Soay Fleece Structure and Variety

The texture of the fleece of Soay Sheep varies greatly. There are two extremes of type which are described as “Hairy animals” and “Woolly animals” but there are many animals whose fleece is intermediate between the two types. 

primitive and woolly Soay sheep

Hairy fleeced "Primitive" ram and a woolly fleeced ewe on the right


Hairy, Primitive, Fleeced Soay 
 hairy primitive Soay ram in winter
Primitive type Ram

detail hairy Soay fleece winter

       "Hairy" sheep have straight    
       hairs  which are longer than the
       main fleece.  This is most
       noticeable around  the
       neck,along the back and under
       the chin and especially so with 
       some rams. It has also   
       been described as a 
      “Primitive”  type fleece and is
       most noticeable when
       the  animal has a full  winter



Detail Soay ram mane and ruff, hairy, primitive

Primitive light phase Soay ewe winter

Hairy fleeced primitive light phase ewe, winter coat, a dark phase woolly ewe
is behind her

   detail primitive light phase Soay ewe              light phase hairy, neck       
   Detail, hairy fleece  rump                                       Detail, hairy fleece  neck

Woolly fleece

woolly Soay ewe, winter

“Woolly” sheep do not have the extra long hairs in their fleece at the extreme
theirs is a a very even textured coat.


Semi Hairy Fleece

semi-hairy fleeced soay ewe

Semi hairy fleece type has the hairy ridge on the neck, but the even textured coat of
the woolly sheep. There are no long hairs except for the neck. 



There is vast variation when the sheep moult in the spring. Usually the rams begin to shed before the ewes. Shedding of the fleece is hormone related and is also triggered by the condition of the sheep. Some animals will shed their fleece at a steady rate and some will suddenly have it hanging off all over the place. Shedding usually starts about May but some animals will not start until late July or August. Non-breeding ewes and castrated males will often not shed .

 Souy moulting

These ewes in the Village area of Hirta have not shed their fleece for several years.  
 soay ewe does not moult 
Old ewe with several years of fleece


Soay ewes moulting

The ewe on the left has shed most of her fleece except over her shoulders. Mullach Sgar,

   soay ewe moulting                                                                                                             
    This ewe has shed the fleece 
    along her back but not along 
    her  sides where it has been 

    Because the blow fly is not 
    found on St. Kilda, fly strike on
    sheep with retained fleece is
    not a problem there  This is
    not the case on most of the
    mainland however, where
    it can be a life threatening. 
    It is important therefore, to
    remove old unshed fleece
    either by (rooing) plucking or 
    with hand clippers. 

    The flocks of Soay on 
    St.Kilda, although tagged for 
    observation purposes, are
    not managed in any way.

 Partially shed Soay ewe, Hirta

  Soay ram full shed Hirta

Ram in the village area that has fully shed his fleece

Soay ewes fully shed Hirta
Soay Ewe fully shed, Ruaival, Hirta

NOTE:  The photos at the beginning of this article are mainland (UK) sheep because we have only visited St. Kilda in the summer months when fleece differences are not as obvious as when they have their winter coats . All of the photos of sheep retaining their fleece or shedding were taken on Hirta, (St. Kilda).