Unique sheep farming

Icelandic sheep farming has many unique aspects that contribute to producing exeptional meat. One of those aspects is how farmers ensure the welfare of every sheep and lamb throughout their life cycle spanning the whole year. There is only one lambing season per year, and after lambs are born in May they roam free for the whole summer. During the harsh winters, the adult sheep are kept inside where they feed on grass the farmers spent the whole summer stocking up.

Because there is only one lambing season per year it is a very busy time for sheep farmers. To ensure they can take good care of their flock and assist each sheep during birth the farmers plan the lambing season well in advance. They do this with a combination of traditional practices and modern technology. In February and March, “fósturtalningamenn,” or “fetus counters,” travel between farms to perform ultrasounds on each and every female sheep. Not only does the counting of lambs help with planning the busy lambing season, it also reduces the risk of possible loss of lambs or sheep. As with human pregnancy it can also indicate if a ewe needs more feed or support during the last months of her pregnancy.

Since the job requires exceptional knowledge and experience, there are not many active “fósturtalningamenn” in Iceland. Therefore, the weeks when counting is done are intensive for the few practitioners. In South Iceland, just two farmers, Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir and Elín Heiða Valsdóttir, service all 600 farms in the region. It is a busy period for them with hardly any time for anything but work, eating and sleeping – but it is all worth it to ensure the safety of each sheep and lamb.