Annual Midwest Soay Sheep Breeders Gathering

Midwest British Soay Breeders
Second Annual Gathering

Saturday, September 24, 2011
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Learn about British Soay Sheep and their care, get questions answered
how to process and spin wool
BBQ Lunch will be served

Rocky Mountain Soay Sheep
Peyton, Colorado
for information e-mail Heather McLaren

Shaul's Mfg. from California is planning to make a delivery to the gathering.
This is a rare opportunity for people in the Mid west to get their livestock equipment.
For orders and information


2010 Midwest Soay Breeders Gathering    Summary of the Day Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010
People came from Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin to attend this event.  There were 21 people in attendance.  Following a meet & greet session, we watched a DVD of a trip to St. Kilda in 2000.   The film showed how isolated the islands are and how difficult they are to get to.  From the film you really appreciate how remarkable it is that the Soay sheep were able to survive in that environment.  Examples of the diversity amongst Soay sheep were shown, including dark, tan, self coloring, polled and scurred horns.
Following the film, we all went out the barn to see our sheep.  British Soay sheep (Soay in the US that are registered with the RBST in the UK) are the oldest surviving livestock breed and the most primitive domestic sheep.   The group was introduced to our four ewes, two ram lambs and two adult rams.  
Kathie Miller gave us some history of the British Soay in American and explained that it is the only breed outside of Great Britain that the Rare Breeds Survival Trust registers, and this is the only means we have of keeping the breed pure.  She talked about these sheep as both a relic from the past and a hope for the future because of their ability to adapt and their resistance to many of the diseases that plague modern sheep.  Their value is their history and their genetic diversity which enables them to adjust to changes in their environment when more modern breeds cannot.   
Kathie Miller explained that the type of person who is drawn to the British Soay conservation project is someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of preserving them, is interested in keeping them as they are, and not crossbreeding them with other breeds.  Conservation breeders need to keep detailed breeding records, continue with RBST registrations and make conscientious breeding choices in order to preserve as much genetic diversity as possible. It is important not to breed for color, horn shape or pattern.  Conservation breeders must also have long range vision and be willing to make a long term commitment to the breed.   
47 Following the discussion in the barn, the group returned to the house where lunch was served.  The weather cooperated, so we were able to eat outside on the deck.  We were entertained by Acoustic blues musician, Dan Phelps.  Conversations continued on management issues such as fencing, housing, and winter care.   Conservation breeding was discussed further along with marketing ideas and how breeders could work together to support each other and further promote the breed.
Following lunch, Heather McLaren discussed the different types of fleeces available today and the variety of modern sheep that have been specialized to produce fine fleece.   Spinners look for particular fibers for whatever their project is.  There are fibers for garments, rugs, etc. and sheep
have been specialized to produce particular types of fiber.  This specialization has narrowed their genetic diversity however, making them more vulnerable to changes in climate and disease.
What makes British Soay sheep so unique is they are nonspecific and they have not lost their adaptability and heartiness.  

48 She went on to explain that Soay fiber cannot compete with these specialized fiber breeds for handspinning and knitting because Soay fiber is so short, but because of its down, it is ideal for felting.  Heather then demonstrated how to make felt and everyone got a chance to make their own felt soap bar.  It was a nice memento to take away from the day.  Some people had driven 8 hours to attend and as they left, they said it was worth it, they were glad to have connected to other breeders and they looked forward to next year’s event.
The first Midwest Soay Breeders Gathering was a tremendous success  and plans are already underway for next year’s event.