Watchlist; Category 5, Minority.
The North Ronaldsay is one of group of primitive Northern Short-tailed sheep and represents a very early stage in the evolution of domestic sheep. DNA studies have shown a close relationship to sheep found in the Stone Age village of Skara Brae on mainland Orkney, which dates from 3000 BC.
In 1832 a wall was built around their native island to confine the animals to the foreshore for most of the year in order to conserve the inland grazing. Since then the breed has developed its distinctive metabolism due to its diet of seaweed, which also renders it susceptible to copper poisoning under standard sheep management systems.
The North Ronaldsay is small and fine-boned with a slightly dished face. Rams often have a heavy mane and beard and are heavily horned but ewes can be horned, scurred or polled. Adult ewes weigh around 25kg and are excellent mothers, giving birth to small lively lambs. Animals need to be at least 15 months old to reach marketable weight, but the meat is lean and full of flavour.
Colours are variable, including white, various shades of grey, black and moorit (deep brown). The double fleece has coarse outer guard hairs and a fine soft inner coat. The wool is suitable for handicraft work and as knitting yarn and popular with handspinners. It also felts well and has good handicraft potential.
Find out more at www.nrsf.co.uk.