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.
Hairy fleeced "Primitive" ram and a woolly fleeced ewe on the right
Hairy, Primitive, Fleeced Soay
Primitive type Ram
"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
Hairy fleeced primitive light phase ewe, winter coat, a dark phase woolly ewe
is behind her
Detail, hairy fleece rump Detail, hairy fleece neck
“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 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 .
These ewes in the Village area of Hirta have not shed their fleece for several years.
Old ewe with several years of fleece
The ewe on the left has shed most of her fleece except over her shoulders. Mullach Sgar,
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
Ram in the village area that has fully shed his fleece
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).