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A small breed of sheep, native to Soay on the St. Kilda group of islands off the West coast of Scotland. They are classified as a 'primitive' breed - representative of the first domestic sheep brought to the British Isles. The word soay is Norse for 'sheep island', and it's probable that the Vilings found sheep of a similar type to the modern breed on the island.

They are very-finely boned, an average adult ewe weighing about 15kg. Their fleece is usually brown, either chocolate or tan with light markings under the belly, on the rump, over the eyes and under the jaw. Self-coloured (without markings) animals occur, including black, and there are some with white markings. Rams are usually horned, ewes can be horned or polled. Their tails are very short and their fleece is shed naturally each year in normal breeding conditions. Their meat is renowned for its leanness and distinctive flavour.

Unfortunately, the breed is under the threat of extinction - about 690 breeding females remaining (at a 1997 count). It is protected by its own society at - 20 Alice Street, Sale, Cheshire, M33 3JF. Tel: 0161-976 4734. See 'Rare Breed Survival Trust'

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