American RBST Foundation Flock USA0001
Breeders of
British Registered Soay sheep

Soay Sheep Horns

Ewe's Horns
Do all Soay ewes have horns? Are all British Soay ewes horned?
Only one third of the ewes on Hirta are horned; the remainder are either polled or scurred.  (It is generally accepted that a scurred animal carries less than 50% of normal horns, which can mean it has very small horns or just small stumps. A polled animal has no sign of horn what so ever.) Historically Soay ewes brought to the mainland from Soay were selectively bred for horns. This has led many to the mistaken conclusion that all true Soay ewes are horned. In May 1963 a varied flock of twenty-four sheep was brought to Scotland from Hirta for further study, it included six polled and scurred ewes. Remnants of this group eventually passed into the hands of a small number of private enthusiasts in Scotland, England and Wales, however, only a very few of them keep polled Soay even today. At the present time all British Soay ewes in North America are horned, however, one polled ewe and one scurred ewe were born to the flock in Canada prior to importation into the US. In 2007 and 2010 semen from four Gaerllwyd rams in Wales, three carrying polling genetics, was imported to the US. A breeding program is now underway to try to produce polled ewes to make the American flock more reflective of the population found on St. Kilda.


                                                          Mature ewe horn samples: Scurred (l)     Polled (center)        Horned (r)
                                                                                          Gaerllwyd Flock, Wales

Rams Horns
From our own observations in the Village Glen of Hirta and the mainland of the UK,  horns are as varied as the sheep themselves. They generally grow between March and September with little or no growth between November and March. Most of their growth occurs in the first year and slows by age five, by seven it generally stops. Horn genetics are little understood; at this point the only thing researchers have been able to agree upon is that the topic is a complicated one that needs further study. From our own experience there has been little direct correlation (predictability) in horns between father and son. Often the female seems to have had as much if not more influence than the ram. We have had wide horn rams produce narrow horned sons, who in turn produced wide horned grandsons and half brothers, one with wide the other with perverted horns. Clearly what we are seeing in these various expressions is the widely diverse genetics of the Soay, its most valued asset.  A few rams have truly perverted horns which jeopardized the life of the animal. In husbanded flocks horns on these animals are cut. In a few cases only the tips are a problem, gouging the ram in the neck or cheek in others they rub too close to the face causing abrasions to the skin which can lead to infection. This is easily remedied with bolt cutters (for tips) or a wire saw when the horn needs to be cut further up. Animals not needed for breeding are either castrated (which stops horn growth) or they are butchered. On Hirta and Soay they die.  Because the British Soay population in North America is so small and the genetics of each one so important to a national breeding program, such rams are usually maintained rather than culled. In many cases this trimming is only needed once but not always.

  Variation in Soay ram horn configurations 



scurred ram


               scurred  ram                     


  *  Photo  5 Soay ram on Hirta courtesy of John Love, South Uist,Scotland  *   
all others taken on Hirta or in Oregon by Kathie Miller, Southern Oregon Soay Farms



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