Soay Sheep: A-Z Animal Information

soay sheep a-z

Soay sheep are not ordinary sheep! Besides the basic benefits such as providing meat or fur, this breed with different values is becoming favored by many different breeders, even becoming a useful and hardworking “lawnmower”.

Thinking about having a flock of this breed but don’t have any clue about their habitats? Then maybe you shouldn’t miss this summary of the most basic and complete information about Soay sheep before start your farming days!

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Where are Soay sheep from?

Many breeds of animals are named after where they were first discovered, and the Soay sheep origin explains their names. The starting point of this breed is from a herd of wild sheep on Soay Island in Scotland.

In the days before 1932, purebred individuals of this breed were quite rare when you could only find them on Soay Island. But nowadays with the development of trade and exchange, you can easily find populations of Soay sheep in many parts of the world.

a flock of soay sheep
A flock of Soay sheep

What are Soay sheep used for? 

Most farmers today raise Soay sheep for meat because this breed produces excellent meat: low fat, tender, and packed of flavor.

The Soay sheep meat flavor is far from that of many other commercial breeds because Soay sheep is a browser that consumes food from a variety of sources. However, due to its small size, we can only get meat from 12 to 18-month-old sheep.

And of course, we raise sheep for wool. Soay sheep wool will fall out naturally around the end of spring and you just need to collect them to make clothes.

However, the amount of wool you can get from Soay sheep is not much (around 200g of wool per one sheep) due to the relatively small size of the species.

What do Soay sheep eat?

As mentioned, diet is the most prerequisite for the quality of a Soay sheep’s meat. Because of that, foods like legumes, vegetarians, grass, or broadleaf weeds are the best source of nutrition for Soay sheep feed.

In warm weather, Soay sheep will absorb nutrients from fresh grass and coarse grasslands while in winter they mainly live on dry grass. You should feed this breed with the amount of hay equal to 2-5% of the sheep’s weight per day.

Do Soay sheep eat bracken?

Bracken to other sheep or goats can be a threat, even a poison that keeps them as far away as possible. However, the species Soay sheep of wild origin felt that bracken should not be a problem.

Not only are they not affected by toxins from bracken, but Soay sheep also love to gnaw bracken. In fact, where ferns are invading, the introduction of Soay sheep may be the optimal solution to help restore equilibrium to the natural environment.

Do Soay sheep eat seaweed?

An unexpected answer: Soay sheep can eat seaweed. Currently, this breed is domesticated in many different places, so its primary food source has changed into grass and terrestrial plants.

In the past, however, Soay sheep were the most primitive members of the Nordic breed to have seaweed as their main food. In winter when food is scarce, the availability of seaweed on the island, especially brown kelp, has become a familiar source of nutrients for them.

Are Soay sheep friendly?

The Soay sheep size, which is small, may make this breed cute, but the truth is that these sheep are harder to get close to than other breeds.

With Shetland or Jacob sheep, the breeder can easily get their love through a few feedings. Soay sheep need more time than that to get acquainted and friendly with humans.

You can apply many different ways, such as raising a baby Soay sheep from a young age to get acquainted with humans or placing these sheep in the middle of another tamed flock to make it easier to get acquainted.

soay sheep friendly

Are Soay sheep easy to keep?

Soay sheep are easy to keep as ideal pets for small herds, as they still carry the primitive wildness of its ancestors. This wilderness allows them to have good health, reproduce easily, and have good resistance to disease or parasites.

Raising Soay sheep takes little effort because they only need minimal intervention, but keep in mind that they are very difficult to tame.

When in panic, this breed tends to escape or scatter rather than flock together. The commercially-oriented herd of sheep has never been loved by this kind of sheep breed.

Do Soay sheep need shearing?

Soay sheep are capable of shedding naturally in late spring or early summer. Usually, the rams will start the process first and the ewes will follow after 2-3 weeks.

For any sheep whose habitat is the forest environment, the self-shearing ability is a natural instinct. For the Soay sheep, that ability makes this breed more tolerant and resistant to parasitic diseases than other domestic sheep breeds.

That said, you can also remove their wool with a sheep shear or just bare hand as the rooing process is quite easy to do.

soay sheep shearing

When do Soay sheep mate?

Both Soay sheep and other domesticated breeds have a breeding season that occurs in late September and in October, with Portland and Merino alone being the exception when the mating season takes place in August.

When you see the sheep’s testicles are at maximum size, it’s suitable for mating. As in Soay sheep, the change in menstrual size is up to 171%. If you want to create crossbred sheep, then it is time to mate.

How long do Soay sheep live?

Once domesticated, the lifespan of Soay sheep can be extended to 12 or 15 years. However these cases are quite rare, usually, 7 or 10 years is the common average longevity of Soay sheep.

In the wild, female Soay sheep usually have a longer life expectancy. A Soay ram can only live an average of 6 years, while in Soay ewes, it is of 9 to 15 years.

How much does a Soay sheep cost?

Soay sheep prices vary depending on gender, not depending on the Soay sheep age. Normally, a ram costs about $325, while the price of a female sheep is around $400. 

When purchasing Soay sheep, you should only choose the healthy ones.

Healthy ewes are those that are fully vaccinated one month before lambing, and rams must be vaccinated each year. All the lambs must be vaccinated against Covexin-8 at 6 and 10 weeks old.

Besides, check for the deworming schedule. The sheep you intend to buy must be periodically dewormed, and supplied with adequate minerals to ensure their long-term health.

raising soay sheep for sale
Raising soay sheep for sale

Are Soay sheep endangered?

Currently, Soay sheep is being marked as “at risk” as there are only 900 to 1500 breeding ewes registered currently.

This number is recorded by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), an organization that is specialized in monitoring the number of native and rare sheep breeds.

Final thoughts

A flock of Soay sheep may be unfamiliar to new farmers. This breed offers outstanding value in both product and convenience in the breeding process. However, because the Soay sheep characteristics are maintained from wild ancestors, these sheep are quite difficult to domesticate compared to other breeds. Get equipped with information before buying a Soay sheep for your farmland!

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