Annie the Soay Ewe.
Rare Breed Sheep
Sheep were first domesticated in the Middle East. Sheep are descended from Asiatic Moufflon, the Urial wild Sheep and the bog horned Argali. Their ancestors lived in rocky upland areas so they are more susceptible to problems such as respiratory complaints and footrot. This is why native breeds who have evolved to adapt to the UK climate are less susceptible to these health problems. With resistance to antibiotics increasing and footrot a severe problem, hardy native breeds could have an important part to play in the future. Sheep have now spread to all parts of the world and have been bred for many different purposes, for their wool, meat and milk.
Soay sheep are very hardy and can survive in the most adverse conditions. Soays’ can shed their own fleeces and can be resistant to most health problems affecting more developed breeds. Wool is shed naturally each year and is used for speciality hand knitting. The Soay has the most primitive appearance of any British sheep breed and takes its name from the island of Soay in the St. Kilda group. Soay means “sheep island” in Norse which suggests that there have been sheep on the island since at least the time of the Vikings. A hundred and seven Soays’ were transported to the island of Hirta in 1932, two years after the last human inhabitants had left and the Soay's have been maintained as a feral population ever since. They are the subject of a long term scientific study. Over the years Soays have been imported on to the mainland but remain rare. They are a small, athletic looking sheep that has something of the look of a gazelle about it. They are brown in colour with lighter patches around the eyes, and the underside of the body. Soay sheep are on the at risk watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, there are between 900 to 1500 breeding ewes currently in the UK.