Meet the sheep
Let me introduce you to our Sheep! We have a small flock of North Ronalsay sheep, and a few Badgerface sheep. The North Ronaldsay sheep are a rare breed and they are classed as Vulnerable on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watch list, with only having 500-900 breeding ewes left. The breed dates back to the Bronze Age and was native to North Ronaldsay in the Orkneys. In 1834 the crofters on North Ronaldsay built a wall around the fore shore all the way around the island, this wall was built to keep the sheep on the shoreline, conserving the grazing land for cattle and other breeds of sheep. The North Ronaldsay sheep adapted to living on a diet of seaweed, and are often known as the ‘seaweed eating sheep’!
In 1974 Joe Henson (And a very young Adam Henson) moved a number of North Ronaldsay sheep off the island in order to preserve the breed as it was feared that if there was a disease outbreak, or an oil slick from the nearby oil fields, then this ancient breed would be lost. This was the founding of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) and their first major breed conservation programme.
At Hafod Las we work closely with the RBST and we are part of a conservation breeding project. Our rams are sourced from the island and are bred with our mainland flock to keep the bloodlines in the breed as close to the original as possible.
We really enjoy keeping the breed and we think they much more character than the average white sheep! In fact the North Ronaldsays have a wide range of colours and they are the only breed of sheep to have maintained their original range of colours, other breeds of sheep have been bred over the years to have a certain ‘type’ and all look the same!
The sheep help us with our conservation grazing on the farm. They ‘browse’ rather than graze so they like a wide range of plants in their diet. Unfortunately we don’t have any seaweed, but they do enjoy any waste lettuce we have left over from our salad crops.
They are very hardy and probably find our weather tame compared to the weather in the Orkneys, their fleece keeps them warm and dry in the worst of the weather, and although we have buildings that they can come in to, they prefer to be outside.
The sheep often graze the fields next to the accommodation so keep your eyes peeled, especially in the spring when we are lambing.