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A brown Soay sheep standing in front of a herd in a grass field.The Soay have 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. These sheep were numerous before the time of the Roman occupation. Their name is derived from the island of Soay off the coast of Scotland.


The largest number of this breed are now found on Hirta which is one of the island of the St. Kilda group. In 1932 this island was evacuated and, in 1932, 107 Soay sheep (20 rams, 44 ewes, 22 ram lambs and 21 ewe lambs) were brought from the island of Soay and released.


The Soay are small framed, good legs and a fleece varying from light to dark brown and sheds naturally in the summer. The males of this breed are horned and the females may be either polled or horned. The fleece is remarkable fine and, in contrast to mouflon, the inner fleece is highly developed and it is difficult to distinguish a outer coat. This is a clear indication that the Soay are indeed the product of a breed domesticated in prehistoric times. It is in many ways remarkable to note the extent to which the outer coat has been removed, especially considering their years of feral existence. The breed also lacks the flocking instinct of many breeds. Attempts to work them using sheep dogs result in a scattering of the group.


The fleece is shed each spring and is used for hand knitting yarns. The wool quality is 44-50's, fleece weight is 3-5 lbs (1.5-2.25 kg) and staple length is 5-15 cm.




Alderson, L. and R. Dowling. 1995. Rare Breeds. London: Bulfinch Press. 144 pp


British Sheep and Wool, British Wool Marketing Board, Oak Mills, Station Rd., Clayton, Bradford. 112 pp.


Mason, I.L. 1988. World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds. Wallingford: CAB International. 348 pp


Ponting, K. 1980. Sheep of the World. Poole: Blandford Press Ltd. 155 pp

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