Erfðanefnd landbúnaðarinsIcelandic sheep
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Icelandic sheep

Origin and history

As is the case with other livestock, the Icelandic sheep is descendants of sheep brought to the country with settlers from different areas in Scandinavia (mainly Norway) and the British Isles. The sheep originally introduced into the country must then have mixed together as time passed, founding the current breed.

Several attempts were made to import foreign sheep breeds in order to improve the existing one. Those attempts were only to bring along dangerous diseases and in large areas all sheep were culled as an attempt to eliminate the diseases. The last recorded import of foreign genetic material was in 1945.

The Icelandic sheep population splits into two phenotypically different groups, horned and polled, in the proportions 70% to 30%, respectively.

Icelandic leader sheep

Icelandic leader sheep is a unique strain within the Iceland breed. Its special behavioural characteristics have recently been genetically confirmed in a preliminary study (for further information on the Icelandic leader sheep, refer to an article by Ólafur Dýrmundsson. The population of leader sheep is small, counting only around 1,000-1,500 winterfed animals.

Breeding work

Artificial insemination has become a popular breeding method for the Icelandic sheep in later years. However, the use of home rams is the most common way of breeding and usually only a very small proportion of each flock is artificially inseminated.

In order to eliminate diseases, transportation of living sheep between different parts of the country is prohibited in most cases placing certain strains on farmers seeking breeding material.

There is now close to 460,000 winterfeed sheep in Iceland, of which 90% is kept in records organized and supervised by The Farmers’ Association of Iceland that is officially responsible for the breeding work.

Value

There is a long history of organized recording of the Icelandic sheep. It is a unique breed, the only sheep population in Iceland since settlement, and important as such for meat and wool production as well as possessing a historical value. The size of the population is large enough for further progress in the breeding work. Given this and the fact that import of exotic breeds is not likely to be accepted, the Icelandic sheep is not considered at risk as a sustainable population. The monitoring of inbreeding is of course always an important matter.

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