Conventional Wisdom

Don’t buy Soays, they said. Soays are wild and untamable, they said. Get Shetlands, they’re practically identical to Soays, they said.


“Must– Have– Crunchies!!”

Look at that wild, untamable Soay. I can hardly tell him apart from the big fluffball behind him.

There are lots of good reasons to keep Shetlands, but being “practically identical to Soays” is not one of them. They’re a very different physical type, with advantages and disadvantages to each breed. The Shetlands have a much larger fleece, and much better wool on average, but the Soays roo cleanly (rooing is indescribably easier, faster, and less stressful than shearing) while most Shetlands don’t. The fleeces are small, but the big Shetland fleeces are almost overwhelming to me at my novice level of wool processing. The Shetlands are slower and easier to catch, but the Soays are lighter and easier to work with once caught. I can’t imagine being able to hold a Shetland off the ground with one arm while unplugging her udder with the other, the way I did with Lady after she lambed.

That was no fun at all!”

Shetlands are also very different in temperament, but wouldn’t say they have”better” or “worse” personalities than the Soays. They’re charming little sheep, funny and sweet, but not as clever, curious, or playful as the Soays, which makes them somewhat less entertaining to sit and watch, in my opinion. The Soays’ cleverness and curiosity, on the other hand, tend to get into much more trouble with the Splendid Games they invent.


“Um, ShepherdPerson? I seem to have encountered a problem with this tarp.”
Those holes are not accidental, by the way. They’re deliberately placed sheep windows. You can see Liam’s face peeping through the “window” in this shot:

“Anything new in there?”

“Nope, still no crunchies.”

On the whole, I think which breed is “better” depends entirely on personal preference.

No need to butt heads over it. What I want out of my flock is pasture pets and enough wool to play with, and my little mixed flock suits me perfectly.


8 thoughts on “Conventional Wisdom

    • I think Barney and Liam agree with you! Liam sometimes looks at Neo like “what on earth are you doing?” Barney just looks resigned and goes back to eating.

  1. Not to mention the fact that Soays are highly endangered. You are doing a service to the breed (and happily spoiling certain breed members with crunches)!

  2. The Soays appear to be great fun, if sometimes a little nerve-wracking.

    When rooing time comes, might you show us how? I know someone with a small flock of Soays she rescued, but she’s not interested in fiber and might try to shear them.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY

    • Sure, I’d love to meet another Soay flock! Soay wool can be frustrating to cut since it’s so short it’s difficult to work the blades in unless you have a phenomenally cooperative sheep like Duke. Rooing was much easier all around for the girls.

      If your friend really doesn’t want to bother with the wool, most Soay will be able to rub it off themselves on fences and trees when it loosens in the spring, with no/minimal human help.

  3. Our Soay get brushed with a dog’s slicker brush. (They’re both bottle babies and tamer than most.) The boy has lovely soft wavy wool, but the girl has coarse tightly curled wool that felts on her back given half a chance.

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