The Icelandic Sheep
The Icelandic Sheep has been in Iceland for more than 1100 years. The sheep came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway. It is believed that there has been little or no change in the breed. Icelanders have tried to import other breed which was not successful and there was no cross breeding, so the Icelandic sheep today is the same as 1100 years ago when they arrived with the settlers on their Viking ships somewhere around 874.
The Icelandic Sheep is in average size and is either polled (without horns) or horned. This breed has a very good and tasty meat and has been the main food source for Icelanders for centuries. The main income for sheep farmers is the meat, so they thrive to make the best meat as possible.
Usually the sheep is good-tempered but can be grouchy when they wander freely in the wilderness. At winter time the sheep is kept in stables and are grass-fed. The lambs are born in May. That period is called lambing season. After the lambs are born, the sheep and the lambs are set free at the farm in fenced fields or set free to the wilderness. In the autumn there is the annual sheep-round-up were the farmers go to the mountains and shepherd the sheep back to their farms, to the nearest “Réttir” or sheepfold.
It is possible to use almost everything from the sheep.
The wool is in two layers. The inner layer, closer to the animal, is very fine and is named “þel” or fine wool. The outer layer is rougher and has longer hair and is called “Tog” or coarse wool. The colors of the wool are black, white, reddish brown and gray. You can find both one colored sheep and blended colors, the blended colors are called “flekkótt” or multi colored. The majority is white.
The wool is used for clothing. The Vikings also made their sales for their ships from wool. The clothing is knitted using wool yarn. The traditional way of making the yarn is using “rokkur” or spinning wheel. The modern way is factory made with heavy machines.
These clothing are very warm. Icelanders have been able to survive the harsh Icelandic winters for centuries wearing these woolen clothes. Today the Icelandic wool sweater is the most known woolen product.
The skin is named “gæra” or sheepskin. The skin is tanned and used for clothing. There are several ways to do that. The reason is to take the fat out of the skin and prevent decomposition.
Most of the sheep is used as food. Icelanders eat the meat fresh, salted or smoked. Making salted meat and smoking the meat was to preserve the meat. This tradition has been continued. Smoked meat is called “hangi kjöt” and would translate to “hanging meat” but is called smoked lamb. The meat is smoked, and to do that they hang it up, and it is kept like that until it is consumed. Raw smoked lamb is very popular on flatbread. The legs, head and organs are used as well. Liver sausage, blood pudding and sheep head jam is very popular for example. It is consumed fresh (boiled) or fermented. The fermentation was to preserve the food over the winter time.
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