A-Z Soay Sheep: Origin, Characteristics, Feed, Cost & More

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 them 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 this breed 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. Their starting point is from a flock 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 these animals in many parts of the world.

a flock of soay sheep
A flock of Soay sheep

Their Usages 

Soay Sheep Meat

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

Their meat flavor is far from that of many other commercial breeds because they are browsers that consume food from a variety of sources. However, due to their small size, we can only get meat from 12 to 18-month-old sheep.

Soay Sheep Wool

People also raise them for wool. Their 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.

Soay Sheep Feed

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 them.

In warm weather, they 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 They Eat Bracken?

Bracken to other sheep or goats can be a threat, even a poison that keeps them as far away as possible. But, to Soay sheep, it isn’t a problem.

This breed isn’t affected by toxins from bracken, but instead, they love to gnaw it. In fact, where ferns are invading, the introduction of these sheep may be the optimal solution to help restore equilibrium to the natural environment.

Do They Eat Seaweed?

An unexpected answer: yes, they can. Currently, Soay sheep are domesticated in many different places, so their primary food source has changed into the grass and terrestrial plants.

In the past, however, they were the most primitive members of the Nordic breed to have this food as their main diet. 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.

Soay Sheep Characteristics

Are They Friendly?

The Soay sheep size, which is small, may make this breed cute. But the truth is that they 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 be 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, place them in the middle of another tamed flock to make it easier to get acquainted.

soay sheep friendly

Are They Easy To Keep?

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

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

When in panic, they tend to escape or scatter rather than flock together. They will never love a commercially-oriented herd of sheep.

When Do They 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 this breed, the change in menstrual size is up to 171%. If you want to create crossbred sheep, then it is time to mate.

Do They 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. This ability makes the Soay more tolerant and resistant to parasitic diseases than other domestic 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

How Long Do They 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 their common average longevity.

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

How Much Does A Soay Sheep Cost?

The price of a Soay sheep varies depending on gender, not on its age. Normally, a ram costs about $325, while a female is around $400.

When purchasing these 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 of them 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, they are 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.

More Breed: Katahdin Sheep A-Z Information

Final Words

A flock of Soay sheep may be unfamiliar to new farmers. They offer outstanding value in both product and convenience in the breeding process.

However, with some characteristics maintained from wild ancestors, these sheep are quite difficult to domesticate. Hope this article has provided you some useful information before buying a baby Soay for your farmland!

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