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Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic sheep are members of the Northern European Short-tailed group of sheep. They are a primitive breed, and related to our native Hebrideans, North Ronaldsays, Shetlands and Soays. They differ from these other primitive breeds in that their breeding in isolation over the centuries has resulted in them being larger and much more docile. They may be naturally horned or polled (both ewes and rams) and come in a huge variety of colours.

Sheep were originally taken to Iceland by the Vikings, who colonised the island between 870 and 930 AD. Icelandic Sheep have been isolated genetically from other breeds of sheep for over a thousand years, and are possibly one of the oldest and purest domesticated breeds of sheep in the world today.

 

 

Icelandic sheep have naturally short, fluke shaped tails, and are medium sized and fine boned. Many of them shed their fleeces in the early Spring. The Icelandic fleece is unique in having two distinct layers, the longer, silky tog layer, and a very fine, soft thel layer. The combination of these two layers keep the sheep warm through the long, harsh Icelandic winters, and enabled the early colonisers in Iceland to survive.

Icelandic ewes lamb easily, have very good mothering instincts and an excellent milk supply to raise their lambs. They usually have twins, occasionally triplets or more.

In Iceland there is a recognized gene for what are called Leader Sheep; these are highly intelligent sheep who watch over the rest of the flock, leading them in and out of their enclosures, and checking for danger while the others graze. Icelandic sheep feature prominently in the country’s history/legends – the sagas – and there are many tales of how a Leader Sheep looked after the others by refusing to leave shelter because a fierce storm was coming.

You can’t talk about Icelandic sheep for very long without mentioning their personalities, whether they are friendly or shy, affectionate or bossy, they are very intelligent, with distinct characters. More than any other sheep breed that I’ve come across, Icelandic sheep owners will talk about how friendly, tame, and intelligent their animals are. We don't have a sheep dog - we just call and they all come running.

Meat

We have a little breeding flock of ewes, all born here, ranging from very young ones to grand old ladies who are in their teens, fully retired, and will eventually die here. However, we eat our spare ram lambs and sell ewe lambs for breeding. Meat from Icelandic sheep is considered a gourmet dish in Iceland. The meat is delicately flavoured and fine textured, with the fat on the outside rather than running all through it. Because the lambs mature slowly, they can be slaughtered at 5 -6 months for a carcass of about 12 kgs, or kept until 18 months for a larger carcass. We tend to keep ours until they are at least a year old (known as hoggets). Hogget is a delicious, tasty meat, full-flavoured, tender and very different to the usual supermarket mass-produced lamb. Sometimes we keep them even longer, and kill them for mutton, which, with long slow cooking, is tender and tasty.

Milk

Icelandic ewes are very milky, and both very easy to tame and very greedy, making them good dairy animals.

We usually have Icelandic hogget or mutton for sale from the freezer, or half or whole when freshly killed. We occasionally have sheep for sale too. Our flock is not registered, though all come from registered stock and are pure bred.