Icelandic sheep are an ancient breed of sheep. They have been bred for over a thousand years in the harsh interior of Iceland and now they are available to many sheep breeders around the world. Icelandic sheep were the only sheep available to the people of Iceland so they had to be a multi-purpose sheep breed. Many consider Icelandic sheep to be a triple-purpose breed of sheep. They can provide meat, wool and milk. Although they are almost exclusive bred for meat in Iceland. The lambs can weigh up to 90 pounds by 5 months of age and this is mostly on grass. The meat is said to have a delicate flavor unlike other wool breeds which tend to have a stronger flavor.
Icelandic Sheep, due to their history, are a very efficient breed of sheep to raise. Herd of these sheep were allowed to roam the hills of Iceland on their own during the winter months before they were brought in during the spring to lamb. These extreme conditions put a tremendous strain on the breed. This was definitely a survival of the fittest type situation. Only the hardiest and most efficient animals were able to survive the harsh winters to birth their lambs in the spring. The result of this natural selection is the breed of Icelandic Sheep we see today. A very low maintenance/high reward breed to have as part of a homestead.
Icelandic sheep are a wool breed but they roo or lose their undercoats in the spring making shearing somewhat optional yet it is still highly recommended especially in warm or hot climates. The wool can be separated into two parts, given the Icelandic names of Tog and Thel. The tog is the longer outer coat, this is a medium wool that can be used in weaving. The Thel, or undercoat, is a finer wool that can be used for knitting. This Thel is the part of the wool that sheds if the sheep is not sheared every spring.
As mentioned above, the Icelandic Sheep can also be used for milk production. They are not a true dairy breed, so they do not have the same lactation period and production amounts as dairy breeds of sheep but a small herd of ewes will produce plenty of rich milk for a small family. Milk which can also be used to make cheese and yogurt. A typical Icelandic sheep ewe can produce around 2 pints or 1 quart of milk a day, give or take. This is without the lamb suckling and they will produce like this for about 2 months. Some people remove the lamb at birth, feed them milk supplement and take all the mothers milk. This way the shepherd collects more milk per ewe. The lamb can also be left with the ewe full time for the first 1 to 2 weeks, then separated from the ewe at night and the ewe milked in the morning. Whichever method is chose, the Icelandic Sheep is a good source of milk for the homestead.
Once a rare breed in the US, the Icelandic sheep has been gain momentum. Many breeders can be found throughout the US and there are a few registries with breeder listings if you are looking for a breeder in your area. If you are looking for a breed that can be raised naturally, be very productive and provide your homestead with meat, fiber and milk than you need look no further than this astonishing breed.
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