The Ronaldsay is a small sheep of the northern short-tailed group of breeds; bones of similar animals have been found on Orkney at Skara Brae dating from the Bronze Age and the recent genotype survey organised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) demonstrated that the breed is still virtually unchanged from the original type.
Mature ewes rarely exceed 25 kg, rams about 30 to 35 kg. The animals are "primitive" and fine-boned and have evolved in a specialised seashore environment on their native island but adapt well to mainland management including conservation grazing. The colour of the face and legs is variable. The head is small and the ewe’s face is "dished". The tail is short and thin. Rams are horned, but ewes can be horned, polled or scurred. The ewes have a strong maternal instinct and lamb very easily frequently producing twins.
Wool: virtually any colour possible, from white through grey to black, various shades of brown or mixed colours. Self colours are usually retained, mixed colours usually fade to fawn. Rams develop a mane and beard of coarse hair.
Distribution: there are about 3700 still on North Ronaldsay, about 807 over the rest of mainland Britain of which about 554 are adult breeding ewes plus 90 shearlings registered in the RBST’s 2003 Combined Flock Book.
Pam bought a small group of 8 Ronaldsays at the very beginning of farming at the Rhanich. She literally got them "off the boat" from an Orkney farmer. Most of them didn't do very well and died quite soon for no apparent reason. One of them however was very good at breaking through fences and very quickly took to roaming not only all the fields of the Rhanich but also the skullery (eating dog food), the garden (eating ornamental plants and chicken food) and the neighbouring moors (where neighbours would phone up and enquire about "the funny looking sheep of yours"). Pam reckons that the gipsy lifestyle and resulting varied diet helped that Ronaldsay to live to a very ripe old age. It is possible that its fellow Ronaldsays didn't do well because something in their diet was lacking which they would have got out of the seaweed in their Island home. The "gipsy" Ronaldsay however developed such a varied diet that it managed to live at the Rhanich. On their native Island, these sheep are evicted from the grass-lands in summer and made to roam the beaches (to give the fragile grass a chance to recover) and eat sea-weed. The roaming instinct is in them! And Pam's Ronaldsay took all her lambs with her on the road every summer and taught them the way of breaking through fences. Although the original Ronaldsay is now grazing on the heavenly pastures in the sky (i.e. it is dead) her daughters and grand-daughters still have the Ronaldsay gipsy look about them and are still the worst for breaking out of their assigned paddock if they want to.
Picture: one of the oldest Ronaldsay daughters still at the Rhanich )this sheep is probably around 13 years old!
More articles about the interesting history and "ecology" of the Ronaldsays breed
The history of the Ronaldsay
About their Wool
Great historic fotos and facts