You have a flock of purebred Icelandic sheep. How does your flock differ from other more common breeds in Ontario?
"The Icelandic sheep is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds of sheep. Throughout its 1100 years of history, the Icelandic breed has been truly triple-purpose, treasured for its meat, fiber and milk.” —Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America
Icelandic sheep are a triple-purpose breed, known for their quality meat, wool and milk. Where other breeds tend to stand out in one of these areas or another, Icelandics are well-known for all three. They are considered to be a medium breed in size.
Unlike some other breeds, it is very common for Icelandics to have twins and even triplets on a regular basis. They are very good mothers and usually have plenty of milk for all their lambs. They are usually self-sufficient when lambing. Lambs tend to be small at birth but are lively and quick to get up to nurse. They are naturally born with a short tail.
Icelandic sheep have a dual coat which comes in a variety of beautiful and unique colours. They have a long, coarse outer coat called the Tog, and a much softer, loftier under coat called the Thel. The combination of these two layers provides the sheep with a great deal of protection from the cold and wet weather. Spinning the Tog and Thel together results in a lofty, light weight but strong lopi yarn. This is great for Icelandic sweaters that will last for years. Icelandic fleece is a favourite of handspinners, felters, fibre artists and knitters!
Unlike many other North American breeds, Icelandics are typically shorn twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Their wool can grow 6”- 8” in 6 months. If left unshorn, while they do have a natural ‘wool break’ in the early spring, the remaining wool tends to felt and get matted quite easily (That’s why it’s so good for felting projects!), leaving them hot and itchy over the summer. Shearing them makes them feel much better and helps ensure a healthy wool coat. While they are also shorn in the fall, by the time the cold weather sets in, their fleece has grown enough to keep them warm and cozy through the long winter days.