The 2016 Soay Shepherd’s Christmas Wish List

With both the World Series and the election almost over, it’s time to start thinking about that special Soay shepherd on your Christmas list. The last time I made gift suggestions here was several years ago, so I guess an update is overdue. Disclaimer: everything on this list is a personal favorite of mine. I did not search the internet for sources of custom T-shirts, hats, mugs, and the like. Feel free to contact me and I will add your suggested gifts to my list.

NEW FOR 2016

Item 2016-1

photo from BBC Music Magazine, fall 2016

Sir James MacMillan performs music of St. Kilda on Hirta

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am to start this catalogue with the first-ever CD of music from St. Kilda, the ancestral home of Soay sheep. Yes, you read that correctly; “The Lost Songs of St. Kilda” was issued this fall and is available online. And what an extraordinary story, as told in a new article in the BBC Music Magazine. It seems a (presumably elderly) man named Trevor Morrison is in the habit of playing songs on a piano in the nursing home where he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
as shown in the BBC Music Magazine, fall 2016

Trevor Morrison, keeper of the otherwise lost songs of St. Kilda

Mr. Morrison had learned the songs, apparently long ago, from an “itinerant St. Kilda musician.”

A volunteer at the facility recorded Mr. Morrison playing the songs and in due time Decca released the CD, which consists of the “original” songs as well as orchestral arrangements by several well-known classical music composers.

as shown in the BBC Music Magazine, fall 2016

Hauling the keyboard inland on the island of Hirta in the St. Kilda archipelago

One of the composers, Sir James MacMillan, even traveled to the St. Kilda islands and performed a recital of the music on a portable keyboard carried off the boat just for the occasion. Amazing, isn’t it?

Item 2016-2

The other new entry in my catalogue of favorite gifts for Soay shepherds is nowhere near as unusual or interesting as the CD of St. Kilda songs, but it’s one of those things that just makes life a little easier on rainy days when you’d rather stay indoors and play a Chopin Nocturne than go out to feed your livestock guardian dogs or fill the flock’s mineral feeders.

As regular readers of this blog know, and as described more fully below under “Back by Popular Demand,” we feed our six Anatolian shepherd guardian dogs out of cloth feed bags made right here at Saltmarsh Ranch. Not for us the annoying task of picking up kibbles — rain or shine — when a pail of dog food gets kicked over.

Waterproof container for carrying supplies

Waterproof container for carrying supplies

But carrying the cloth feed bags around in an open bucket on a rainy day means both soggy kibbles and, before long, smelly and even moldy feed bags.

These plastic buckets with hinged attached lids are equally handy for storing and dispensing loose sheep mineral, an essential part of Soay husbandry in all or most of the U.S. with its selenium-deficient soil. The problem is that the mineral turns to the consistency of granite when it gets wet, and it is too expensive to chuck out when it gets rained on.

Finally, if being handy were not enough to commend the buckets, they also are a bargain. We got this one, made by the EZStor Plastic company, online at for a grand total of $8.50, $5.94 for the bucket and $2.56 for the lid. If you are worried about the quality of plastic, this one is marketed as FDA-compliant (i.e., safe for human food).


Custom-made spill-proof feed bags

Custom-made spill-proof feed bags

Nothing says “love” like a handmade gift, and my favorite DYI gift for Soay shepherds remains the handy-dandy flat-bottomed dog food (or sheep treats) bag made from outgrown or otherwise discarded blue jeans legs. You can find user-friendly directions for making these beauties right here. If you want the version with a cloth handle that fits over your belt for hands-free treat dispensing, click here.

If nothing says love like a DYI gift, few things say “annoyance” as much as an otherwise lovable and indispensable border collie who has just taken a romp through dried autumn weeds and come home sporting a coat full of burrs. Grrr.

Mollie Collie discussing coat burrs with Soay ram

Mollie Collie discussing coat burrs with Soay ram

Economical and effective burr remover

Economical and effective burr remover

Luckily, there is a reliable way to remove them without a pricey trip to the groomers: a wire brush with retractable tines, easily available at any pet store. For details, check this earlier post.

The essential and awesome guide to nearly all the fleece animals on the planet

The essential and awesome guide to nearly all the fleece animals on the planet

No Christmas shopping list would be complete without at least one book, and happily the all-time best book for knitters, spinners, and fleece lovers generally is still in print: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook authored by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson. There is no substitute for this encyclopedic, beautifully written and splendidly illustrated compendium of useful, authoritative, and just plain fun information about over two hundred different breeds of fleece animals.

NB: If you simply must have a smaller version of the F&FS to carry in your tote bag, by all means splurge and also get the portable Field Guide to Fleece: 100 Sheep Breeds & How to Use Their Fibers, also written by Carol and Deb. As the title indicates, it is only about sheep and “only” 100 breeds at that. Soay, of course, are included! Both the original F&FS and the Field guide are available online.

Joe and Julie grace our beloved Soay Xing sign, a gift from Sally Gallagher

Joe and Julie alongside our treasured Soay Xing sign, a gift from Sally Gallagher

We end this catalogue with a truly fun gift that I hope you can still get by contacting its creator, Soay breeder Sally Gallagher. Several years ago Sally gave us this wonderful sign in thanks for helping her get started on her grand Soay adventure. We initially put it out on the road but thought better of it when we realized how crestfallen we would be if someone decided it belonged in their barn, not on our farm! We memorialized the sign in print when our niece and her fiance visited our farm so Joe could be introduced to, among others, Julie’s favorite llama, Llucy. If you’re interested in getting one of these signs, please email me for Sally’s contact information.

May Steve and I, and all the creatures great and small at Saltmarsh Ranch, be the first to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

For now …