Breed information and history

Quick fire fact sheet by Tegan Dowler.

North Ronaldsay Sheep Breed Description

The North Ronaldsay is a small rare sheep breed of the Northern short-tailed group of breeds; bones of similar animals have been found at Skara Brae dating from the Bronze Age and the recent genotypes survey organised by the RBST demonstrated that the breed is still virtually unchanged from the original type.

Photo credit: Tegan Dowler, a picture from The North Ronaldsay Island.

Mature ewes average about 25kg, with rams weighing proportionately more.

The animals are ‘primitive’ and fine-boned and have evolved in a specialised seashore environment on their native island, but adapt well to to mainland management including conservation grazing.

Photo Credit: Sarah Hannay

The colour of the face and legs is variable. The head is small and the ewes face is ‘dished’. The tail is naturally short. Rams are horned, but ewes can be horned, polled (without horns) or scurred (with partial or underdeveloped horns). The ewes have a strong maternal instinct and lamb very easily, with a lambing percentage of 140% being usual. The meat is a superb flavour due to the slow maturation and animals are usually finished as mutton.

Photo Credit: Sarah Hannay.

Wool: virtually any colour possible, from white through grey to black, various shades of brown or mixed colours. Self colours are usually retained, mixed colours usually fade to fawn. Rams develop a mane and beard of coarse hair. They are a double coated, the inner wool part of which can be fairly fine, with a Bradford count of 28 microns. The outer coat is kemp. Fleece weight up to 1kg; with a staple length about 100mm.

Photo credit: Jane Povey with her sheared fleeces and Cleo wondering when it’s her turn.
Photo Credit: Sarah Hannay

The 2018 census information indicated that there are 964 adult females in the UK making the breed officially category 3 according to RBST. There are about 2500 sheep still on North Ronaldsay, but the geographic concentration is very high in this small area.

Handcraft use: the wide variety of colours available make the wool popular with hand spinners, filters, knitters and textile designers.

Photo Credit: Sarah Hannay

North Ronaldsay sheep on the island.

Photo credit: Tegan Dowler

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