Soay Sheep

Considered to be the most ancient sheep breed, there are two types of Soay sheep: the original Soay, which is maintained by conservation breeders in the US, and in other nations, and the American Soay, which is a Soay crossbreed. This breed of sheep has been used by Game farms as an exotic hunt.

Both ewes and rams have horns, though the ewes have shorter horns. The Rams have fairly large gently curling horns.

Soays are a dark colored sheep, with red to brown wool that sheds out. Hand spinners collect the wool as it sheds, and it is prized for hand spinning.

Lambing occurs without assistance in this breed, and they are a hardy and intelligent breed.

The Soay does produce excellent meat that is highly digestible, though it is not often used as a meat sheep due to rarity, except when used as an exotic game animal.

  • Type - meat
  • Size - small
  • Production Capacity - Soays are not prolific producers, but they are hardy and survive well, and are reliable producers for specialty markets
  • Special Features - A primitive sheep, which has the potential to reach specialty markets for meat and for cross breeding
  • Best for Farms - an excellent choice for small farms with the ability to market to high end exotic food outlets
  • Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - tender meat that stays tender to a greater age than many sheep
  • Other Products - some market for fleece (if hand collected), and for hides or horns, lucrative market for taxidermy heads.
  • Historic or Contemporary Significance - Considered the oldest sheep breed in the western world
  • Housing and Space Requirement - small sheep, but they need space to move, and range to forage - rams should not be confined too closely
  • Regional Adaptations - highly adaptable to a range of conditions
  • Feed Requirement - can survive on a typical sheep diet, but do MUCH better on unimproved forage, with some browse under trees
  • Other Considerations - Difficult to find, but worth it. Make sure when purchasing that you know whether you are getting straight old bloodlines, or whether you are getting American Soays that have been crossed.



Sheep were not originally on my list for "animals I have to have on my farm", but they have sashayed their way to very near the top for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are easy keepers except for some parasite issues.
  2. You can produce excellent meat in the same time it takes to grow out a hog, and the meat is better quality than goat meat.
  3. They fit in small spaces very well, and are suitable for backyards and microfarms where livestock is allowed.
  4. Milk sheep produce milk that is high in milk solids and high in butterfat, and which is one of the best substitutes for human breast milk. 
  5. Hair sheep do not require shearing, and many hair sheep breeds produce tender meat no matter the age of the sheep.
  6. Sheep may be grazed with either cattle, or goats, and also do well with poultry (in fact the poultry help control parasites).
  7. Many breeds are very prolific, and easy birthers. When chosen for those traits, they require very little in the way of maintenance to produce a fairly significant amount of meat each year, from a few ewes and a ram.
  8. Sheep can feed on a wide range of natural forage, and can thrive on fodder feeds and garden surplus also.

This puts them right at the top of my Must Haves, because I have also discovered that I really like the meat. Lamb is very versatile, and can be used in a wide variety of dishes that our family routinely prepares.

There are literally hundreds of breeds of sheep, and they tend to be very regional in nature. This means that when you go looking for a specific breed, it may not be readily available in your area, even if it is otherwise a stable and well established breed. You'll find that most local sheep are of a similar breed, or perhaps two breeds, and nobody much questions whether they are a good breed or not, they just acquire sheep and either raise them for wool, meat, or breeding, or they buy the lambs in the spring and butcher them in the fall, much like hogs. As long as they produce, everybody is happy and they do not bother to wonder if there is a breed that might work better.

I have also discovered that the average farming community doesn't know hair sheep from toffee. They are completely ignorant of the fact that sheep exist that do not require shearing. When raising sheep for meat, hair sheep can save you a good deal of money in shearing costs, and save you the bother of having to shear them yourselves when you do not want the wool.

When wool IS a desired crop, the prices are much better for specialty wools - but NOT through the standard wool markets. This means colored wool, fine wool, and ethnic wool types sell very well direct to artists. These sheep are actually worth shearing for the price of the wool, but only if the wool is marketed to specialty markets, and fiber artists, and NOT through mainstream wool wholesalers. A few of the specialty wool sheep also have very fine meat, making them a great dual purpose choice.

Milk sheep have been bred for higher milk production, but a high producing sheep will still produce only half to a third of what a high producing goat will produce within a single lactation. Sheep can produce a good amount of milk at one milking, but they typically do not produce for an extended length of time. Their milk is high in milk solids, making it excellent for cheese, and it has a fairly high butterfat content. 

With goats, you can leave the kids on the doe, and milk anyway. Some owners will shut the kids up separately from the doe through the night after 1-2 months of age, and then wean them completely at about 4 months of age (some will earlier). Sheep do not produce as well, and those sheep that are very prolific are the ones that milk the best - but their lambs will also demand more. So keeping lambs on will make it much more difficult to milk ewes. Milk sheep require additional feeding, and if you want to try tandem milking you'll need to increase feed accordingly.

All sheep are NOT created equal, and one of the strengths of the multitude of sheep breeds is that they are often bred for specific climate conditions, and finding a breed that was developed for difficult climates or conditions can make a huge difference in the ability of your sheep to thrive under the conditions which you have available.

It is recommended that you ask about parasite problems in any breed of sheep you intend to acquire, and do some checking on the prevalence of those parasites in your region. Some kinds of parasites are so aggressive they have been known to take down entire flocks of sheep, and fairly rapidly. When prevented, they are controllable, but once well established, are much more difficult to eradicate or maintain damage control. Susceptibility to aggressive parasites varies widely breed to breed as well.

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