In the older history books, the Vikings were mainly described as “the terror of the North”, violent plunderers who excelled in burning down monasteries and churches. This may have been due to the fact that it was mainly monks and other religious people who described what was going on at the time, and there was undoubtedly plenty of violence too. But the Vikings were also traders and great shipbuilders, who sailed up rivers with their light boats and also ventured far from the coast.
In the year 874, Vikings arrived in Iceland and they came to stay. These Scandinavian settlers brought sheep with them, the ancestors of today's Icelandic sheep. Sheep were extremely important in those days. On 'poor' sandy soils they were important because of the manure they produced and everywhere the consumption of sheep meat was also considerably higher than it is today. But in the sub-arctic climate of Iceland, where the cold in the long winter months was biting, they were especially important as a supplier of wool. From this wool, clothes but also blankets etc. were made in Iceland.
Like other sheep breeds, the Icelandic breed has changed somewhat in appearance over the centuries, mainly because sheep farmers selected for certain characteristics. However, there is a direct link between the sheep that were brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the ninth century and the 'modern' Icelandic sheep.
In particular, the (relative) isolation of Iceland for centuries and the limited contact with other regions have contributed to a unique breed of sheep. The wool of this breed is just as unique.
It is known that medieval sheep (more than now) had a coat of longer covering hairs with a woolly undercoat underneath. In many sheep breeds, these longer covering hairs are hardly present anymore, but in Icelandic sheep they still are. The covering hairs are long, a bit shiny, hard and water repellent, the woolly undercoat is fine, soft and insulating. This combination of covering hairs and wool is considered the hallmark of Icelandic wool, which is known for its excellent breathability and good resistance to the cold.
The natural colours of the wool are also characteristic: apart from white sheep, there are also black, grey and brown ones.
- Icelandic sheep are unique. At the moment, there are about 400,000-500,000 animals
- During the summer, the animals roam freely in often unspoiled nature
- The much-criticised practice of 'mulesing' to protect sheep from certain carnivorous parasitic flies does not occur in Iceland. Simply because these parasites do not exist there.
- According to Icelandic sheep farmers, antibiotics are administered much less frequently in Iceland than in Europe, where they are often administered preventively. According to Icelanders, antibiotics are used up to 30 times less than in some other countries.
- As the climate is unfavourable for vermin such as lice, they do not need to be controlled.
- The Icelandic sheep farmer has a rather small herd of about 200-300 animals.
- Most Icelandic wool is offered undyed. However, by selecting the different natural colours, a relatively broad colour spectrum can be achieved.
- Most Icelandic sheep are sheared twice a year, in autumn (before going to the winter stables) and in early spring. The best wool comes from the 'autumn shearing'.
After shearing, the wool is washed in Iceland itself. This also takes advantage of the natural situation on the volcanic island. The water for washing the wool comes from natural sources. The use of chemicals and detergents is kept to a minimum.
Icelandic wool is of a reasonably good quality, even when compared to merino wool. The thickness of wool fibres is measured in micrometers (mu). In general, the finest wool is valued the highest. The finer the wool, the less it will tickle. A top quality merino wool can have a micronage of less than 20. For Icelandic sheep it is 22-34.
Supervision on animal welfare is strict in Iceland and monitored by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). According to MAST itself, animal welfare in Iceland is better than in most other countries. See www.mast.is. There are also links to legislation.
View the fux fur fabrics that have been made from Icelandic wool.VIEW FAUX FUR