From Homesteader to Shepherdess

How we ventured into Icelandic Sheep.

In our second year here on the farm, we were ready to begin adding sheep. I had visions of these fluffy white animals grazing our lush pastures while myself and the kids frolicked in the fields (boy, was I in for a shocke!). I was excited about the opportunities before us but was also a little stuck. Every person I spoke with had different opinions on why their breed was the best. My pros and cons list was extensive and I struggled to make a choice. I found a couple sheep, a Romney and a Suffolk, on craigslist- a former 4H family who just didn’t have the heart to part with the animals. Knowing they would be friendly and easy to care for, being so well socialized to humans, I decided to bring them home to start my sheep adventures.

After searching for a ram to be our flock sire, a friend introduced me to someone with Icelandic Sheep. She had a ram for sale that she was willing to part with, a handsome guy with this incredible curled horns and this thick, finely curled black fleece. He was gorgeous, registered and an import of AI genetics from when the breed first came to the states. I began researching the breed.

During that research, I fell head over heels in love. They were the ideal breed for us and I had never even considered them in my initial search. They have a mild flavored meat, they had a premium fiber for knitters and are good producers of a high fat milk that can be made into the best cultured dairy. On top of it all, their pelts were highly sought after and each one comes in color variations that make the genetics game quite fun!

I was sold and bought the ram right away. (I’ll share the epic story of his arrival on the farm sometime soon!) While there, we met the rest of her flock. Her animals were vibrant, healthy and one of her oldest ewes has just had these beautiful triplets we got to see.

We had him for a few weeks, when that same shepherd called me to let me know she was going to be selling one of the triplets. Keeping her older ewe in good condition was vital to her long term health and making enough milk for all 3 was going to take too much of a toll on her body. I drove over and bought a little grey bottle lamb we came to call Grete. She is more dog than sheep and I am so grateful to have such a gentle soul to learn on. My sweet, sweet girl is one we can count on to share our love of sheep with any stranger; often letting them run their hands through real wool fleece for the first time.

A few months went by, rolling into summer when the shepherd called again. She had made the hard decision to sell her entire flock of sheep so that she would have enough pasture ground to own a milk cow once again. In that conversation, she asked if I would be interested in any and of course, I jumped at the opportunity to at least come pick her brain more. The following week, I went over to her farm where she told me even more about the ewes she had available. She had been honing the genetics of this flock for years and it was obvious that the animals were the kind of quality shepherds spend extensive time trying to produce. My original plan was to go pick up a few ewes and convert my flock to all Icelandic’s- parting with our two 4H animals. At the end of the conversation, she mentioned that if we took all 18 of them, to ease her aching heart and know they were all together, that she would be willing to come down in price. For some reason, the words, “Sounds great. We’ll take them!” came rolling out of my mouth. I was suddenly going from 4 easy to handle animals to a flock of 22 (most of which had never seen a running, flailing child in their entire lives). We were forced to learn quickly and we have grown so much since then but each season, we enjoy them more and more!

Our flock fell into my lap. Quite literally. We weren’t seeking to grow that much but we did and with it, came the ability to provide not just ourselves, but our community, a quality source of grass fed, premium lamb that cannot be found in the grocery store. We have since culled the non Icelandic sheep, selling the sweet girls to another family wanting to use them to raise their own lambs and decided to focus on this single breed. We pride ourselves on continuing to better the genetics and offer more than just meat. We are excited for another batch of wool to come back from the mill here soon.

It has been a journey and goodness have we learned a lot. But, my heart swells to see them eating the grass and growing their babies on our pastures each year. While my visions of white fluffy sheep out in our pastures might not be my reality, the splashes of color and long tendrils of wool blowing in the wind, is even better than I could have imagined.

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