Icelandic Sheep in General
History and Background
The modern Icelandic Sheep is a direct descendant of the sheep brought to the island by the early Viking settlers, in the ninth and tenth century. It is of the North European Short Tailed type, related to such breeds as the Finnsheep, Romanov and the Swedish Landrace, all of which are descendants of this type of sheep which was predominate in Scandinavia and the British Isles during 8th and 9th century. Of these the Icelandic and the Romanov are the largest, classified as medium size.
Very few attempts have been made to change the Icelandic sheep through the centuries with outside crossings. The few attempts that were made resulted in disasters brought on by diseases introduced through the "new blood". As a result producers drastically culled all animals which were results of crossbreeding. As a consequence all effect of other breeds was eliminated. It is now illegal to import any sheep into Iceland. As a result of these factors improvements to the breed have been done by selective breeding within the breed itself. Genetically the Icelandic sheep is the same today as it was 1100 years ago. It is possibly the oldest and purest domesticated breed of sheep in the world today.
The Icelandic sheep are of medium size with mature ewes weighing 150-160 lbs. and rams 200-220 lbs. They are fine boned with open face and legs and udders. Similar to that of mountain sheep, the breed has both polled and horned individual of both sexes but it is primarily horned. Icelandic sheep are not particularly tall but broad and have an excellent conformation as a meat breed. Life expectancy is long, healthy ewes commonly lambing until they are 12 to 14 years old in Iceland. The Icelandic sheep’s wool is dual coated and comes in many natural colors, even though the white color is most common.
The Icelandic breed is not a docile breed. They are alert and fast on their feet. Most of them are very individualistic with a poor flocking instinct. They tend to spread out which makes them good users of sparse pasture. They are good browsers and seem to enjoy eating brush and wild grasses. The ewes are good mothers and high milk producers which is not surprising considering they were also used as milk animals until the middle of the twentieth century. It has been reported they are aggressive toward other sheep and will usually dominate in those situations. Behavior in Icelandic sheep has been compared to that of feral or early domestic animals.