invisible chain of mountains running under the Ocean connects the North
Atlantic Islands, The Orkneys, Fair Isle, Shetland, The Faeroes and
Iceland. At some places the surface of the Ocean is broken and land is
visible – the above-mentioned countries. Sheep relates them all to each
other. The North Atlantic short tailed sheep is visible everywhere in
numbers which far exceeds the human beings!
year Sheep-Isle highlights on the Faeroe Islands in a series called “
Sheep and Friends in the Faeroe Islands” This article is a greeting from
the sheep holders on North Ronaldsay to all sheep holders in the Faeroe
1978 Stefan Adalsteinsson wrote: The color genes found in Faeroe
Islands sheep are the same as those found in Orkney Sheep, which is an
indication of a relatively close affinity between the two populations”
genes in Faeroe Islands Sheep, 1978 S.
Adalsteinsson and H. Wardum)
This article is a story by a Danish shepherd, Berit Kiilerich, visiting
North Ronaldsay in March 2006, for the second time. Here comes Berits
article from a little island, where the ratio between sheep and man are
3000 to 60!
This article is a story by a Danish shepherd, Berit Kiilerich, visiting North Ronaldsay in March 2006, for the second time. Here comes Berits article from a little island, where the ratio between sheep and man are 3000 to 60!
Ronaldsay Native Sheep at the edge of Ocean
Sheep-Isle would like to thank June Morris and Peter Donnerly for photos.
North Ronaldsay is the northernmost island in the Orkneys, about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. Even with a rough and stormy position between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, the climate is mild and the soil relatively fertile. Due to the Golf stream snow is rare in wintertime.
the island there are very special sheep which mainly are eating seaweed.
The breed is called North Ronaldsay Native Sheep. They are believed to
have lived on the island before the Viking age. On the mainland Orkney, at
Scara Brae, there have been excavated bones from the Iron period, which
are very similar to the Native sheep of today. They grazed
all year long all over the island on the so called common land. At
wintertime they got a good feed at the edge of the Ocean eating seaweed.
Slowly, during thousands of years, they developed into what they are today
– properly the toughest herd existing in the North Atlantic Area.
frequent storm washes large amounts of seaweed ashore. After a storm, you
can see flocks of “Natives” having a good time chewing the cud. With
their different colours of soil, they are mixed up extremely well with the
means frequent storms, which means a good feed for the “Natives” –
even slaughter time is during the winter.
The Drystone Dyke
decade 1830–39 was a very important decade on North Ronaldsay. Partly
because the sheep dyke was build, partly because regulations between the
Laird and the tenants, the so-called “Land-squaring”, was implemented.
Since that time a lot of regulations has seen the daylight. The first
regulations opened up for the more valuable cattle. The Native Sheep was
thrown outside the dyke, and since then they have been living at the
foreshore eating only seaweed, except for a short lambing period in the
late springtime. Paradoxically the dyke saved the native sheep from
extinction! Their disappearance elsewhere in Orkney has been caused by
crossbreeding with larger breeds such as Merinos and Cheviots to improve
the body-size and wool-yield – exactly the same story as in the
Scandinavian countries. But outside the dyke the native sheep survived!
North Ronaldsay Sheep belongs to the Nordic Group of Short-Tailed Sheep.
They have all the colours and markings typical for this group of sheep.
sheep is double coated, with a very coarse outer-wool, and an extremely
fine and soft inner-wool.
ewes can be with or without horns. The rams always have horns of the same
type as in the Faeroes and in Iceland.
The North Ronaldsay Native Sheep is shy, small and very agile. When threatened, they are capable of a very fast escape on the slippery stones at the edge of the Ocean! They have a relatively weak flock instinct.
ewes are collected inland during the lambing periode in April. For these
agile sheep, lambing is really “a peace of cake”, and their
mother-instincts are very good.
only wish for one lamb. If an ewe gets two lambs, one of them are killed.
Inside the dyke there are smaller fencings with grass, where ewe and lamb
live more protected. Before being placed outside the dyke again in July
the lamb is getting earmarked.
1881 there were 587 inhabitants on North Ronaldsay. At that time farming
was absolutely necessary for the daily life on the island. Today 60 people
are living on the island compared with approx. 3000 sheep! They are
divided into ewes, rams, and castrates in the common flock. Most of the
ram-lambs are castrated and live as wethers until they are 3 – 5 years.
Because of this they will slowly obtain dark coloured meat – ready for
slaughtered wether weighs around 17 kg. The slow growth, the seaweed, the
salty sea and the outside life all year long, has given the mutton a
famous reputation all over England. Especially in London you can find
North Ronaldsay mutton on the menu as an exclusive gourmet experience!
common sheep holding has going on for a very distant past. Customs and
traditions have been preserved for generations, and many daily doings are
naturally connected with the sun, the moon and the stars.
The “native” is sheared by hand blades at new moon in July or in the beginning of August. Machine shearing has never caught on, properly because the machine cuts too close to the skin, leaving the sheep unprotected in the cold and windy showers coming in from the Ocean. The content of lanoline in the wool is very high. Shearing with hand blades will just leave 3 – 5 cm. of greasy lanoline wool – enough to protect the sheep.
people living on North Ronaldsay can keep sheep in the common flock
outside the dyke. There is a law called the N. R. Native Sheep Regulation
telling how many ewes each sheep holder is allowed to keep. When gathering
the sheep everybody participates.
the “natives” is always done at high tide – leaving just a narrow
strip between the dyke and the edge of the Ocean. In connection to the
dyke there are “punds”, also build of stones, where the sheep, by
means of earmarks, will be divided into small flocks, owner by owner.
The act of “punding” is perhaps one of the last remaining elements of Communal Farming in the Orkneys. Similar systems have been in use in the Shetlands, Faeroese and Iceland.
North Ronaldsay sheep holders are aware of now a days dangers due to an
eventually oil catastrophe or contagious sheep diseases.
North Ronaldsay Yarn Compagny has recently started a little spinning mill
supported by EEC funds. The main part of the natural coloured raw wool is
turned into a delicious wool, for knitting and weaving.
By means of a “dehairings machine”, which is able to select the outer longer and coarse wool and the kemp from the inner wool, the latter will end up as an exceptional soft wool quality.
our times when intensive production and standardization is the Alpha and
Omega, it’s a contrast to visit North Ronaldsay and perceive how close
sheep and man are living to nature, on North Ronaldsay – the Ocean.
North Ronaldsay Sheep goes well together with the environnement, nature
and people - A great cultural richness, not only to the island of North
Ronaldsay itself, but also to the whole North Atlantic Region. A richness
which ought to be shown the highest consideration – even in the future.
“sharp air” the North Ronaldsay Lighthouse can be seen as far as from
Visit North Ronaldsay Native Sheep and their clovgang on:
Knitting from North Ronaldsay wool.
The North Ronaldsay Native Sheep – a historical introduction.
Tourist farm, open for public showing Nordic Sheep live and their