Soay Sheep is a breed of primitive sheep originated on the Island of Soay, off the coast of Scotland.
Thousands of years ago, people of the time settled a four-island group we now call St. Kilda, located 41 miles off the west coast of Scotland. They brought with them semi-wild sheep much like the Mediterranean mouflons from which sheep were first domesticated. The name of the island, Soay, is Old Norse, meaning “Island of Sheep”.
Life on St. Kilda was harsh and the human population stayed low. The sheep lasted longer than the people, essentially roaming wild, unchanged through the time of the Vikings until now.
Only two groups of Soay sheep were ever exported to North America, one arriving in Canada in 1974 and another in 1990. All Soay sheep in the United States originate from one of those two importations.
Soays resemble primitive sheep of the Bronze Age and are believed to be the ancestors of the first domestic sheep. Soays are small, nimble active sheep. They are excellent conservation grazers, being content in woodland and on hillsides. Soay sheep are fine-boned and late maturing. The tail is short and thin. The texture of their wool can vary, from soft fine wool to more coarse with mixtures in-between. The fleece is normally, shed naturally.
Soays most commonly are dark brown with a buffish-white underbelly and rump. They can also be more blonde or solid black. In rare instances they can be solid brown. A few have white markings on the face.
Rams are two-horned and the horns are strong, resembling Big Horn Sheep. Ewes are most often two-horned, but can be polled or scurred.
Soays are seasonal breeders, generally breeding in the Fall and lambing in the Spring. Soays usually birth a single lamb, but twins are not uncommon
Soay are small, hence they only produce on average 3/4 to 2 pounds of wool annually. It was so soft, the Scot’s used it for undergarments. Because these are double coated sheep, one of the primitive characteristics bred out of modern breeds, their wool is also ideal for felting.