The North Ronaldsay is a Scottish coastal sheep, hailing from near Orkney off the north coast of Scotland.
Also called the Orkney, the breed is of the North European short-tailed group and evolved with little crossbreeding with modern breeds. The breed actually originates from a semi-feral flock from the native area and can survive on a diet made up entirely of seaweed. This is because a kelp-wall was built on the island to protect pastures from the sheep and effectively lock them on the island’s shore. This is what led them to focus their diet on seaweed.
The island actually contains nine small enclosures, where the sheep can be contained for shearing, lambing, taking record of numbers and slaughtering. This is the one and only time they have access to a grass-diet.
It is thought that the sheep first came to the islands they now call home in the Iron Age, making them one of the earliest breeds in the UK. Two of the largest flocks remaining are in fact feral and the breed has less than 600 registered breeding females in the UK, with the breed listed as ‘vulnerable’.
They come in a range of different colours, from grey to brown and even red. As mentioned above they are a short-tailed breed, smaller in size than typical breeds.
The breed is a slow-growing breed one. Males are horned, with females hornless. Horns are usually ridged and spiralled.
The breed were originally primarily used for wool production, though their meat also has a distinct flavour. Its meat has a high iodine content, due to their all-seaweed diet, and is described as intense and gamey.
A very adaptable breed, capable of surviving harsh, colder weather conditions. The North Ronaldsay breed is probably as pure as the come, with relatively little to no crossbreeding.
One of the world’s oldest, rarest and purest breeds, the North Ronaldsay.