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
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.
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.
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.