Woolly open day regulars are the focus of a new book
Jane Cooper first brought some of her flock of Boreray sheep to a Ness of Brodgar Open Day in 2019, and she, sheep and helpers, have been a major draw since then.
They’ll be back at the 2024 Open Day on Sunday, July 28, 2024.
Jane has now written a book, The Lost Flock, the story of her Borerays, and of the breed in general. It’s a fine story of sheep, Orkney and Jane’s passion to do her very best by these feisty and fascinating animals.
Sheep bone is among the animal remains found at the Ness.
Boreray sheep are descendants of Europe’s original short-tailed sheep, the sheep which would have grazed Orkney in the Neolithic.
Jane and other native breed sheep farmers in Orkney have provided help to archaeological researchers into different aspects of their animals, looking at diet, meat, fat and milk remains amongst other lines of post-excavation investigation.
As the Ness project continues with its work after fieldwork ends in 2024, lines of enquiry like these – looking at the lives of those who used the Ness and their animals and farming, building, and technologies will become the focus.
Jane established Boreray sheep in Orkney in 2013, when she moved to Orkney with her husband.
Since then, her flock has expanded and there are now eight in Orkney. Their creation is safeguarding this rare breed and giving all of us access to the wool, meat and breed characteristics of this once threatened rare breed of sheep.
From an archaeological point of view, they give a great insight into how farmers in Neolithic Orkney would have tended their flocks. The Boreray’s wool is a double coat, which is plucked, not shorn, from the animals. But that’s not all. The sheep would have been a source of milk, meat, horn and skin.
They lamb easily and generally without assistance. And they are resilient to problems modern breeds struggle with, thriving on lightly managed, even unmanaged, land.
Like North Ronaldsay sheep, Hebridean sheep and Soay sheep, the Boreray probably survived as a breed because of their island isolation. In their case, the last outpost was Boreray, one of isles in the St Kilda archipelago.
There, they ran as a feral flock, managed lightly by the islanders, until the evacuation St Kilda in 1930.
Boreray sheep still live on Boreray – now completely feral – with the current UK and Orkney flocks descended from animals removed from the island in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Lost Flock is available from various outlets, including The Orcadian Bookshop, here in Orkney.
If you’re reading this in the US, buy here.