American RBST Foundation
British Registered Soay sheep
Kathie and the girls heading to pasture
photo Steve Werblow Deere & Company, Homestead
About Soay Sheep
The Soay (Ovis aries) is a
small Scottish sheep which is often grouped with the northern short-tailed breeds but
it is in fact more primitive. No one is certain of its origins, however, it is
thought to be the remnant of a prehistoric semi-domestic sheep brought to Britain prior to
the invasion of the Romans; certainly the Soay is the UK's oldest surviving livestock
breed. Because of its broad genetic diversity it has been able to adapt to the
challenging island environment of St. Kilda (off Scotland) where it has lived
thousands of years. Since the late nineteenth century conservationists and farmers
on the mainland in
the UK have kept Soay in small numbers and a few are now found in Europe and the United
States as well.
British Soay*, as these
referred to in America,
are the historic sheep of St. Kilda, they are participants in a global
conservation program and they are all registered in the UK. The flock
originated with six Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) registered animals
exported from England to Montreal, Canada on January 10, 1990. After an eight year
quarantine in Canada they
were imported into the
United States by Southern Oregon Soay Farms, a process that took three years. These sheep (and
their registered offspring) are members of the only satellite flock outside
of Great Britain that is recognized by the RBST. From
our humble beginnings
in 1998 of three sheep
the British Soay population in
the US and western Canada,
as of January 1,
2013, has grown
to 579 registered ewes.
Wild Soay ewes
grazing on Hirta St. Kilda, island of Boreray in distance
photo by Kathie Miller
are various shades of brown (dark phase) or tan (light phase) with
a wild or mouflon pattern; white belly, white rump patch and occasional
white markings on the face, legs and/or body. Rams horns vary from tight to
wide curls. Self-color (solid black or tan) and polling (no horns) in ewes
which is seen in great numbers on St.Kilda do not occur here yet. With the
introduction of new genetics from the UK in 2007 and 2010 and strategic
breeding plans I expect self color and polling will begin to appear here in
the not too distant future.
All of the sheep have a
naturally short tail, their soft, short wool molts and can be rooed (hand
plucked) in the spring. Ewes lamb very easily with few problems and they are
excellent mothers. Even older ewes often twin and rarely have triplets. As
browsers they thrive on land often considered too marginal for use by more
domesticated breeds and are useful in eradicating blackberries and other
noxious weeds. Females commonly weigh less than 50 pounds and rams less than
80 which makes them easy to handle, even for one person. Their light weight
makes them easy on pastures. Soay are delightful to live with and very
forgiving (they survive when many breeds would not) making them an ideal
livestock breed for beginners who often don't recognize early signs of
problems. One of their most endearing qualities is their curiosity. They are
considerably hardier than domestic breeds and when patiently handled are
easy to manage.
Because the US flock is a controlled population, a small group with complete
breeding records (housed in the UK), it also
provides a unique opportunity to study inheritance in sheep, behavior as
well as physical characteristics. The wool is prized as a novelty by hand
spinners and artisan weavers and it is especially suited for felting. The
low fat, tasty meat is ideal for personal consumption or gourmet meat
markets and the sheep's value for conservation grazing / forest fuel
reduction is just beginning to be recognized in the United States.
In raising these little sheep there is
also tremendous satisfaction in knowing that we
are helping to save a very special flock from extinction in North
America. Imports of live sheep from the UK have not been allowed since 1990
so what we have here now needs to be treasured and thoughtfully preserved as
a historical archive, an undiluted genetic reservoir for the future.
British Soay ewe lamb, April 2011
Who are we and how did we discover Soay Sheep?
We are Val Dambacher and Kathie
Miller, two Pacific Northwest friends from Oregon, who fell in love with these marvelous
little Scottish sheep and whose husbands gladly encouraged our association so they would
not have to listen to us talk about Soay.
(now retired) had raised sheep since her move to Oregon in 1992 while I
had respected my husband's request "to bring anything home, but sheep!" For
25 years I raised everything else, until one evening in 1996 the phone rang
and the woman on the other end of the line said she needed a home for some
SMALL and very RARE..... I didn't hear the rest. Within the week I was a
sheep farmer. My only regret now is that I did not know about
them when I was
living in southern California; they would have been the perfect animals for
my "farmette" in the city.
As our passion grew we made friends in both Canada and Great Britain. With
their help in 1998, 1999 and 2000 we imported the only flock of Soay
outside of Europe from Montreal, Canada to Oregon. In 1999 we were able to
get the sheep reinstated in the Combined Flock Book of the Rare Breeds
Survival Trust (registry) in England. As a result
of these opportunities and of our travels throughout the UK, including St.
Kilda, conserving this faunal treasure became our mission which I have
continued since Val's retirement. US born Soay registered with the RBST are
reciprocal (interchangeable) with Soay in Britain and as a result I was
able to establish an artificial insemination program with the help and
tireless support of Christine Williams
a breeder in the UK. With semen she had collected from four of her
registered rams the very narrow gene pool that we had been forced to work
with from the beginning was finally widened. The first "AI" lambs were born
in 2008, a second round in 2010 and a third in April 2011. More are planned.
Southern Oregon Soay Farms is a
member of the Soay Sheep Society (UK), the RBST (UK), the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC)
Sheep and Friends, A Circle of British Soay Conservationists
Our sheep are all registered in the Combined
Flock Book of the RBST and we have been enrolled in the federal Voluntary Scrapie Program
since 1999. Visitors and inquiries are always welcomed.
"Maya", Kathie, Val and "Lindy"
We hope you enjoy the information on this site,
If you have questions or want to tour the farm feel free to
or call (541) 955 8171.
Visitors are always welcome. Kathie Miller
Click on the links below to learn more about Soay Sheep and how to care for them.
* British Soay is a term used
only in the U S and Canada to distinguish RBST registered
from North American Soay Sheep which are only registered in the United States.
Raising Soay Sheep
Maintenance A quick summary guide
Beginners Guide to the Care of Soay Sheep
available in PDF format
booklet on how to care for Soay sheep: Bringing your sheep home,
What do Soay sheep eat, Handling Soay Sheep, Keeping your animals
healthy, Routine maintenance, A Soay's life cycle (rams and the rut,
lambing, old age) Shipping , Biosecurity. Poisonous plants,
Precautions, Resource guide
and Lamb Care
A basic guide to lambing and lamb care in Soay sheep, from birth to
weaning, castration, vaccinations, common problems
Fences, Shelter (sheds and barns),
Catch pens, Creep Pens
and Feeders Information on a variety of Soay shelters and fencing ideas from the
US and Great Britain.
Extensive photo gallery
Frequently Asked Questions
Copper Toxicity and British Soay Sheep
Viewpoint, a monthly farm
is designed as an educational,
entertaining and useful tool to enhance the readerís knowledge and
enjoyment of this breed and its care. Husbandry,
resources, management ideas.
is an important component of any breed conservation program
and it has been critical to this one. Without it pedigrees and databases
have little meaning.
Soay Sheep in America
why we need
to be committed to the conservation of
endangered livestock breeds and in particular to the
ancient British Soay sheep of St. Kilda.
The Sheep of St. Kilda, Soay and
A website dedicated to
information about the two unique breeds of
Soay and Boreray that live feral on the
islands of St. Kilda
photo gallery of Soay sheep as they are found in their
in the UK
and Pattern in Soay Sheep, Photographic
descriptions of dark
phase coloration and
self patterns in Soay
Sheep on St. Kilda
Our Breeding Program & Sales
Wool & Meat
rooing (hand plucking) and collecting wool.
double coated Soay
produces soft, short wool that makes it ideal for
it can be hand spun or commercially processed into
yarn for use by handweavers
Low cholesterol heritage meat for
meat markets and restaurants.
Conservation Grazing & Forest Fuel Reduction
Of Sheep and Friends, A Circle of British Soay Conservationists.
A circle of friends,
located in all parts of the USA, who
annually and who
to the conservation of this very
special flock of sheep.
articles, calendar of events, goals and
Primitive Sheep Shows and Events
Selected US/UK show schedules for 2013
issue of scrapie in the UK
Links and Literature
Links and Literature page got so long and cumbersome
broken it into
three separate pages
Links on the internet, places in the UK to see
Resources for flock management
Literature DVDs, Books on a
variety of topics related to Soay sheep
livestock breed conservation, Livestock Protection Dogs
and St. Kilda
Resources and Catalog Suppliers Livestock
the US version of a British hurdle), veterinary
lambing supplies, halters, fencing supplies, Soay baby ear
Photo Galleries of Soay Sheep (our own and St.
British Soay Sheep pictures: Southern
Oregon Soay Farms
Kilda pictures: Wild Soay Sheep on St. Kilda (Hirta)
Southern Oregon Soay Farms
P.O. Box 1382
Merlin, Oregon 97532 USA
Thanks for Visiting!