Soay sheep

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Soay sheep
Soay sheep

The soay sheep are a primitive type of domestic sheep . It represents the breeding status of sheep from the Neolithic . It was brought to Soay Island in the St. Kilda Archipelago off the west coast of Scotland , either by early settlers or later by Vikings , and overgrown there.

The name Soay is of Nordic origin and means "sheep island" (Old Norse Seyðoy ; modern Icelandic Sauðey ). Because of the inaccessibility of the island and the low usefulness of these animals, they were spared from human influence for a long time and were able to retain their original type. Investigations are occasionally carried out on suitability for use in meat production or for breeding sheep breeds that do not need to be sheared.


Soay sheep lamb

Striking features of these sheep are the wild-colored drawing , which roughly corresponds to that of the European mouflon , and the independent seasonal wool shedding. The behavior of the animals is also wild animal-like. Soay sheep cannot be controlled by herding dogs .

The animals are horned predominantly in both sexes, but there are also female animals without horns. Males without horns or those with weak horns are consistently weak individuals and usually perish soon. In addition to isolated monochrome animals, the mouflon-colored type comes in a dark and a light variant. The ratio of these two colors to each other is about 3: 1. A distinction is also made between hair-stressed and wool-stressed individuals.

Studies have shown that the dark-colored sheep are declining in the population, as in this breed the gene for the dark color is also responsible for the poor health of the animal. Although it has grown larger and stronger, the affected sheep will die earlier and not reproduce as successfully as the lighter specimens.


After the residents of the neighboring island of Hirta , the only inhabited island in the archipelago, were evacuated in 1930, a herd of Soay sheep was brought there and has since established a second stable population, which has been the subject of many scientific studies. Occasionally, animals have been taken from Soay in the past and kept by enthusiasts in parks or zoological gardens on the British mainland. Over the course of time, this resulted in a relatively uniform type of so-called parksoay .

Soay are held at the Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire , among others . In Germany there are herds in the wildlife park in Saarbrücken , in the Lindenthaler zoo in Cologne, in the zoo in the Kaisergarten in Oberhausen , in the Werdum pet park and the “ Bronzezeithof ” in Uelsen . The farm animal ark of the adventure museum Adventon in Osterburken keeps two herds, one of them outside, the other for visitors to see. The Arche zoo in Warder , which specializes in the preservation of old and endangered domestic animal breeds, also presents Soay sheep on the premises of the Haithabu Viking Museum .

In Überlingen on Lake Constance , the planned "Schafweide project" of the currently unrealizable Landesgartenschau Überlingen 2020 will be changed to the effect that some Soay sheep are borrowed from the nearby Reutemühle pet farm and kept on the 1000 square meter and inaccessible meadow behind the municipal museum for the summer become.

In Austria you can see a small herd of Soay sheep in the Tyrolean Stone Age Museum Ötzi-Dorf in Umhausen during the summer season .

Furthermore, this breed has many private owners and breeders.

Web links

Commons : Soay Sheep  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Jobst Meyer: The Soay sheep - descent, breeding and keeping of a stone age relic . Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8300-8094-7
  • Jewell, Milner, Boyd et al .: Island Survivors: The Ecology of the Soay Sheep of St. Kilda . The Athlone Press, University of London 1974, ISBN 0-485-11141-1
  • Grubb, P. Jewell: Social Grouping in Feral Soay Sheep . Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 1966, No. 18, p. 179-210
  • P. Jewell: The Wild Sheep of St. Kilda . New Scientist 1961, No. 246, p. 268-271
  • Holger Weigelt: Announcements for Soay Sheep Breeders - Collection of revised articles . Aurich 1997
  • Holger Weigelt: The Soay sheep - origin, domestication, biology, ecology . Aurich 2003; Excerpts from it are also available at:
  • Elena Nikulina, Ulrich Schmölcke, Kai Frölich: Modern descendants of the Viking sheep? In: Archäologische Nachrichten aus Schleswig-Holstein 2011 ISBN 978-3-529-01433-8 p. 65

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Hinrich Sambraus: Atlas of the farm animal races. 250 races in words and pictures . 6th edition. Eugen Ulmer Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-8001-3219-2 , p. 157.
  2. Gene study
  3. ^ Soay sheep in the service of the city and the state horticultural show . In: Südkurier . May 12, 2020 ( [1] [accessed May 13, 2020]).