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Permalink 11:13:07 pm, by Karen Email , 577 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Why Icelandics?

I first found out about Icelandic sheep while reading articles at There was a link to ISBONA's site (Icelandic Sheep Breeders Of North America - where I continued to find out about this unique breed. Icelandics were developed in - you guessed it - Iceland, where for over 1000 years they were bred for three reasons: milk, meat, and fiber. Hence, the Icelandic is considered a triple purpose breed, though typically breeders will tend to focus on only one or two of these traits in their particular flock. They are smaller than many other breeds, making them a bit easier to handle. Males typically weigh no more than 180-220 lbs, and females may weigh up to around 130-160 lbs. They have large rumens for their size however, and this allows them to do quite well in pasture based systems, with minimal or no supplemental grain. Lambs can finish on pasture alone in 6 months.

Their wool is grown as a dual coat. There is a finer softer undercoat called thel, and a somewhat coarser but still soft outer coat called tog. These can be spun separately, or together, giving three possibilities from one fleece. And they come in colors! Although in Iceland today they primarily breed for white sheep (because the wool takes dye extremely well), here in America they are often bred for their color as handspinners appreciate the natural variations. Besides white, they come in black and brown (called moorit), and several patterns add to the variations possible. White is actually considered a pattern, not a color. Black and moorit are the colors. Patterns include grey, badgerface, mouflon, and solid. There is also a spotting gene. In the picture below, there are represented black badgerface, moorit solid, and black solid.

Icelandics also may be either horned, or polled, or have small growths called scurs, that are not quite horns. Males and females both may have horns, although males typically have a more massive version. Don't ask me to explain the genetics of hornedness in Icelandics. I don't understand it, and probably very few people have a good understanding of it. But Quinn (a black grey) is horned (see post from 7/23/06), and so is Indico (a black mouflon). At three months old, his horns are quite impressive with broad square bases.

Our interest is in breeding for meat and for fleece. Icelandics are usually shorn twice a year, in spring and fall. The spring fleece is of lower quality and is usually used for felting, or some people use it for mulch! But the fall fleece is the best quality and is usually turned into yarn of various types, or into roving for sale to handspinners. I would like to learn to spin, and then to weave. I already crochet, and would love to learn felting too. Icelandic fleece felts very well.

As for the meat, this breed is said to have a very light "gourmet" flavor and texture. I like lamb anyway, so I can't imagine not liking Icelandic lamb. And the health benefits of pasture raised lamb/beef/chicken are beginning to be more realized and so there may be a local market for anything we can't use ourselves. We are particularly fortunate in that there is a USDA inspected slaughterhouse just a few miles away.

So all in all, we felt that this was a good choice for our small acreage, and having less lawn to mow was just the first of the benefits! :-)


Permalink 12:52:46 pm, by Karen Email , 241 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

The first few days...

The sheep arrived on Saturday, early evening, after we picked them up in Dansville, NY, about 90 miles from us. They traveled pretty well in our homebuilt trailer, even with it being a rainy day. We made rail sides and a top to fit our 4x7 utility trailer. There are sections for the sides and front that bolt onto the trailer and to each other, and then the top bolts on to the side panels. The utility trailer's gate serves to close up the back.

So we backed the trailer through the gate, and opened it up. They all stood in the trailer for a few minutes, pondering this new situation. But then the lure of green grass and forage overcame their hesitation, and Rose jumped down, quickly followed by the rest. The next few minutes were taken up with furious eating. You would think they hadn't just been munching hay in the trailer, and previous to that had had access to quite a large pasture. So they ate, and ate, and ate....

They quickly learned that the red scoop and rattling in the galvanized feeder pans means grain. Seriously, within 24 hours they were expecting grain every time they saw someone, even the neighbors! We only give grain once a day, in the evening, but that doesn't matter. Rose will follow you anywhere if she thinks you might have a treat.

So things seem to be going well so far. Stay tuned...


Permalink 10:31:32 pm, by Ken Email , 121 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

The sheep arrive

Our sheep arrive... and without much delay begin to enjoy an early dinner. There are more stories, but for now, here are some photos...

Quinn (foreground) and Cozette (background) sample the new greenery. Quinn even gave the dead thistle a try.

Orange, on the left, tries some crispy dead cottonwood leaves. Yummm!

Here we have the young ram, Indico, Orange in the middle, Cozette on the right, and Quinn still in the shelter checking out the goldenrod.

In the foreground here is Rose, the most tame of them all. She will come up and nose your hands to see if you have grain. Rose is also the most vocal, "baa-aa-ing" whenever she sees someone, expecting treats of course!


Quinn again.

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Sharing ideas from our small farm in NH, where we raise Icelandic sheep and assorted poultry. We are members of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) and the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation). We also participate in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (NH54). Contact us at karen [at] birchtreefarm [dot] com. Please also visit the farm website at Birchtree Farm.
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