Key Characteristics

The breed is capable of surviving wet and windy conditions but does poorly at altitude. Needs good quality varied forage, may benefit from shelter during the winter. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have a level of resistance to footrot and flystrike.

The North Ronaldsay can produce lambs into the teens. Lambing percentages vary depending on location - 130-155% for lowland flocks but less for the feral flock. Lambs are born very small but are lively and quick to rise. Care must be taken to prevent losing any to foxes. They experience very few lambing problems.

  • A small and slender breed with an appearance similar to other primitive breeds such as the Shetland and the Soay.
  • Ewes weight around 25kg and rams, 35kg.
  • Rams are horned and ewes can be horned, polled or scurred.
  • The breed comes in a variety of colours– animals can be white, grey, black or moorit (brown).
  • Some animals shed their fleece and some can be plucked (rooed) rather than shorn.


  • The North Ronaldsay is one of the Northern Shorttailed primitive group of breeds that also includes the Manx Loghtan, Soay, Shetland and Icelandic . 
  • The North Ronaldsay is still mainly found on its native island, the northernmost of the Orkneys. 
  • The sheep keeping system on North Ronaldsay is unique and has been in place since 1832 
  • This wall was built in 1832 and since then the breed has evolved to survive primarily on seaweed. 
  • The sheep live on the seashore most of the year around and are only brought onto the better land for lambing. 
  • In 1974 a population of 178 North Ronaldsays were taken off the island and some brought to the mainland, whilst others were moved to the island of Lingaholm.


The North Ronaldsay is capable of surviving on less than larger breeds and is an active browser, used to ranging over long distances in search of food.

With the variety of colours and the quality of the wool, the North Ronaldsay is a good choice of breed for producing and marketing woollen products. The fleece can be shorn or rooed (plucked). Staple length- 4-8cm. Fleece weight- 1- 1.5kg. Quality- 52s-56s.

As with other primitive breeds the flavour of North Ronaldsay meat is highly prized but the animals are generally too small to be killed as lambs and usually killed as hogget or mutton.

Did you know?

North Ronaldsays are very sensitive to copper and will die of copper toxicity if put on the wrong type of grazing. This is due to their seaweed diet and the unique metabolism they have evolved. They should not be fed commercial sheep mixes as despite the label saying “No Added Copper” the normal ingredients used will often have a background level high enough to be toxic (ten parts per million is too high).

Breed Societies

For more information visit:

Combined Flock Book 
North Ronaldsay Sheep Fellowship