American RBST Foundation Flock USA0001
British Registered Soay sheep
Conservation Breeding Program
The goal of the British Soay Sheep project since its inception in 1999 has been to conserve a purebred core flock as a satellite outside Great Britain helping to ensure that this direct link to the past would remain unbroken.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to accomplish this objective, no one system is better than another. Every farm can make a contribution by setting up a conservation program that best fits their situation and interest. A key is to periodically introduce a new male to your flock and not use the same ram over and over. While genetics play a very strategic role, they are not the only tool to consider. Keeping detailed records and registering all British Soay offspring with the RBST database in the UK are more important. Even the most carefully bred pedigreed animals are of no value to the breed if their offspring are not enrolled (registered) in the Combined Flock Book of the RBST; they are lost to the breed and may as well have been slaughtered. Because they cannot be used in research and thus narrow the gene pool, studies will give an incomplete picture of the breed at best and dramatically lead to inaccurate conclusions at worst.
Southern Oregon Soay Farms strategy has been to maintain in its living flock a direct genetic line to all ten founder animals to insure those lines are not lost. With the introduction of semen from the UK the second objective has been to produce animals with the phenotypic variation seen on St. Kilda and in the UK that we don't see here. As a closed flock the original North American stock from 1990 has narrowed in appearance and has not presented a full representation of their wild ancestors.
There are several ways beginners can contribute to the saving this flock: for those who are not ready to take on the responsibility of a breeding program, wether flocks (neutered males) are an excellent, inexpensive way to learn about caring for the sheep, they make wonderful ambassadors to the breed and are useful as a companion for a ram if you move on to keeping a breeding flock in the future. A flock of two or three ewes and a pair of wethers is another option with the plan of adding a ram the following season. This will give you a year to learn to ropes. And for those who are ready to jump into a breeding project a flock of two, three or four ewes, a ram and a couple of wethers make a good starter breeding flock. One word of advice is to start small.
Soay sheep are easy to care for and are
ideal for people who have little experience with sheep but who are
interested in preserving a bit of history and would enjoy participating in a
rewarding global conservation program.
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