I'm still on the road—getting ready to leave a motel in Elko, Nevada—so there will be photos here but not much text.
A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting some folks who have Soay sheep. Soays are as close as we have to the original domesticated sheep. They were located only on one island well offshore of western Scotland, and may have been there for thousands of years. A small population on a rock out being battered by the Atlantic Ocean is vulnerable, so now there are satellite flocks elsewhere.
Priscilla and Steve Weaver at Saltmarsh Ranch have a large satellite flock and are working on maximizing genetic diversity within the breed. Steve is a geneticist. They have both British and American Soay flocks. They are in love with their Soays. It's very easy to see many reasons why.
Soays in the morning:
Soays are tiny sheep, which doesn't exactly show in these photos.
Their friend and guardian, Isaac, who is significantly larger than they are:
He keeps coyotes away. There are four guardian dogs with the Soays at Saltmarsh Ranch. I fell in love with Isaac.
Also Molly (Mollie?), the herding associate, who injured a leg recently and has to be on forced rest for a bit.
Although, as you can see, she is always on the alert for a bit of work she might do:
Maybe she could help????? With ANYTHING?????
These Soays are clearing underbrush: eating star thistle and blackberry vines in preference to the grass. They'll eat the grass if all the good weeds are gone.
These are young Soays:
We went out to look over and snap photos of the rams, several of whom are going to other farms fairly soon (with genetically diverse ewes). They are identified as to lineage by the tape on their horns (all Soay rams and many Soay ewes have horns).
I have more photos, but I don't have more time at the moment. There's a great article on Soays in the January/February 2008 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.
Yes, Soay wool is fine and spinnable. There isn't much per sheep each year and it tends to be on the short side, and it roos (sheds) instead of being shorn, which makes gathering it a challenge. The quality of the wool, however, is part of what makes Soays the link between wild sheep (which you can see in their coloring and some of their behavior) and early domestication.
And now I-80 calls me again.