As a primitive breed, Boreray sheep are slow growing and don't reach their full size until two to three years of age. This rate of growth however gives their meat a fabulous depth of flavour. As does the way we manage them.
Orkney has similar weather to St Kilda - temperate, wet and windy. We also have good grass and many parts of Orkney, including our farm, benefit from permanent pastures with a vast range of plants, bogs and moorland. The sheep also browse on bushes & low tree branches as this young ewe is demonstrating. The sheep live outside their entire lives, enjoying this natural diet. In winter, as our farm is high with a big hill to the south, we get more snow than most parts of Orkney, so feed hay as needed.
While having responsibility for such a unique flock within the UK's rarest breed of sheep does mean we want to produce breeding stock, obviously we need many more females than males. So most of the mutton we produce is from surplus males. They are wethers (castrated males) so they are settled and relaxed being in flocks & can enjoy living on our steep sloping moorland & ancient pastures.
In 2017 we provided Boreray for the 2017 Scottish Breeds Mutton Tasting in Edinburgh, where it performed very well, with some people listing it top for flavour & quality and it was voted one of the two overall favourites. You can read all the results here
The Boreray was recorded, for flavour, as Sweet, Earthy/Nutty (hazelnut) and Game (rabbit). This is bringing together a registered pure breed, Orkney Boreray being recognised by Rare Breeds Survival Trust as "completely separate line to other mainland sheep", with the terroir of Orkney, to produce a mutton that is unique and just a bit special. For texture we were delighted that the tasters recorded it as Moist/Juicy, Buttery/Soft and Tender. The mutton we produce, from sheep at least two years old, is hung for a full two weeks. This is to allow customers to slow cook it using traditional mutton recipes, but also to cook it fast so that the mutton can be pink, but the meat is still very tender. It is the slow growth of the sheep and then the long hanging period that produces such a depth of flavour but also gives a meat that can be cooked in a variety of ways.
The mutton has been sold in Orkney & the Highlands where we found demand exceeded our limited supply. A good proportion of buyers are repeat customers, reflecting their satisfaction with the product.
Now that Orkney no longer has an abattoir we are hoping to use Shetland's small abattoir. The sheep can travel overnight to Shetland in the special livestock transporters that Northlink Ferries have developed. The staff at Shetland abattoir are excellent and have the skills and experience to keep the sheep calm and relaxed so that the highest quality of mutton can be produced. The welfare aspect is hugely important to us, as it is to our customers. Shetland Council has developed a scheme that can work with their existing Animal Health Scheme to allow livestock to enter Shetland to go directly to the abattoir, but we are still waiting to hear if they will extend use of this scheme to Orkney livestock. At the moment it is only the sheep from North Ronaldsay that have been allowed to enter Shetland to go to Shetland Abattoir.