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North Ronaldsay Sheep



Key Characteristics

The North Ronaldsay is a small, slender breed with either a white, grey or brown fleece. Ewes weigh up to 25kg and rams up to 35kg. They are similar in appearance to other primitive breeds such as the Shetland and Soay Sheep. Rams are usually horned, with ewes either being polled or horned. The expected lambing percentage is around 130 to 150%. The lambs are very small when born and care must be taken to protect them from predators like foxes. The breed is very well adapted to wet and windy conditions but doesn’t thrive in upland conditions. The breed requires a good quality varied diet and may need to be housed during the winter. They are very sensitive to copper toxicity so care must be taken when substitute feeding them.


The North Ronaldsay is mainly found on its native island which is situated on the northern edge of the Orkney Islands.  On the island of North Ronaldsay a wall and dyke system was erected encircling the island in the 19th century to keep the sheep on the foreshore since then the breed has evolved to eat seaweed as its main food source. The wall is still in place and the sheep still live on the shores around the island for most of the year and are only brought onto the better land for lambing. 


Compared to lowland commercial sheep breeds the North Ronaldsay has little commercial value for the main markets, but due to its diet and its primitive breed status the North Ronaldsay can command a premium market in hotels and restaurants.
The various colours of fleece make it a popular choice for decerning buyers who are looking for natural fibre wool.

Of equal importance, the blackface breed produces a reservoir of females which are drafted to marginal or upland farms either as ewe lambs or five or six year old ewes, where they are crossed with a Blue faced Leicester to produce the Mule Ewe, or a Border Leicester to produce the Grey face Ewe. When crossed with a terminal lowland ram, the blackface ewe produces a quality prime lamb, or a store lamb for finishing.

Suitable Habitats

The breed has evolved on the seashore of North Ronaldsay where seaweed is naturally abundant. Other suitable habitats include saltmarshes. They can graze on other lowland habitats but are not suited to upland areas.

Breed Societies

No known Irish Breed Society.

Suitable Habitat Types