Just LOOK at them! Wholly cow, have you ever seen such beautiful animals? Icelandics come in so many colors, with so many patterns, with so many variations within those patterns – each animal is a work of art created by The Master; each an individual in both form and personality.
Sound a bit fanatical?
Well, I don’t recall ever standing entranced by my Commercial flock, except when the lambs were playing. BE WARNED! The sunlight will strike the profile of a ram, highlighting the graceful curvature of the horns, or the breeze will gently ripple the fleece on a ewe, a silken fiber waterfall, and the magic will catch you. I don’t know of anyone who can walk by a flock of Icelandics without pausing to admire them. Around here they can stop traffic! There is something about these creatures that speaks to the heart of Man; it is part of our nature to be drawn to beautiful things.
Okay, so they’re nice to look at, but only models get paid for looks. What’s the bottom line? The Icelandic breed is descended from primitive short-tailed sheep that were selectively improved by the Vikings over generations until they became a true triple-purpose animal, providing meat, milk, and fleece. Unlike more modern breeds, Icelandic lamb has none of the “gamey” aftertaste that discourages some people from eating lamb chops. Because of this, Icelandic lamb is considered a gourmet meat by Five Star chefs. The carcass from an Icelandic dresses out at a higher percentage than other types of sheep, which makes them very desirable across the scale. Milk from the breed is rich and plentiful, lending itself equally well to designer cheeses or scented complexion bars.
The fleece of an Icelandic is dual-coated, with a fine soft under layer called thel, and a longer, relatively coarser overlayer called tog. These fibers can be processed together to create a Lopi yarn, or separated – spinning the thel for fine baby clothes and laceworks, the tog for embroidery yarn or basketry. Icelandic fleece is known for its ease of felting, which makes it sought after by 3-D fiber artists.
The pelts from Icelandic sheep are lustrous and warm, perfect for shearling garments. As an added bonus, the horns can be marketed “as is”, or crafted into buttons, flasks, and sculpture. The only limit on what can be done to profit from these animals is the imagination – Icelandics can easily provide the raw materials and the inspiration for any type of marketing program.
There are many other things about Icelandics that make them the ideal homestead animals. They lamb in the early Spring, instead of in the heart of Winter. They typically give birth to twins, sometimes triplets and quads. Due to a shorter gestation period, the lambs are small and easily delivered (provided you don’t over-feed the ewes!).
In spite of their petitesize, Icelandic lambs are extremely vigorous, up and nursing within minutes of birth. Lambs are naturally short-tailed, so no docking is necessary. Since they usually mature after reaching market weight, ram lambs don’t need to be castrated, unless a wether is desired. Wethers make excellent fleece animals, producing wonderful soft coats without the interference (or unpredictability) of hormones. For those who can’t bear to think of their lambs being eaten, this aspect of Icelandics is perfect.
The breed comes with or without horns (polled), for those who prefer a less aggressive-looking animal. They each have their own personality; some genetic lines, called Leadersheep, are more individual than the rest. Even more intelligent than the run-of-the-mill Icelandic, Leadersheep will guide the flock away from physical dangers and severe weather – often alerting the shepherd to ill or injured flockmates. For these reasons, Leadersheep have a role to play in any flock, even a commercial one.
One more great thing about Icelandics: They have an extremely efficient rumen, developed through centuries of sparse grazing in mountainous terrain. This makes them prime candidates for a grass-based feeding program, and saves the shepherd a lot of money in “finishing” grain. They graze in a goat-like manner, seeming to prefer tough weed and “trash tree” saplings to ordinary grass. Even if you have marginal pastures, you can reap great harvests with this breed.
What it all boils down to is this -an Icelandic sheep is not just another pretty face. With these beautiful animals, you can have it all!
The border photos of influential Icelandic sires come to you courtesy of the Southram AI Station in Iceland. Exacting standards and precise measurements guarantee that future generations of North American Icelandic sheep will have the infusion of quality bloodlines to meet or exceed that of their predecessors. Pictured are those rams whose genetics either have or will be contributing to the makeup of the HolliBerri flock. Look for complete records on the “Influential Icelandics” page.