Icelandic Sheep
Icelandic Sheep:  A Perfect Match

As novice shepherds, we were looking for a breed of sheep that was hardy and could survive our inexperience. We also wanted a breed that was a manageable size and produced a nice fleece. After weeks of research and many hours of conversation with other shepherds, we decided on Icelandic sheep.

The Icelandic sheep is one of the oldest and purest breeds of sheep. Barbara Webb of Massachusetts introduced these wonderful animals into the United States. Although their numbers and popularity have grown, there are still relatively few in relation to other breeds of sheep in the US. The breed is naturally short-tailed, eliminating the need to dock the tail. This was a major selling point for us. They can be horned (both male and female) or polled (no horns). I personally prefer horned Icelandic. I find them much easier to grab when it is time for hoof trimming and worming. Icelandic sheep are well known for their fiber, meat and milk production. But I have also come to love their personalities; each different in their own special way. Icelandic sheep are a medium size breed with full-grown ewes weighing 132 to 160 lb. and rams weighing 198 to 220 lb.. One of the interesting aspects of the Icelandic breed is that it has "grass based" genetics. The sheep have survived the centuries in Iceland on grasses and browse alone. They are a hardy breed which was another attractive feature for us novices here in New England.

Icelandic Sheep
Another great feature, from our perspective, is that Icelandic ewes are seasonal breeders, beginning to come into heat in late October and continuing to cycle until May if not bred. Because we have limited space, we are able to run the rams and ewes together for most of the year. We only separate the rams and ewes from the end of September to the weekend after Thanksgiving. Their normal gestation is 142 days and lambs are born incredibly vigorous, getting on their feet within minutes of birth and nursing. Lambs reach sexual maturity early, with ewes commonly lambing at 11 to 12 months of age. Rams can start breeding at 7 to 8 months of age. Icelandic are very proficient breeders averaging 175% to 200%. Twins and triplets are fairly common.

Icelandic sheep have a wonderful variation of colors in the breed. Seventeen colors and patterns include white, cream, black, taupe and browns (moorit) in all shades, badgerfaces, mouflons and all shades of gray. There is also a gene that causes spotting and there are over 90 different recognized and named white markings.

Icelandic Ewe and LambIceland is best known around the world for their wool . The coat has 2 kinds of fiber, a soft under coat called the "thel" and a long coarser outer coat called the "tog." The tog fiber is strong, wears well and sheds rain and dirt. Thel is the soft downy undercoat, which provides loft for the outer coat and keeps the animal warm and dry. The two coats can be used together or separated relatively easy. The fleeces are open and not very greasy. Icelandic fleece has only a 29% shrink compared to 50% in modern breeds. That means that 6 lb. of Icelandic fleece will yield the same amount of fiber as 8 1/2 lb fleece from a modern breed. The average raw fleece weighs 4 to 7 lb.. The versatility of the wool, ease of spinning and the incredible color variations make this wool a hand spinners delight. The wool is also one of the best wool for felting, a craft that is fast becoming popular.

In Iceland more than 80% of a shepherd's income is from meat production. Icelandic lamb is considered to have sweeter meat and less fat than other breeds on the market. Lambs are born small but grow fairly fast. Lambs on good pasture should reach 80 to 100 lb. in four to five months, which is the ideal slaughter weight. Because the ram lambs reach market weight before the breeding season starts (which would give an off flavor to the meat), they need not be castrated.

We offer Breeding Stock from our farm.  If you would like to be notified when we have animals available again, please contact us.