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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 05, 2021

17 Soay Sheep Facts You’ll Never Forget

Soay sheep facts are interesting to learn about.

Soay sheep (Ovais aires) have the most primitive appearance of any other British sheep breeds. It descends from the island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago, Western Isles of Scotland. This breed has derived its name from the island Soay which means 'sheep island'. These sheep were in abundance before the times of the Roman occupation. There are 1500 Soays left which is why this species has been listed with 'Category 4: At Risk' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust(RBST) which helps to maintain the population of this rare breed.  

These breeds are physically similar to their wild ancestors. Although, the Soay sheep size is smaller than the modern domesticated sheep but is hardier and agile in nature. There lies a color variation in Soay sheep, from black, blonde, or tan chocolate color with buffed-white patches all over the body and they have a short tail. The female breed is polled or horned but all the rams are horned.  There are two categories of horns that exist in these rams: normal males and secured males who have smaller horns. The fleece is extremely fine and sheds off naturally in the spring and early summer. Soay sheep wool can be hand-plucked which is called rooing and is used for knitting yarn. The Soay sheep fleece weight is 3-5 lb, 1.9-5.9 in long. Soay sheep are used mainly as livestock for meat production. Soay sheep meat has a stronger flavor with a gamey taste compared to other sheep breed meat. The wool of this breed is remarkably fine in comparison to muflon, the inner fleece is highly developed.  In 1932, 107 Soay sheep (20 rams, 44 ewes, 22 ram lambs, and 21 ewes lambs) were released from Soay, since then a feral population of these breeds is maintained.

The breeding season sets in the month of November, this breed has a polygynous breeding system in which the ram gets to mate with multiple ewes. The horns act as a secondary sexual character, the ewe gets attracted to the males who have larger horns. Soay sheep pregnancy lasts for about 151 days, at the end of March or the beginning of April a Soay lamb is born.

If you find this article interesting then do check out American brahman facts and wildebeest facts.

Soay Sheep Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Soay sheep?

Soay sheep is a type of domestic sheep.

What class of animal does a Soay sheep belong to?

Soay sheep belongs to the class Mammalia.

How many Soay sheep are there in the world?

Around 1500 Soay sheep are found in the world.

Where does a Soay sheep live?

Soay sheep live in the western parts of Scotland and parts of Northern Europe.

What is a Soay sheep's habitat?

Soay sheep live in the wild on 100 hectares of islands of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland. These sheep are excellent conservation grazers, satisfied in the grasslands or on the hillsides. They munch on weeds as well as grasses, their small hooves don't trample down the pastures.

Who do Soay sheep live with?

Soay sheep usually live in a flock. They tend to take refuge in the cliffs when they are frightened.

How long does a Soay sheep live?

The lifespan of a British soay sheep is around 9-15 years.

How do they reproduce?

On St. Kilda island, the breeding season takes place in November. These breeds have a polygynous mating system which means males mate with multiple females. Once the rams locate their partners they have a tendency to chase off other males who try to approach. The size of the horns works as a secondary sexual character for this breed, the ewes become attracted to the rams who have bigger horns. Approximately 151 days after the mating process, the gestation lasts and Soay sheep lambs are born at the end of March or the beginning of April. Most adult ewes produce every year. There is a probability of bearing twins in the older ewes but the females conceiving for the first time usually produce single lambs.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of Soay sheep is Not Applicable according to the International Union for Conservation o Nature. It has been listed with 'Category 4: At Risk' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust(RBST) a conservation charity that ensures the continued existence and maintains the population of this rare breed.  There are currently 1500 Soay sheep in the world.

Soay Sheep Fun Facts

What do Soay sheep look like?

Soay sheep have a polygynous mating system.

British Soay sheep are small, athletic-looking sheep with a black, blonde, or tan-brown color wool body with lighter white patches around various parts such as their eyes, the undersides of the body, the rump, and under the jaws. The rams weigh around 85.2 lb whereas the ewes weigh 55.1 lb. Usually, male Soays are horned and female Soays are either polled or horned.

How cute are they?

Soay sheep look quite cute with their blonde or chocolate brown fleece body with white patches on it. This breed has short tails, the rams usually have horns whereas the ewes can have horns or can be polled. Although they are smaller in size than the modern domesticated sheep, they are much harder and agile in nature.  

How do they communicate?

Soay sheep communicates vocally by making sounds such as bleats, grunts. rumbles and snorts. Lambs especially use bleating noise ('baaing') to communicate with their parents and also this sound is used when they get isolated from their flock. Often sheepdogs are used to make them work which results in the scattering of the flock.  Although, this breed lacks the flocking instinct in comparison to other breeds.  

How big is a Soay sheep

The height of the Soay sheep is 22 in whereas the modern domesticated sheep are 44 in. Therefore, Soay sheep are two times smaller in size than the other sheep breed that exists.

How fast can a Soay sheep run?

Soay sheep can take long jumps and run away when they are being chased otherwise they move slowly in a flock. They tend to hop quickly and hide out in the mountain cliffs when they feel threatened.

How much does a Soay sheep weigh?

Mature female Soay sheep weigh around 52.9 lb on the other hand the mature males are around 83.8 lb. The wool of the soay sheep's weight is 3-5 lb, 1.9-5.9 in long. This breed is one-third of the size of the most contemporary domesticated sheep

What are their male and female names of the species?

The male and female name of this Soay sheep species is ram and ewe respectively.

What would you call a baby Soay sheep?

A soay sheep newborns are called a lamb.

What do they eat?

Soay sheep munch on grass and broadleaf weeds. In the spring-summer, they prefer eating fresh pasture grass while in the winter they entirely depend on hay. This breed of sheep does not eat rough, brown, or steamy hay.  These animals also graze on the green pasture in a flock.

Are they aggressive?

Soay sheep are quite aggressive towards humans when they feel threatened by them. The rams have a habit of pushing away the ewes when they are in a flock.

Would they make a good pet?

Yes, soay sheep can be a good pet as they are small and easy to deal with. These animals need to vaccinated and their hooves need to be trimmed once a year. The benefit of keeping this breed is that the pastures remain in good shape. They are comparatively parasite resistant and their shelter requirement is also minimal. The wool of the soay sheep sheds naturally in the spring eliminating one of the biggest hassles of sheep husbandry.  

Did you know...

These animals are usually raised as breeds of livestock. The meat of Soay sheep is tender, lean, and low in cholesterol.

The feral population on the island is the subject of long-term scientific study about the evolution and population demographics and dynamics of the breed.

Due to climate change, this breed is becoming smaller in size.

Many people think that Soay sheep are descendants of the flocks of the shepherds of the primitive Bronze Age.

Coyotes and mountain lions are common Soay sheep predators so electrifying fencing around the shelter and livestock guardian dog helps to protect these animals.

The survival of the male lambs is influenced throughout by winter weather whereas the survival of the female lambs is dependent on the rainfall after the winters when they are pregnant.  

Scurring can be a hereditary trait in the Soay sheep, but the size of their horns can also be determined by the parasites.

When were Soay sheep first introduced?

Soay sheep were first introduced at the time of the Vikings' age which was 793 AD-1066 at the island of Soay, Western Isles of Scotland. In 1932, 107 of these primitive sheep were being transported to the island of Hirta, two years later when the last human dwellers left the area these primitive species maintain an unbroken population of around 1500 sheep.

Where does the Soay sheep get its name from?

Soay Sheep get their name from its habitat, the island of Soay in the St. Kilda group. The name Soay that was given has a distinct meaning. Soay actually means 'sheep island' in Norse and legends say that the sheep have been living on the island since there were Vikings.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including zonky facts, or Somali wild asses facts.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Soay Sheep coloring pages.

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