Icelandic sheep

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Icelandic sheep

The Icelandic sheep is a breed of domestic sheep. The Icelandic breed is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep, which exhibit a fluke-shaped, naturally short tail. The Icelandic is a mid-sized breed, generally short-legged and stocky, with face and legs free of wool.

The fleece of the Icelandic sheep is dual-coated and occurs in white and a variety of other colors, including a range of browns, grays, and blacks. They exist in both horned and polled strains. Generally left unshorn for the winter, the breed is very cold-hardy. Multiple births are very common in Icelandic ewes, with a lambing percentage of 175% – 220%. A gene also exists in the breed called the Þoka gene, and ewes carrying it have been known to give birth to triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, and even sextuplets on occasion.

Ewes can be mated as lambs as early as five to seven months, although many farmers wait until the ewe’s second winter before allowing them to breed. They are seasonal breeders and come into estrus around October. The breeding season can last up to four months. Rams become mature early and can start breeding as early as five months.


Icelandic sheep are a medium size sheep: full grown ewes in good condition (considered mature at 3 years of age) & should weigh 132-160 lbs. Rams should weigh 180-220 lbs.

The lambs are small, twins averaging 6-8 pounds and very lively after an average gestation of 142-144 days, several days shorter than the species average. Lambs are vigorous at birth, a trait that has been shown to carry through in crossbreeding programs.

The first lamb born will commonly be up and nursing before the twin arrives. Experienced mothers can have a lamb nursing even before it has gotten to its feet. Lambs are generally strong enough to suck out the wax plug, and are seldom lost to pneumonia.


Scattered across the United States are farms that tout the lesser known, extremely hardy, Icelandic sheep. They boast small numbers in this country because they were only introduced into Canada in 1985, and the U.S. years later. But back in Iceland, the breed is absolutely central to the country’s history and economy.

Paula Simmons writes in “Raising Sheep the Modern Way”, published in 1989, that Viking settlers were the first to import the breed to the island of Iceland, and few have entered the country since the settlement ended — 900 years ago. Without the sheep’s milk, meat and hides, it’s possible the country as we know it may not have survived. And since then, the breed has barely changed; it’s considered one of the purest in the world.


  • Icelandic sheep are often mistaken for clouds, especially the rare lenticular sheep and noctilucent sheep.
  • There are often mistaken for pillows. You can usually see people asleep next to a sheep in Iceland.
  • There are like electrons – if you remove them from a field, eventually the field collapses.
  • Never wear a lopapeysa when in the company of Icelandic sheep. It’s considered rude. It might be one of their relatives or friends.


Icelandic ewes easily support twins and many raise triplets without assistance. In North America, they are used for personal milk production by many shepherds for yogurt and soap. Some farms are making gourmet artisan cheeses.

There are a few operations milking more than 25 sheep, but long-term production records are not yet available. Crossing Icelandic sheep with commercial dairy breeds is also being investigated. For personal use, it is possible to allow lambs to continue to nurse while milking once per day, without sacrificing lamb growth.

Icelandic sheep images

Image by RomeItaly from Pixabay

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