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In your field: Marie Prebble - 'The extraordinary sheep in Iceland behave unlike any others I know'

As I come to the end of a month in Iceland, I feel satisfied knowing that my time here has been valuable for me personally and for the farming community.

Most shearing in Iceland is done by the farmers themselves with only a few contract shearers working around the country.

 

The sheep here are extraordinarily tough, bred for survival and behave unlike any other sheep I know.

 

If I were pushed to describe their character it would be somewhere between a Shetland crossed with a polled Dorset crossed with a Scotch Black Face - and at the same time unlike any of them.

 

I have certainly enjoyed the challenge, and the incredible hospitality shown by all the farmers who I have stayed with has more than made up for bad tempered sheep.

 

They really are remarkable animals, most often having twins or more, and rearing those lambs on mountains and rocky cliffs that to my eye look barren.

 

Lambing time sounds very labour intensive however, with sheep housed and fed on silage from October until in May the lambs are born very big and often require assistance.


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It was interesting to shear in the Westfjords, where the Western region of the area faces strict rules on no movement of livestock out of the area, going back 40 years to the last outbreak of scrapie, despite clean results since that time.

 

Whereas on the Eastern side of the Westfjords rams can be sold for breeding anywhere in the country, attracting four times their meat value.

 

It was mentioned to me that there is no fence bordering the two regions so animals are likely mixing, making a mockery of the movement restrictions.

 

Lambs are graded on the Europ grid with everything sold deadweight through slaughterhouses as there are obviously no livestock markets due to strict movement restrictions.

 

A good lamb is currently worth 460 kronur, about £2.60 per kilo.

 

Many farmers also sell direct through local food shops and to individual customers.

 

While I have been here there has been an outbreak of scrapie in the North of the country, somewhere I have not been and where the disease has not been detected since 2000.

 

Thousands of sheep from several farms have had to be culled which is devastating.

 

I look forward to being home with my own flock. It sounds like shepherding has been straightforward, but sheepdogs have missed work and me of course.

 

My flight has been delayed twice so I now arrive back after the end of lockdown but to Kent in tier three restrictions.

 

More orders for lamb boxes in the run up to Christmas, and a low-key, local (but not low-cal!) Christmas planned.

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