Frequently Asked Questions

How many sheep can one acre support?

Ask your local vet, cattleman, neighbor or county extension agent the stoking rate for cows in your area. Multiply that number by 5 to 7. The amount of land that will support 1 cow will support 5 to 7 sheep. (Lambs don't count until they are about 5 months old.)

Will these sheep thrive in my area?

Iceland's climate is oceanic. Temperatures range from 52 degrees in July to 30 degrees in the Winter. Rainfall ranges from 19" in the north to 90" in the south and it's windy. However they have tolerated and thrived in Montana with temperatures of 101 degrees F to -38 degrees F. they have done well in hot humid summers in Missouri and Illinois. There are also a few animals thriving in Santa Ynez California. No one really knows yet what the limits of their adaptation will be.

How do you market your wool?

Right now I am marketing all of the fleece from my 300 animals thru 4 ads/year in SpinOff magazine ( Interweave Press Inc. 201 E 4th St. , Loveland, Colorado 80537- 5655 ph.# (907) 669-7672) It's expensive but targets the handspinners I want to sell to. Most handspinners have never seen nor tried Icelandic fiber and I suspect that this market will expand rapidly as spinners discover it. The feedback I am getting is very enthusiastic. When I have enough wool I plan to have it made into yarn and market it myself to yarn stores and knitters directly through magazines such as Knitters ph# (605) 338-2450 (see their winter 96' for a special supplement on Iceland and Reynolds lopi yarns which are made from 100% Icelandic wool and are the most popular knitting yarn in the U.S.!) Other markets for your fleeces are spinners in your area, knitters, and weavers in your state. Find them by requesting a list from SpinOff magazine. Fiber fests have fleece judging and sales into which you can enter and sell your fleece. Reach fiber artists thru magazines like Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot Magazine ( The Handweavers Guild of America Inc. 3327 Duluth Hwy Suite 201, Duluth BA 30136-3373) and felters through the North American Felters Network (Patrica Spark, 1032 SW Washington St. Albany, OR 97321) You might also start a cottage industry of making knitted or felted items to sell or have the fleece processed into roving and sell that roving to shops to sell for you. (addresses of processors and tanners are in Sheep and SpinOff. Right now Icelandic pelts are selling for $90 to $150. You might start a knitting cooperative in your area. You are only limited by your imagination and energies.

How do you market your meat?

I have had only a few animals to market in the past few years. However I am marketing my meat direct to lamb lovers at the Farmers Market, restaurants, and via the internet. Stefania markets her extra ram (whethers) lambs through the commercial sale barn. She said that at first she got docked, but now the buyers have found out what a good carcass her lambs have and she receives a premium. For good ideas on how to sell direct get the tape Selling grass finished Beef and Lamb by David Schaffer and Alice Dobbs $9.95 postpaid from the Grass Farmer (1-800- 748-9808). By having your lambs slaughtered at a USDA inspected plant, you can sell your lamb by the piece or at farmers markets. (see your state laws) You can also value add your meat and sell it at a booth at your county fair.

What kind of fencing do you use?

We use 32" sheep and dog tight woven wire with 1 strand of smooth electric high tensile wire on insulators 6" above it for our perimeter fencing. This keeps the sheep in and helps to keep predators out. You can add a electrically charged wire on the outside of the woven wire 6" or so from the ground and outset from this fence to discourage predators. You can also add an electric fence bumper wire on the inside about sheep nose height to prevent sheep from rubbing on the fence and sticking their heads through. A lot of our interior fencing is 4 strands of electric fencing or electric netting. Sheep are trained with electric netting. Call Premier 1-800-282-6631 for their fencing and sheep supply catalogs and ideas.

Are there any books in English on Icelandic sheep?

Yes, but they are research articles and study and for the most part technical although excellent!

Are these Icelandic Sheep Scrapie free?

Yes! the original 2 flocks of Icelandic sheep that were imported into Canada were selected from scrapie free areas. The flock has been watched very closely since and the Canadian government now certifies them as scrapie free after 5 or more years of monitoring. They are also OPP free as the Canadian flock gets tested every year and is clean.

Are these sheep registered?

Yes! The Canadian Livestock Records Corps. will register Icelandics in Canada and the U.S. (2417 Holly Lane, Ottawa, Canada KIV OM7) This Organization does spot checks (blood testing of dam, sire, and offspring) to keep producers honest and accurate and registers many breeds in Canada.

What books are helpful for beginning shepherds?

These are my favorites and ones that I refer to continuously. Try getting them inter-library loan to see if you like them before you buy. Also ask other shepherds in your area to loan you their books and back issues of The Shepherd, Sheep!, Black Sheep Newsletter, SpinOff, Countryside and other sheep and fiber magazines. Be sure you return them.... it's so easy to forget. It's good to keep a list of what you have borrowed.

What magazines are helpful for beginning shepherds?

These are some magazines I subscribe to and find helpful. You might share a subscription with a friend or borrow copies from your local sheep mentor or buy someone's back issues.

This is just a partial list of good sheep books. It helps to read anything you can find at your library. Also develop a friendship with a good sheep producer in your area and ask if he or she will be your mentor. I have a sheep mentor and her advice and input has been invaluable (Thanks Gwen!). Most of the above books available from Sheep! magazine.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of horned or polled animals?

Horns make nice "handles" with which to catch and hold an animal. Horns can be dangerous to you (from aggressive rams) and to other animals/ especially timid sheep and dogs. Horns can get caught in fences, although Icelandics rarely do. Horns are beautiful and add a certain grace, presence and elegance to the animal. Polled animals are harder to catch as they have nothing to hold onto. They don't get caught in fences. They inflict less injury to other animals ( although a charging aggressive polled ram can inflict considerable damage to anyone in his path). Polled animals fit into head catches(sheep equipment) more easily and are easier to shear (horns get in the way). We like both kinds and have both horned and polled animals. When you have a mixed herd (both horned and polled animals) you must make sure to provide enough feeder space or else the horned animals will push the polled animals away (horned ones will be dominant).

Are Icelandics resistant to foot rot?

There is no foot rot in Iceland, nor any in our flock. I do not know if this is because they are resistant or whether they are resistant or whether they have never been exposed to the disease. In any case we trim feet once or twice a year. White feet grow faster and need trimming more often. Black feet are stronger and grow more slowly so need trimming less frequently. If you have lots of rocks in your pastures you may be able to cut back on the trimming needed. Trimming prevents foot deformation and disease. For small flocks you can learn to set the animal up on their butts for this job. Your shearer or sheep mentor can show you how to do this. The best hoof shears are from Mid States Wool Growers Coop Association at 125 E. 10th Ave South Hutchinson KS 67505. They are called Shear Magic hoof trimmer. about $20 post paid. send for their catalog of sheep supplies. For larger flocks a turning cradle is wonderful. It is available from Premier (1-800-282-6621) and is essential for Artificial Insemination work also.

If I buy a ram and 2 ewes, can I breed the ram to his daughters?

You can breed father to daughter or son to mother but with sheep you will lose prolificacy in the offspring who are so closely bred. If you want to increase your herd, you can either buy a 2nd unrelated ram to breed to the daughters of the first trio or you can sell the lambs and purchase unrelated ewes. Eventually you will have enough unrelated animals to supply your own breeding rams.

Do you have difficulty acquiring or managing to find fresh bloodlines for breeding?

No. The 2 importations that were made in the 80's brought in 84 animals, most of whom were unrelated. there are enough different bloodlines in North America to breed indefinitely. We have recently brought in semen from Iceland and will be inseminating ewes in the Fall of "98. The 15 rams that were collected for us are some of the best in Iceland (new bloodlines including the Thoka gene (prolificacy gene, quads and quints), Leader sheep gene, and excellent meat sire genes).

Would Icelandics be good candidate for dairy sheep?

While Icelandic sheep are world famous for their excellent milking ability, they have not been selected for this exclusive trait, therefore cannot compete with the European breeds that have been. Icelandics were milked up until 40 years ago and the milk used to supply the dairy products for the farmsteads. The sheep were managed by penning the ewes at night away from their lambs. In the morning the ewes were milked and then released for the day with their lambs. Sheep milk makes excellent cheese.

What kind of vaccinations do you use?

We vaccinate for overeating disease with CL C and D at about 5-6 weeks and again 2 weeks later. We also vaccinate with Caseous D-T when we can get it, to prevent tetnus and caseous lymphadenitis. We do not have this in the herd, but since it is very prevalent in sheep herds and can be transported from one herd to another on the equipment of the shearer, we vaccinate. It causes abscesses at the jaw line under the ear and internal abscesses that eventually kill the animal. We believe in vaccinating only for what is prevalent in our area. If you plan on showing your sheep you should consult your vet for other vaccines that will protect your animals.

The Pipestone management wheel is very handy for figuring out when to vaccinate. It's also great for figuring out lambing dates on your ewes. The Pipestone folks also have a good home study course on sheep raising. Pipestone Lamb and Wool program. Southwestern Technical College P.O. Box 250, Pipestone MN 56164 Ph# (507) 825-5471.

Are Icelandics resistant to parasites?

I wrote to the research farm in Iceland to ask. They wrote that Icelandics are no more or no less resistant to parasites than other breeds of sheep. I worm the ewes as needed starting with a dose of Ivomectin before lambing. I change wormers each time I worm. I use Panacur, Valbazen, Ivomec, Ivomec, Tramisol, and Cydectin, bentonite clay, diatomaceous earth, Basic H and Safeguard. Worming is most important when the weather is above 70 degrees and the pastures are wet from rain or dew. The moisture causes the worms to hatch and crawl up the blades of the grass where the sheep ingest them.

The parasites build up in the pastures esp. in the late summer and can cause poor growth and even death if the parasite levels aren't kept in check. The barberpole worm is especially a problem in the warmer weather. I will sometimes worm every 4 to 6 weeks in the spring and summer when the conditions are right for parasite build-up. To complicate the situation ewes may lose their immunity to parasites if they get too thin. This happens in the late spring when they are milked down from fast growing lambs. Supplementing the ewes so that they don't lose so much weight is one way to help prevent this condition.

Putting the ewes in a clean pasture after each worming and rotating pastures helps too. Keeping the pastures in a leafy vegetative state with the grass 5 to 7 inches in height will help also. Don't let the pastures get nibbled down too short as the closer to the ground the sheep bite the more parasites they ingest.

The lambs are wormed at about 5 to 6 weeks when they receive their first vaccinations. I then worm only if I start seeing signs of a problem (diarrhea and messy bottom) and only after I have taken a stool sample into the vet to check for a parasite load. If the diarrhea is caused by coccidia, I put Corid in their water for 5 days.

In mid summer I worm with Valbazen to rid the sheep of tape worms. Worm your dogs for tapes then too.

In times when you are busy or it is too hot to work the sheep you can add safeguard to their mineral to let the sheep self worm. I also add bentonite clay and diatomaceous earth to the salt and minerals as well as soybean meal and kelp to add minerals and protein and make the mineral mix more palatable.

In the Fall I worm the ewes with Ivermec after the first killing frost. After the weather turns cooler the sheep will need no more worming till the next spring.

I plan to work toward a program of selecting animals for parasite resistance along with using cattle to "clean" up the pastures. By grazing cattle exclusively on a pasture and excluding sheep for 1 year, sheep parasites are virtually eliminated.

How do you keep your fleeces clean for handspinning?

Since my fleece market is hand spinners, I shear twice a year. In late March, one month before the start of lambing, I shear the ewes to get rid of the winter growth that has collected hay chaff. Although I am still feeding hay into late April or early May, the fleece is short enough to shed hay chaff. As soon as the grass is growing good, I quit feeding hay. Whenever I walk out in the pastures I try and take a shovel or hoe to destroy weeds that catch in fleece, such as thistles and burdock. I try and keep the animals out of muddy areas and corrals. The dual coat naturally sheds dirt and trash to a great extent. Then in November, before I start feeding hay I shear the flock. This clip is beautifully clean and 8" to 10" long.... just what handspinners want. Ask your shearer to use a comb with more teeth to prevent cuts to the skin. The light open fleeces, bare legs faces and udders make shearing a breeze.

What about predators?

Sheep are no match for dogs, coyotes, mountain lions, bears and wolves (even on horned sheep). A combination of good dog proof, sheep tight woven wire fences around the perimeter helps to prevent stock loss. In addition electric fence can be added to the top and outside (6" from the ground and offset 6") to discourage these killers. Guardian animals such as llama, donkeys and guard dogs that stay with the flock all work well. Bringing the flock up close to the house at night also helps. For predator proof fencing ideas send for Primier's fencing (and sheep equipment) catalogs (1-800-282-6621)

Do they need shelter?

When Icelandics are in full fleece, they need little or no shelter except a good windbreak and some summer deep shade. After they are sheared in the fall (we shear in early November) they need shelter from wind, rain and snow. They also need extra feed for about 4 weeks until they grow 1" or more new fleece. We use simple tunnel huts in the pastures which are easy to build, inexpensive and portable. They need some shelter when weather is severe.

Do you feed any grain at all to flush them before breeding, before or after lambing?

If you live in the West on highly mineralized pasture you will probably not need to feed supplements of grain. In high rainfall areas where the rain has leaches out the minerals over the centuries a good supplement program is necessary. While grain is found to be unhealthy for the sheep feeds like soybean meal, soy hull pellets, beet pulp, molasses, kelp, and alfalfa pellets are all excellent supplements. Concentrate on improving your pastures by getting a soil test and adding the nutrients needed in a fertilization program. Many states have a cost share program where the farmer can get up to 75% of the costs of the fertilizers back. Learn and practice management intensive grazing. If the ewes are on good clover/grass pastures that are high in nutrients they will need little supplements during the growing season. When the grass gives out in November I start feeding a good quality hay. Flush the ewes with a high value supplement to bring up their condition for breeding a month before breeding season starts. Just keep these ewes steadily gaining. I breed the ewes in early December which is timed so that their need for high protein tender grass along with hay provide all the nutrients the gestating ewes needs in her last few weeks of pregnancy. If your hay is poor you might need to supplement your ewes with a bit of soybean meal during the winter. This helps them develop large udders. These sheep are aggressive feeders and grazers and will push other breeds of sheep away from the feeders. They have large rumens that allow them to process large amounts of forage.

I learned management intensive grazing by reading the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine (1-800-748-9808). Other good books on the subject are Intensive Grazing Management by Bert Smith and Quality Pasture by Allan Nation... all available from the above phone number.

If the ewes are fed no grain, do they stay in fair condition when nursing?

On excellent clover/grass pastures the ewes stay in good shape. The triplet mothers lost more weight than the twin mothers for the first few months and then held their own. Supplement as needed. I make sure that the ewes are in condition 3 or 4 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being hog fat) going into lambing. The ewes regain their lost weight easily in the months of Sept., Oct. and Nov. on good and plentiful pasture. We keep salt/mineral mix available free choice also. (be sure you get sheep mineral/salt mix as cattle minerals have too much copper and are toxic to sheep). Also use a loose mineral as blocks of hard mineral will loosen their teeth.

Will they forage in the winter- even with snow covering the ground?

Yes! In Iceland, winter grazing was the rule. Whenever the weather permitted the flocks were shepherded out to scavenge for their food. Scarce hay was used only as a supplement. Each sheep was allotted the equivalent of 2 hay bales for the whole long winter.

Can I graze these sheep with other animals?

Yes. Sheep can be grazed with any other animal. Sometimes horses and cows will chase sheep. It is good if there is an area that the sheep can go for protection. A single electric fence wire strung high works well. the sheep can go under but it will stop the larger animals. Having mixed species grazing also utilizes more kinds of forage and helps to control parasites.

Are the rams easy to work with or do they ram you any chance they get?

The dispositions of Icelandic rams range from...

  1. Aggressive toward people
  2. Aggressive toward other rams (but not people)
  3. Aggressive breeder but not aggressive toward other rams nor people
  4. Laid back and neither aggressive toward other sheep nor people
  5. Sweethearts that are big pets
The truth is that all rams should be watched carefully and treated with caution and respect, especially during breeding season. Children should never be allowed in with or near rams no matter how friendly they seem. Icelandic rams are as easy to work with to give shots, trim feet etc. as ewes are, only bigger and heavier. We are selecting for rams with dispositions in the third category.

Are the ewes easy to work with or are they difficult to manage?

The dispositions of ewes range from sweet and friendly to timid and shy. They are bright, alert and guarded in their actions. They are not wild, crazy and bonkers. They do move fast to avoid being caught when in a pen situation but are easy to work with when caught. They also work well with sheep handling equipment. As with all livestock, they need to be worked quietly. As novice shepherds, we had no problems catching nor working with them. When they lamb they get very docile and are usually easy to approach quietly in the field if help is needed.

Are some colored animals more expensive?

Yes. Right now moorits (brown) and the patterned and spotted ones are rare and are priced higher than the white or black ones. Eventually Icelandics will be priced mainly on production and quality of meat and fleece. Older animals can be priced higher or lower than lambs depending on their production potential and records. Right now most breeders are selling mostly lambs. Lambs tend to adjust to new surroundings more easily than older animals.

Can a dog herd them?

When Stephania first got her imported animals home, they would not respond to her border collie. They did not respond to the dogs "eye" but turned and faced the dog and held their own. Our own animals are used to being herded and respond well to me and our Icelandic sheep dogs.

How can transportation be arranged?

We usually make at least 1 delivery trip to the east each year in the fall. Our customers meet us close to the interstate at points nearest to them. Transportation can also be shared with other customers. We might hire a professional trucker and the price would vary according to how many sheep are being transported in the load.

Do sheep require a lot of water?

Sheep require about 1 gal/day usually, 1 and 1/2 gal/day when lactating and about 1/2 gal/day in winter. Fresh clean water is very important to good production. In winter clean snow can provide all their water needs. You can also water in buckets in winter, making sure to empty the buckets after the ewes have had their fill. Frost free waterers are great too. Some people use a tank heater to keep water unfrozen for their animals.

What else do I need to know about sheep?

Cardinal rule: Any changes in their diet should be made slowly or could bloat them or give them scours. Feed them a belly full of hay before introducing them to a new lush pasture or use timed grazing by allowing them to graze only 1/2 hour once or twice a day, gradually lengthening the time and frequency of the grazing period. You can also do this with temporary electric fencing.