It all started a few years back when I was asked by a close friend of mine to be the farm hand for two weeks. Lambing had almost wrapped up with a few ewes left to go. I was so impressed with the instinctual nature and heartiness of the ewes and newborn lambs. They are very personable and intelligent. Curious but mindfully cautious.
We had not had sheep on our farm for about five years, but had raised a meat breed for over ten years. I was drawn by the extra spunk and ruggedness of the Icelandic sheep. They are also very friendly , eager for treats when offered.
I watched the lambs grow vigorously through the spring and summer. Lambs are born small but have an incredible rate of gain, reaching 80-90 pounds by weaning time in the fall. The adult sheep are of medium height and body size, making it nice when working them. I became even more curious about what these sheep had to offer.
Icelandic sheep are one of the oldest domestic breeds of sheep in the world. They originated in, you guessed it, Iceland, long ago during the Viking days. They are great forgers that consume both pasture grasses and brush. Their heartiness was passed to them from their mountain sheep ancestors. This makes them an excellent choice for our cold Montana winters.
In addition to their great nature and personalities, Icelandic sheep are a tri-purpose breed.
Ewes provide rich milk that is significantly higher in protein and fat than goats and dairy cows, which makes it excellent for cheese making.
Their mountain sheep heritage yields a meat that is gourmet quality, milder flavored than long tailed, lowland sheep meat. We have had comments from people that have traveled all over the world that the meat we offer is some of the best they have had.
Icelandic wool is a beautiful, double layered coat. The fine, soft, downy undercoat is called thel and provides insulation for the sheep. The longer, coarser outer coat is called tog. The tog fiber is strong and water / wear resistant. It is perfect for outerwear garments; hats, sweaters, gloves, scarves and socks. An adult sheep will produce 4-7 pounds of wool per year. The beautiful color variety ranges from cream to gray, browns from deep chocolate to latte tan, and darks from charcoal to black.
There is a genetic line of Icelandics called “Leadersheep” known for their bold, watchful, intelligent natures that help protect the flock and guide them in harsh weather. We have a few ewes in our flock that have the “leadersheep” characteristics. It is very interesting to watch them in action. They are also excellent fence inspectors and will point out those weak spots.
Having Icelandic sheep on our farm has been a wonderful, sometimes frustrating experience. They are a well rounded addition to any farm / homestead that is looking for a multifaceted animal! There is so much we can learn from our livestock. I look forward to continually growing in knowledge and understanding about what it is to be a great Blooming Joy shepherdess!