Characteristics of Icelandic sheep

Icelandic sheep:

n     Are truly a triple purpose sheep--this means that they have more than one way to contribute to the shepherd’s income.  They are a meat, dairy, and fiber breed. Let’s take that one at a time:  The meat of the Icelandic sheep has a distinct, light, delicate flavor, which even non lamb lovers enjoy.  They are able to produce very high quality milk on pasture alone, rivaling some of the “milk sheep” breeds.  And, best of all for us, the fiber of the Icelandic sheep is versatile, prolific, and in high demand.

n      Have fleece that is soft, lustrous, and dual coated
it can be sold to handspinners at a premium price, or it can be processed into roving, felting batts, and yarn.  Ever hear of Lopi yarn? Yes, this is the originator of that famous yarn!  The fleece has a longer, somewhat coarser outer part (called tog) that is used to protect the sheep from inclement weather, and a softer, denser inner part (called thel) that can be incredibly soft and luxurious.  These fibers can be separated and spun as two yarns, or can be spun without separating.  Because of the colors in Icelandic sheep, there are some unique and beautiful color patterns that can be achieved this way. 

n       Have very versatile fibertog can be used to make the warp thread in weaving or other items that need to be tough and durable, thel can be used for very soft things like baby items or lace weight yarn, and mixed, they can be used for the famous Lopi yarn, sock yarn, and sport weight yarn.  The Icelandic fiber also felts very readily, so is perfect for hand felted items like slippers, boots, hats, vests, jackets and other wearables.  

n       Have 17 different and distinct combinations of colors and patternsthis offers an unimaginable variety of possibilities when spinning or when having processing done.  Solids and tweeds, ranging from snow white through the creamy ivories, milky browns, taupes, silvers, charcoals, blue greys to dark brown and black.  All these colors are available naturally to the handspinner, weaver, or yarn buyer, without using a dye process at all.  Of course, the white fleeces do take dyes beautifully if that is what is wanted.

n        Have excellent fertility--twinning the norm, and triplets & quads not unusualthis is a trait that sheep breeders all over are working for, and it comes with the package with Icelandics!  This is a breed that can be bred the first breeding season, with healthy offspring and no ill effects on the sheep. 

n       Have excellent mothering instincts, very suitable for pasture lambingthis means less work for the shepherd at lambing time, and less problem with disease and infections often found in barn lambing.  They lamb easily because their gestation is a few days shorter, and the lambs are generally a little smaller at birth, though they grow extremely fast, sometimes reaching twenty pounds at a week. Ewes bond quickly with their lambs and have plenty of milk to feed them. 

n        Thrive on grass and hay alonethis makes them easy to care for and less expensive to feed.  They can even survive winters in pasture if the pastures have been stockpiled prior to winter.  This way of feeding also creates meat that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and CLA, both of which have been found to contribute to good health and fight heart attacks, cancer, depression and many other common health problems of our society today.

n        Have a naturally short tail, eliminating the need for dockingneed we say more here?  Less work, less chance for infection, less chance of delaying quick weight gains, more health.

n       Grow extremely fast and can finish on pasture in 4 to 5 monthsin Iceland, they only had that long before winter set in.  Because they grow so fast, they reach market weight by October (before breeding season), and so rams don’t have to be wethered, another time and energy saving feature.

n        Are medium sized, with early maturity and long, productive lifespantheir size makes them easier to handle than many sheep, they can be bred before their first year is over, and even more useful, they can be productive into their later years.  It is not unheard of to have ewes that are 10, 11, or 12 giving birth to and raising twins! 

n       Produce some of the most luxurious and beautiful pelts imaginablewith their wide range of colors and the softness and length of their fleece, their pelts are without compare and command quality prices.

n        Produce gourmet quality, light, delicately flavored meatunquestionably, this lamb meat is unequaled for flavor, health benefits, and versatility.  Some of the highest quality restaurants in the country are offering Icelandic lamb on their menus.

n        Lastly, and purely on a personal note, they are lovely creatures to share life withtheir personalities are myriad, ranging from the sheep that has incredible joie de vivre to the regal, queenly matriarch.  They are a joy to live with and an honor to shepherd.  Enough said? Come explore more with us!

© HeartsEase Farm, Dansville, NY 14437 --  2012