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Keywords:

  • Soay sheep;
  • feral;
  • fertility;
  • male competition

Feral livestock offer an excellent opportunity lo study factors affecting fertility as the physiology of their husbanded relatives is well known and social and environmental influences can be studied free of man's interference. This is so in the population of about 1250 sheep of the primitive Soay breed on the islands of St Kilda, Scotland. There is a high coincidence of oestrus amongst the ewes in mid November, and the breeding season is constant within a few days, from year to year. The breeding season in other British breeds of sheep demonstrates a strong correlation with latitude. On St Kilda, mortality rates in male sheep are higher than in females so that the ratio of rams to ewes at mating time is about 1:5. Competition amongst rams is intense. The optimal time for mating and the place of ram lambs in the social system are discussed.