Image (C) Jane Cooper. Not to be used without consent.
Back in 1930 the last inhabitants of St Kilda, out in the North Atlantic, were evacuated, leaving a landrace flock of sheep on the neighbouring uninhabited isle of Boreray. Boreray is virtually inaccessible – the agile feral sheep grazed the elevated rough land bounded by high cliffs with little refuge from the wild elements. Forty years after the St Kilda evacuations, a small flock was taken to the mainland and the Orkney Boreray, reared by Jane Cooper on Orkney, are the pure-bred descendants of these original sheep.
Orkney Boreray Sheep are the last DNA link to the now extinct Scottish Dunface or Old Scottish Shortwool as it is also known, with a probable seasoning of Hebridean Blackface in the distant past. Known as the ‘Lost Flock,’ they were formally identified by RBST in 2017 and placed on a register separate to all other registered Boreray sheep, making them a unique DNA genebank.
Jane has now (July 2021) formed the Orkney Boreray Community, currently with 4 established flocks, all born and bred on Orkney, a genebank and a common agricultural ethos, setting Standards to ensure high welfare and protection of the flocks and their genetics. The Community is not only for farmers but also includes a butcher and heritage food expert, chefs and weavers, bone and leather experts. There are presently approx.100 Orkney Boreray in the genebank with around ten going to market twice yearly at the moment. Numbers are on the increase thanks to this breeding programme.
Orkney Boreray is a primitive breed of short-tailed sheep, mostly with a cream fleece and grey or black & white face and legs and can have a darker area of wool on the rump. Some are darker and rams can have a ‘collar’ around their neck. All have a small, slender frame and a double-coat of wool, giving thicker fibres for throws and textiles plus a fine inner wool ideal for making shawls and knitwear. All the sheep have heavy spiraling horns; ewes weigh around 30kg and rams 45kg. Their meat is flavoursome and usually eaten as 2-3 year old mutton to allow the meat to mature.