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Shetland Sheep   EFABIS Data


International Name

Shetland Sheep

Local Name

Shetland Sheep


Cheviot Hills, Scottish Borders

Breeding females



Trend of population size

Shetland Islands

Flock book established



Origin history

The Shetland breed originated in the Shetland Islands, but it's roots go back over a thousand years, probably to sheep brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers. They belong to the Northern European short-tailed group which also contains the Finnsheep, Norwegian Spaelsau, Icelandics, Romanovs and others. Shetlands are classed as a landrace or "unimproved" breed.


Breed description

The Shetland breed has a high score for geographical isolation due to the high health status of the breed in its native environment. Imported sheep undergo strict health checks for a number of diseases including Caseous Lymphadenitis, Maedi Visna and parasites and a period of quarantine before mixing with Island sheep.
The Shetland is a primitive, unimproved breed noted for its natural hardiness, lambing ease, longevity, and ability to survive under harsh conditions. It is the smallest of the British breeds and retains many of the characteristics of wild sheep. Rams weigh 45 Kg and ewes about 35 Kg. Rams usually have spiral horns, whereas the ewes are typically polled. They are fine-boned and their naturally short, fluke-shaped tails do not require docking.
Shetlands are known primarily for their production of colourful wool upon which the Shetland woollen industry is based. They come in one of the widest ranges of colours of any breed. There are 11 main colours as well as 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names. It was this variety which was so commercially important to the wool industry of the Shetland Isles where natural wools are often used undyed. The Isles are best for their multi-coloured knitwear and for the traditional crocheted shawls which are so fine they will pass through a wedding ring.
Shetlands naturally shed their wool during late spring/early summer. Fleeces usually weigh between1-1 1/2 kg. Traditionally the Shetland has served as a dual-purpose breed for production of prime hill-bred wether mutton and a quality lamb carcass as well as the renowned wool.
Purebred Shetland meat is highly regarded on taste, but is slow to mature and wethers are often run through to shearlings. In more recent times the Shetland ewe has become increasingly used for cross-bred lamb production, commonly for the recognised Shetland-Cheviot halfbred, or for further cross-breeding, providing.
Both groups are based on the breed standard set in the 1920s.

Conservation activities

In situ

There are no individual breed improvement initiatives, but the breed society is working with the British Wool Marketing Board to provide special grades, though there are difficulties in sourcing a sufficient supply. The society operates a collecting and marketing scheme, working on exporting to Japan and the United States of America, which is proving difficult due to regulatory restrictions.

The Island also has a marketing scheme to promote Shetland Lamb including Seaweed Lamb from sheep that eat seaweed on the coast. www.tasteshetland.com
Also, as part of the Scottish Fine Wool project, recently Shetland ewes have been put to Est a Laine Merino rams in the hope of producing a heavier fine wool fleece for greater income.

Cryopreservation of semen and blood, NSP storage, 17.824 doses

Contact: The breed society for the Shetland Islands is the Shetland Flock Book Society

                James P Nicolson Lonabrek, Aith, Bixter, Shetland, ZE2 9ND
               Telephone: 01595 810343
              The Shetland Sheep Society is the Breed Society for Shetland Sheep bred on the mainland

Action Heritage Sheep AGRI GEN RES 040 receives financial support from the European Commission, Genetic Resources in Agriculture, under European Commission Council Regulation (EC) No 870/2004 AGRI GEN RES 2006 HERITAGE SHEEP