Soay sheep are a very old and primitive breed from islands off the coast of Scotland. The original sheep were supposedly brought to the islands by Vikings. Soays are small in stature, which makes them both easier to handle than large, modern breeds and well-suited for the small farm or homestead. Soays are very hardy. Scrapie is unknown in the breed and foot rot is rare. They enjoy browsing as much as grazing, and make good use of rough pastures with brush and weed.

Soays are quite rare in the United States, and are generally categorized in two or three ways. Soays that are descended from one importation of sheep registered with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust are considered to be pure British Soays. Soays that are descended from another importation that was mingled to some extent with another hair sheep breed are considered to be American Soays. Finally, an analysis of the bloodlines of any particular sheep can indicate the degree to which that Soay is a mixture of these British and American Soays; these sheep are considered to be American/British Soays, and are probably the most numerous of the types.

What does this mean? If you are interested strictly in the conservation of a rare breed, then you will want to concentrate on British Soays. Acquiring sheep that are in need of conservation brings with it some obligation to both respect that rarity and seek to preserve it, as is.

On the other hand, if you are simply interested in an uncommon breed that is beautiful, easy to manage, will help clean up your fields and pastures, requires little medical attention, and can be relied upon to birth easily, then you can be very comfortable in choosing American or American/British Soays. If you have the interest and are willing to invest the time in selecting your stock and developing your breeding plans, then you can breed these sheep for color, quality of fleece, characteristics of horn, temperament, or any other attribute.

Make no mistake, Soays of all types share the same wonderful attributes of hardiness, self-reliance, and low maintenance. So, before you buy, you should decide if your inclination is to be a conservationist who will strictly preserve all the genetics presently existing in the British Soays found in North America, or to be a homesteader or hobbyist that wants more freedom to breed the sheep according to your desires.

We initially imported a starter flock of three ewes and one ram from a breeder in Washington state. We later brought in a few more from the same source. Soays are much more common in the west than on the east coast. They were all flown in; you can get two lambs or one adult in a large dog crate.

Our original intent was to provide breeding stock to folks interested in Soays. Using a conservation breeding plan for rare breeds, we were developing three separate lines. A consequence of this was four or five separate groups to be managed in the fall, which got to be a bit of a hassle. Soays really are easy to manage, but we were using electrified mesh fences to move the sheep around the pastures (and yard). Eventually that became a bit of a chore. With permanently divided paddocks, that issuewould never have arisen.

When we started trying to sell a few, we found that frugal New Englanders had no interest in paying what was a bit cheaperthan the typical price around the country. The fact that Soays are an interesting, easy-to-handle, uncommon breed seemed tobe irrelevant. Plan B had been to raise them for food, because we both love lamb. Having watched the lambs play and given them all names, that became problematic.

By the time the flock grew to thirty, we decided it was time to disperse the flock and move on. Even at fire-sale prices, that took a while, but eventually we were able to create starter flocks for several enthusiasts in Connecticut and Maine.

We still recommend Soays as practical, small-homestead livestock, especially if you have brushy areas to clear and will raise the sheep for food rather than for sale.

Album: Soay sheep