A flock of Soay sheep

Why Soay Sheep?

The Trust has owned a flock of native breed Soay Sheep since 2009, the sheep are our ‘lawn mowers’ and help greatly in managing the flower rich hay meadows we are responsible for. The hay meadows are a rare and important habitat and mowing followed by aftermath grazing by the Soay sheep helps to increase the structural diversity and number of different flower species in the sward and also helps with seed germination.

We now have a flock of about 60 sheep that graze our meadows all year round.  Nathan our Countryside Officer is responsible for the management and welfare of the sheep, but he is ably assisted by our ‘Lookerers’ a group of volunteer shepherds who are now extremely proficient in a wide range of sheep husbandry techniques including handling, ear tagging and injecting.

Soay Sheep Background

The Soay sheep is a breed of domestic sheep descended from a population of feral sheep on the 100 hectare island of Soay in the St Kilda Archipelago, about 65 kilometres from the Western Isles of Scotland.

Until 1932 pure-bred Soays were only found on the island of Soay, then a flock of 107 Soays were rounded up and moved onto the main island of Hirta, Today flocks of Soay sheep are found all over the world.

It is physically similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep but smaller and hardier.  It is extremely agile and can jump quite high. unlike the more commercial sheep they tend to scatter when frightened, rather than flock. This can make rounding them up a frustrating, if not entertaining, experience.

Soay sheep are excellent conservation grazers, being content in woodland and on hillsides. The Soay have short tails and naturally shed their wool in the spring/early summer. However, we tend to shear our sheep as we find it easier to treat for flystrike once they have been shorn. They are most commonly brown or tan with a white belly, white rump patch and/or white patch under their chin (referred to as the Mouflon or wild pattern).

Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Soays are registered with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust an organisation that monitors the number of rare and native breed sheep. Soays are shown as being ‘at risk’ which means that there are 900 to 1500 registered breeding ewes.  The Trust registers all its ewe lambs every year.