The Orkney Boreray is short-tailed sheep breed, the last DNA link to the now extinct Scottish Dunface (or Old Scottish Shortwool) breed, probably crossed with Hebridean Blackface in the distant past. Later the Vikings used their unique double-coated fleece for making sails to power their longships, and clothing to withstand the wet and cold. Before the depopulation of the Scottish Highlands due to the forced expropriation of land – the Highland Clearances of the mid-to-late 18th Century into the mid 19th Century – subsistence farmers relied on them for virtually all their clothing and much of the protein in their diet through dairy products and meat.
In 1930 the last inhabitants of St Kilda, far out in the North Atlantic, were evacuated, leaving this ancient landrace flock of sheep on the neighbouring uninhabited isle of Boreray. Boreray is virtually inaccessible, but the agile feral sheep grazed on the machair, the typical Scottish island grazing land formed near the coast. Forty years after the St Kilda evacuations, a small flock was helicoptered to the Scottish mainland then by ferry to Orkney Mainland, the major Orkney Island. The Orkney Boreray Sheep are the pure-bred descendants of these animals, which found in the Orkney land and pastures a perfect habitat. This very special story is the origin of the other name by which Boreray sheep are known: ‘Lost Flock’.
Orkney Boreray sheep generally have a cream fleece and grey or black and white face and legs. They can have a darker area on the rump, and they naturally shed their fleece each spring. The fleece has a double-coat of wool, giving thicker fibres for throws and textiles plus a fine inner wool ideal for making shawls and knitwear. Nowadays, their fleeces are being spun into yarn at the mill on North Ronaldsay.
Both ewes and rams are horned, with the rams having large spiraling horns. Rams are larger at around 50kg, with ewes around 35kg. The Boreray Orkney Sheep are free range on natural pasture and meadows, with a feed supplement of hay or hay silage in winter when needed. They are extremely robust and remain outside all year long in all type of weathers.
In the framework of the breed recovery, the initial focus is on the meat, handcraft skills and wool production, while at the moment it has still not recovered the dairy production. Mutton is usually butchered at 2-3 year old: their meat is delicious, characterized by a sweet taste, with hazelnut and gamey aroma, and with a buttery tender texture. Slow cooking methods are the best technique to enhance the flavour. The type of breeding – free range and slow growth – and the long resting time of the meat after slaughtering give the product an intense and persistent flavour.
Orkney Islands, Scotland (UK)
Orkney KW17 2PA
Tel. +44 01856 761 331
The meat can be purchased at
Macbeths Butcher & Game Dealer
11 Tolbooth St.
Forres IV36 1PH
Tel. +44 1309 672254
Presidium producers’ Coordinator