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Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I buy some Soay sheep?

If you are unfamiliar with Soay sheep, the best way is to visit a number of breeders to look at their stock to get familiar with the breed and ask lots of questions. A reputable breeder will be only too glad to give after sales service and be a ‘helpful voice at the end of the phone’.

The other way is to buy from one of the rare breed auctions held during the year in various parts of the country. Most are organised through the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and some under the auspices of the breed societies. Details of these sales are put into the Soay Sheep Society Newsletter.

When buying stock the main things to look out for are that the animals are healthy. Are they bright and alert? Are they a good size for their age? Avoid animals that are lethargic, not bright eyed, have mucky bottoms. Check that the teeth sit squarely on the pad. If not, problems with eating will occur in later life. With females for breeding, check their teats. In older animals check that the teats are soft - hardness could indicate mastitis and the loss of the teat and therefore the inability to rear lambs with ease.

The Soay Sheep Society is frequently contacted by people looking for stock, and encourages its members to let them know when they have stock for sale, if you contact the society it should be possible to tell you of stock for sale relatively locally.

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I have bought some sheep that are registered, what does this mean?

The pedigree registration of Soay and Boreray sheep is handled within the Combined Flock Book managed by Grassroots Systems Ltd on behalf of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. If you have bought sheep from a breeder or at a recognised sale, the vendor/breeder will inform Grassroots that they have sold the sheep to you and they charge a transfer fee to transfer the registration papers into your name. For further information contact Grassroots through their web-page (then choose RBST Combined Flockbook from the left-hand menu),  by e-mail , or telephone 01392 437788.  Their address is:  Grassroots Systems Ltd, PO Box 251, Exeter, EX2 8WX.   Once you are registerd with Grassroots, our Flockbook can be accessed electronically through 

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I would like to buy some sheep, but am unclear about the regulations surrounding the keeping of sheep, please explain.

Each farm/holding/field should have a ‘Holding Number’ issued by DEFRA and this should consist of a 9 digit no. e.g. 12/345/6789. Without this number no animal can be moved, as it forms a fundamental part of the ‘movement license’ which details the identity of the sheep (from a mandatory ear tag), the details of the holding they are leaving, who transported them and where they are going to.

The keeper/owner is responsible for keeping a record of all movements on and off the holding. This should be kept in a Movement Book. It may be possible to obtain one free of charge from the Trading Standards department of your local authority, if not Steve Murphy from Market Drayton, Shropshire has produced a Movement Record Book and also a Veterinary Medicine Record Book costing around £5 + pp each. He can be contacted on 01630 655566.

Movement forms should be obtained from your Animal Health Officer, usually based within the Tradings Standards Dept. of your local authority, who should receive the top copy of the movement form when animals are moved onto your holding.

When a sheep/goat/cow arrives on your holding NO animal, unless going for direct slaughter, must be moved until 6 days after the date on the last movement onto the holding. If sheep arrive on a Sunday, the next movement can take place the Sunday after. In the case of pigs, it is 20 days.

The keeper/owner is also obliged to record all medicines given to individual animals, either by the vet or keeper and should include details of product used, when purchased and the withdraw from slaughter period for the product.

These details are correct at the time of writing, but as legislation changes frequently it is best to consult your Animal Health Officer for up to date information

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How many sheep can my land hold?

This would very much depend on the quality of your land. If your land is low lying, good quality productive pasture you may find more sheep will thrive. If you are high up, on less favourable land then the numbers would be lower. It will always be better to start off with fewer sheep, which can be increased if needed, but it is not easy to decrease.

If you are Conservation Grazing, advice should be sought regarding stocking levels according to the aims of the grazing.

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I have been told that Soay are hard to keep in, what type of fencing will be needed?

Soay are not hard to keep into an area, as long as the fencing is of a good type. Stock fencing, taut at the bottom to stop them going underneath, with a strand of wire over the top of the fencing is recommended. As they are small sheep, with an inquisitive nature, they will find small gaps.

If frightened, Soay are capable of jumping high fences, so all handling must be calm, steady and never rushed.

For ease of handling it is also a good idea to have a small area fenced off where the sheep are regularly fed so that when you need to inspect/worm etc. the sheep can be enclosed without fuss.

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I am told that Soay sheep do not need shearing, is this true?

It is true, under normal circumstances, Soay sheep do not need shearing. From about April the sheep start to loose their fleece naturally, rams usually start to loose it before the ewes. If you want to use the fleece, the loosened fleece can be plucked (rooed) from the sheep – but only when it is loose. Sometimes, and this is more usually seen in sheep that have not bred that year, it is thought to be hormonal, they do not loose their fleece. In this instance, it is better to clip it off to reduce the chance of flystrike.

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When do I need to worm my sheep?

This very much depends on the stocking density of the sheep on the land, whether the land has had sheep on in the past, and where the sheep came from to begin with.

If there is a low stocking density on land that has not had sheep on for a while then the sheep should not have a large worm burden. Many keepers in this situation would then worm at tupping (Oct/Nov) and then again about a month after lambing (May/June). If sheep have dirty bottoms and/or are coughing this is a sure sign of worms and a further worming is recommended. Lambs generally need worming more frequently.

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I would like to breed from my sheep, when is the best time of year to breed?

Soay and Boreray naturally lamb later than most of the commercial breeds. Lambing would usually take place in April/May (Soay), March/April (Boreray), although my earliest lamb arrived on 23rd February.

Gestation time for a ewe is approximately 147 days. If you put the ram to the ewe on Bonfire night (5/11) lambing will be on April Fools Day (1/4)

The best time would depend on your circumstances. The earlier lambing takes place, the longer period for the lambs to grow before winter. If you are in a cold area you may want to put off lambing until good weather can be expected, and withdraw your ram from the ewes until 147 days before the earliest lambing date you want.

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I know very little about the management of sheep, can you recommend some books to me?

There are no books yet for the management of Soay or Boreray sheep specifically, but the Soay Sheep Society publishes various articles in its Newsletters covering aspects of management.   We can suggest:-

‘Starting with Sheep’ by Mary Castell (about £8) gives clear guidance on setting up and managing a new flock. Mary is also a keeper of primitive sheep.

‘Sheep Ailments’ by Eddie Straiton (about £19) covers all aspects of health and its pictorial presentation makes it easy to understand.

‘Island Survivors – the Ecology of the Soay Sheep of St Kilda’ by Peter Jewell is the bible for Soay keepers. It details the study carried out in the ‘60s on the island flock. This book, printed in 1974 is now out of print, it is quite hard to find a copy, and therefore they command a high price when available.

'Sam's Soay Sheep Book' by Michael Darlow mixes history and anecdote about Soay Sheep, see "News" section for more information.   

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