring/early summer. Ewes may be polled, scurred or horned and rams are either horned or scurred although the majority have horns. They are brown or tan with a white belly, white rump patch and/or white patch under the chin (referred to as Mouflon). Occasionally white markings on the face and/or body and legs occur. Rarely self-coloured (solid colour with no markings) black or tan individuals are seen. Many Soay rams develop a thick hairy mane.

At Backforest we have a wide range of colours stemming from our breeding programmes that look to maximise the genetic range available. Soay sheep stand approximately 50cm at the withers. An average mature Soay ewe weighs approximately 25kg.

They naturally shed their fleece in the spring under normal breeding conditions. The coloured fleece is sought after for many craft uses The wool quality is 44's to 50's, fleece weight is 3 to 5 pounds (1.5-2.25 kg) and staple length is 5 to 15 cm

Their carcass produces lean meat of a delicious flavour.

Lambs are born after a gestation of 151 days and is usually trouble free; this is several days longer than modern breeds, which also mature faster. Most births are clumped within a few weeks on either side of 20 April. Lambs weigh about 2kg at birth and are weaned by July. The ewes can then spend the rest of the summer regaining condition before the rut in November. Soay ewes normally bear singles or twins and lambs are extremely active within hours of birth. Soay are excellent mothers and are fiercely protective of their young.