Soay are the oldest breed of sheep known, dating back to 600 B.C. They exist today on the Scottish St. Kilda Islands, Soay & Hirta, where their numbers have remained constant due to the limitations of habitat. Access to Soay Island is now restricted and the animals are in protected status. A small number of Soay Sheep came to North America from parks, zoos, and private collections in the U.K. Soay numbers are limited in North America as well as globally.
Soay Sheep are aloof, wary, and graceful. They resemble small antelope or deer with fleeces that may be blonde, fawn, shades of brown, or black. Most Soay Sheep have light markings on the belly, rump, over the eyes and under the tail and jaw. They have short clean tails and shed their wool. Their hooves do not generally require trimming on rocky pasture, and annually on less rocky environs. They are hardy disease-resistant animals, shy yet curious.
Rams develop beautiful full curl horns and often a striking mane or bib of long darker hair that lends an elegant appearance. The ewes may sport less dramatic horns, have button horns (called "scurs") or be naturally polled. Wethers (castrated males) make good lawnmowers, fleece producers, and develop horns correlating with the age at which they were neutered.
Like antelope, Soay sheep "stott" (sprint-jump on all fours) when alarmed or exuberant. Soay do not require shearing since they will cast (shed) their wool in spring. Wool can be collected just before shedding by either plucking (called rooing) or shearing if desired.
Soay are small, averaging 55-65 pounds. Their size makes them easy to handle, and feasible for a shepherd (ess) to handle them alone. Their small size and light weight impacts pastures less than heavier meat and wool breeds.
Soay require reliable fencing, shelter from rain, adequate shade, plain salt, and a safe-for-sheep (no copper) mineral supplement. Providing good quality hay and augmenting forage with alfalfa or commercial sheep ration during late pregnancy and lactation will keep ewes in good condition and help lambs to thrive.
They are excellent conservation grazers, being content in woodland and on hillsides. Their colored fleece is sought after for many craft uses and their carcass produces lean meat with a delicious (elk like) flavor.
For Past Thyme Farm to succeed at sustainability, it is very important that every component we put onto our farm gives back to the farm more that it takes!
Our Soay flock helps regenerate our rich soils by providing an endless supply of nitrates, a fiber/fleece source that we will process into hats and scarves, a very lean meat source for our table, a great weed & brush eradicator and finally, yet another unique experience for you our Guests.