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Sheep Blog

All you need to know about milking sheep

Soay Sheep

Antonio Pedulla

 

While this site is mostly about dairy sheep and the aspects of milking sheep in general. I thought I would ad a post about another interesting breed of sheep, that isn;t feasible as a sheep for milk but might make an interesting pet, lawnmower or source of gourmet meat. That breed of sheep is the Soay. This breed is a very primitive breed of sheep. The Soay breed is presumed to date back thousands of years. It has changed little in that time and most of the world’s population is in the British Isles, namely the St.Kilda group.  They are named after the Soay island in the St.Kilda group of islands.This archipelago is the only place in the world where Soay occur naturally and on these islands, they run wild. They have no natural predators on the islands where they run feral, so their population tends to expand uncontrolled for generations until the land is unable to sustain them. A large portion of the population will die off as food becomes scarce due to overpopulation and the number of Soay will come back to a normal level, expanding again in a cyclical fashion.

As stated above, this breed would not be good if you are looking to have a supply of sheep milk but they are still a very interesting breed given their history and characteristics. They are small and very deer-like. Most individuals weigh between 50 and 70lbs. So they are incredibly easy to handle although you may not want to handle them much as they tend to be flightier than larger sheep breeds. That being said they would make good ornaments for your lawn or yard. The males, while small, still have the appearance of larger rams, with dark black horns that curl around the sides of their head. They would be great to keep your grass short but they also tend to browse more than other sheep breeds so they would also be good for keeping down brambles and other weeds. They do not have a good herding instinct so they can be a little more difficult to herd than more modern breed of sheep.

Even thought they are small, they can still be raised for meat. You will just get much less than you would a larger breed but the meat is said the be leaner, not as fatty as modern sheep breeds. It takes almost a year and a half for them to reach full-size butcher weight but if you are one that likes to butcher your own sheep then they’re small size would also make them incredibly easy to dress and their rarity and history might give their meat more value, especially to gourmet restaurants or locavores.

Like many sheep breeds, this breed originated in Scotland but it was not brought to North America until the early 90s and only a few were brought over. Animals are no longer allowed to be imported into the US from abroad, so the population of Soay in the US and North America, as a whole, remains small. The population here is slowing increasing. Many breeders are working to promote the breed but breeders are still difficult to come by. The largest population of Soay in the US, seems to be localized around the Northwest but there are also a group of breeders in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. They are such an interesting little breed, one could easily integrate into their flock of  dairy and non-dairy milkers.