North Ronaldsay sheep

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North Ronaldsay sheep

The North Ronaldsay is a breed of sheep living on North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. They are one survivor of a type of sheep formerly found across the islands of Orkney and Shetland (the other is the Shetland), belonging to the Northern European short-tailed sheep group of breeds.

They are notable for living almost entirely on seaweed for several months of the year, except for a short lambing season – this is the only forage available to them, as they are confined to the shoreline by a 6 feet (1.8 m) tall dry-stone wall which encloses the whole island.[1] The semi feral flock on North Ronaldsay is confined to the foreshore for most of the year to conserve the limited grazing inland.[2] This breed is raised primarily for wool.[3]

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists this breed as "vulnerable," with about 600 registered breeding females in the United Kingdom in Spring 2014.[4]


Wool from the sheep is spun in Lanarkshire on the Scottish mainland and returned to Orkney for sale. However a small woollen mill now has a processing operation on North Ronaldsay. This mill processes the majority of Island-produced fleeces and supplies fibre for felters and spinners, as well as spinning yarn for knitters, many of whom live in Orkney producing fine clothing and other woollen goods for sale throughout Orkney.

Other locations[edit]

In more recent years colonies of the sheep have been established inland and on other islands to prevent the entire breed being wiped out through catastrophe (such as foot and mouth). A small number have also been exported as an exotic breed.


The sheep have evolved a somewhat different physiology from other sheep, due to their unusual diet – their digestive system has adapted to extract the sugars in seaweeds more efficiently,[citation needed] and they have an increased susceptibility to toxicity to the trace element copper.[5] The grazing habits of the sheep have also adapted to their peculiar diet: instead of grazing during the day and ruminating at night as other sheep generally do, the North Ronaldsays graze as the tide reveals the shore (twice in 24 hours), ruminating at high water. The sheep's source of fresh water is limited to the few freshwater lakes and ponds along the seashore.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A historic Introduction". The Native Sheep of North Ronaldsay. Sheep-Isle. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  2. ^ "North Ronaldsay". Sheep Breeds. Seven Sisters Sheep Centre. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  3. ^ "North Ronaldsay/United Kingdom". Breed Data Sheet. Domestic Animal Diversity Information System. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  4. ^ Watchlist 2014,The Ark (RBST quarterly magazine), Spring 2014
  5. ^ S Haywood; D M Simpson; G Ross; R J Beynon (Aug–Oct 2005). "The greater susceptibility of North Ronaldsay sheep compared with Cambridge sheep to copper-induced oxidative stress, mitochondrial damage and hepatic stellate cell activation". J. Comp. Pathol. (University of Liverpool, Department of Veterinary Pathology) 133 (2–3): 114–27. doi:10.1016/j.jcpa.2005.02.001. PMID 16099232. 

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