We originally added to sheep to our farm to help “mow” our 1 acre farmyard “lawn”. We wanted an “interesting” breed and by pure happenstance, we brought home a starter herd of Icelandic sheep-Rudy the Ram and 3 ewes. They added (almost) nothing but delight to the farm and away we went from there!
Today our herd consists of anywhere between 10-12 active breeding ewes, a ram or two and our fiber flock–a group of retired ewes and wethers whose sole purpose is making beautiful Icelandic fiber. We offer both raw fleeces and finished yarn on our sales page here and offer lambs for sale after weaning each summer here.
Why Icelandic Sheep?
One of the oldest purebred breeds of sheep in the world, Icelandic sheep were brought to Iceland by Viking explorers and served their needs for milk, meat and fiber for over 900 years. Today Icelandic sheep are still considered “tri-purpose” and find a niche on many small farms to still serve the family needs of producing milk, meat and fiber products.
In their native Iceland, Icelandic sheep are bred to be hardy in a harsh environment, survive on marginal quality forage, have multiple babies and produce the huge amount of rich milk it takes to grow those babies to a size large enough to handle an long Icelandic winter. The traits that naturally evolved on the remote island have produced a breed of sheep that is idyll for small farmers looking for a single animal to serve multiple uses.
Icelandic sheep need to grow their babies as quickly as possible in order to ensure their survival during the long, cold North Atlantic winters. In addition, they tend to have multiple births–twins being the most common, but triplets and even quadruplets are not out of the ordinary. And those two factors mean that by pure natural default, Icelandic sheep make wonderful dairy animals!
Not only do Icelandics produce large quantities of milk for their body size, Icelandic sheep milk is often called the “Jersey milk” of the sheep world due to its rich butterfat content. That butterfat not only grows babies quickly, it makes for wonderful home dairy opportunities: Cheese, ice cream and more can be produced with the rich cream.
We have sourced sheep from several developed dairy lines (including from the storied former Starthrower dairy in MN) and have seen several of our sheep enter into sheep dairy establishments across the region.
All that rich milk makes for fast-growing babies and Icelandics boast an incredible rate of growth during their first 6 months. Although born small (typically 5-8lbs), they grow rapidly and may weigh anywhere from 60-90 pounds at 100 days of age. Icelandic lamb meat is rich, mild and boasts excellent carcass quality.
One of the big exports of Iceland is, in fact, Icelandic wool! Over 500,000 sheep still populate the island, providing both meat and the wool that goes into the iconic Icelandic sweaters. Revered since Viking times for its durability and waterproof fibers, Icelandic wool actually consists of two coats: The Tog and the Thel.
Considered a “primitive” breed of sheep, the Icelandic is “dual-coated”, meaning there is a long, waterproof outerlayer (the Tog) and a soft, warm inner layer called the Thel. These two combine to keep Icelandic sheep 100% cozy in even the worst weather. Icelandic wool can be separated into the 2 different classes of wool or spun together into what is called “lopi”.
The outerlayer, the Tog, is considered a medium wool, around 27 microns. It is long and wavy, sometimes locks will reach 8-9 inches or more. It has very little or no crimp, which makes it ideal for worsted spinning. Many weavers (including the Vikings!) use pure tog yarn as a warp thread because it stays strong and won’t break.
The inner layer, the Thel, is incredibly soft and considered a “fine wool”, typically around 20-21 microns. Typically 3-4 inches long with irregular crimp, it is next-to-skin soft and lustrous, very remniscent of cashmere. And indeed, the Vikings once used it for their undergarments! 😉
With its low amount of crimp, Icelandic fleece is fun and easy for even beginner spinners to try their hand at spinning. Icelandic wool is also a superior felting fiber, it felts in 20 minutes or less!
And one of the best parts about Icelandic fiber is the huge variation in color. All Icelandic sheep are technically black or brown (aka moorit) but those two colors come in a huge number of variations. And did you know, that “white” Icelandic sheep are still technically black or moorit? White on any sheep is “spotting” and what appears to be an “all-white” sheep is technically a black or brown one with a GIANT white spot. 😉