Registered Soay sheep, whose unique breed is originally from Scotland, were among the sheep breeds shown during the 2016 B.C. Sheep Federation Conference held in Williams Lake this week.
Unlike most breeds of sheep who need to be sheered to collect their wool, Soay sheep rue, or shed their wool naturally.
And what they shed is wool, not hair that they shed, affirms breeder Erin Wilson.
“The rams shed out first in the spring once the days become longer,” Wilson says.
“Then you can easily roll the wool off their bodies. The wool on the ewes loosens up about four to six weeks after they have their lambs.”
Wilson brought a group of the Soay ewes and rams down from Burns Lake to show at the conference and gave some of the wool they produced to the Williams Lake Spinners, Weavers and Fibre Artist members to try.
The fibre artists were demonstrating spinning and carding wool during the conference, held Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Pioneer Complex. Edna-May Myhre said she is looking forward to spinning some of the wool and knitting the yarn she makes into a sweater.
Wilson says the Soay sheep are a heritage breed that originally comes from St. Kilda Island in Scotland which is part of a UNESCO world heritage site in the Outer Hebrides.
She says Soay wool is shorter and finer than regular wool and spins very light and soft.
It also doesn’t have the itch factor of regular wool, which is why it was used in Scotland to make fine, light, warm wool undergarments, she adds.
She says one group fibre artists she knows knitted mittens with regular wool and lined them with the wool of Soay sheep. The mittens proved to be super warm and comfy, and popular with buyers.
Wilson moved from Powell River to Burns Lake six years ago to have more room for her sheep farm, and for growing her own hay.
She has about 100 sheep and raises them for meat as well as breeding stock and for their wool. The rams have full curl horns and the ewes have shorter straight horns.
She says Soay sheep are easy to care for, are great for clearing land, and have no trouble with lambing.
Soay meat is savoury and actually best when the sheep are 18 months or older, unlike most commercial breeds where the meat is considered best at about 12 months.
“The meat of many heritage sheep is better when they are mature rather than as lambs,” Wilson says.
In the UK she says meat sheep are referred to at hogget from 12 to 24 months and mutton after that.
More about Wilson’s Glen Eden Croft farm in Burns Lake is available at www.glenedencroft.com.