We first found out about
Icelandic sheep while reading articles at homestead.org. There we
ISBONA where we continued to find
out about this unique breed. Much of the following information
comes from there and this and more can be obtained at ISBONA's website.
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. The Icelandic
in the North European short-tailed group of
sheep, which exhibits a fluke-shaped, naturally short tail, making
Icelandics are a mid-sized breed with ewes averaging 130-160 pounds,
and rams averaging 180-220 pounds.
There are both horned and
polled strains. Conformation is generally short legged and
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. Icelandics are seasonal breeders, beginning the breeding
season in late Fall and continuing into early Winter. Twins are
very common, and triplets are not considered unusual. They are a
hardy breed, rarely requiring help during lambing, and it is said that
the lambs "bounce" when they hit the ground. Often the first lamb
will be up and nursing by time the next lamb is born.
The Icelandic sheep produces a
The fleece is dual coated, with a fine, soft undercoat called thel and
a longer, coarser outer coat called tog.
The tog fiber with a spinning count of 56-60 and a micron count of
27-30, grows to a length of 6-8" in six months.
It is lustrous, strong, water- and wear-resistant, and sheds off the
rain and weather.
Thel is the soft downy undercoat, with a spinning count of 64-70 and a
micron count of 19-22, growing to a length of 2-4".
The thel provides the loft for the outer coat and insulation for the
Tog grows from the primary hair follicles and the thel from the
Tog is a true wool, and is not a kemp or guard hair.
The combination of the two fibers on the sheep gives superb protection
from the cold and wet. Icelandic
fleeces are open and low in lanolin. The weight loss when washed
significantly less than many other breeds. The tog and thel can
separately, or together, giving three
possibilities from one fleece. The traditional lopi is a lightly
blend of tog and thel.
Thel is very soft and downy, with an irregular crimp and can be used
for baby garments, and for fine shawls in the style of the Wedding
The tog is similar to mohair; wavy or corkscrewed rather than crimped
and is wonderful in worsted spinning.
The versatility of the wool,
the ease of spinning and the wide
variation of tones and colors are a true delight to handspinners, and
put Icelandic wool into the exotic or premium category. It is
known as one of the best fleeces for felting, which is fast gaining
popularity in the craft community. And Icelandics come 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.
white, they come in black and brown (called moorit), and several
patterns add to the variations possible. White is actually
pattern, not a color. Patterns include
white, grey, badgerface, mouflon, and solid. There is also a
As well as breeding for
premium fleece quality, we strive for lambs with good meat
conformation. Market lambs will start to
reach slaughter weight at four to five months. With continued
quality graze, the lambs can be slaughtered
directly off the grass all through the fall months. This has
positioned the Icelandic breed to fit well in the move towards
grass-based farming, enabling “natural” and organic farmers to utilize
the Icelandic breed. As meat consumers increasingly recognize the
health benefits of grass
fed meats, and as economic pressures drive our farmers toward
grass-based businesses, the genetics of the Icelandic breed become
increasingly valuable to our sheep industry.
© 2009-2011 Birchtree Farm
Last update: January 25, 2011