Icelandic questions

Discussion in 'Sheep' started by Shygal, Aug 9, 2004.

  1. Shygal

    Shygal Unreality star Supporter

    Messages:
    9,894
    Joined:
    May 26, 2003
    Location:
    New York
    Hey all,

    I have pretty much decided on Icelandic sheep over Shetlands for a few reasons, but the things I have been reading lately are making me question that choice.

    I hear that Icelandics are friendly, then I hear they are not. I hear they are flighty and then I hear they are not. I hear the rams are VERY aggressive, then I hear they are not.

    I bought some Icelandic wool at the Vermont Sheep and Wool festival to see how it spins, it was somewhat coarse and hairy...then I hear it depends on the individual sheep. It started to felt by itself in the bag, I am guessing it would be very good for felting, but I want wool for spinning mostly.

    I have young children and I originally chose shetlands because they are smaller, also because I will be a sheep newbie. But I have been reading MorrisonCorners website for some time now and got hooked on the Icelandic ;)

    So I guess Id like to know what their typical behavior is like, I know there are individuals that go from one extreme to another.
    Also, how hard is it to separate the tog from the thel?
    Are they a good breed for a sheep newbie to start with? The pasture here is not very good, I liked the Icelandics ability to utilize forage and poorer pastures.

    Im sure I have a thousand more questions about them but am drawing a blank now..any experiences people have will be very helpful.
     
  2. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Messages:
    3,736
    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Location:
    VT
    So many questions... so little time ;)

    Ok, first things first.. ALL breeds of sheep have individuals in the bunch who are flighty, aggressive, friendly, or just plain dumb. And I think I've had them all. Icelandics TEND to be more feral than their more refined cousins. What that translates to in English is episodes where you realize they can fly. Seriously fly. Mind have been clocked at mach 2 going uphill and into the blueberry bushes. It also translates into an episode where one lamb got separated from the flock and started to cry. She's only about 3 weeks old and we're talking loud, loud, baby cries here, which aren't being answered. We didn't hear it, but our neighbor did and came out with a big old flashlight. At the top of the pasture are the ewes, in a solid block facing the woods.

    Well. Isn't that odd. She sweeps the light at the woods and out come the eyes. At least 5 coyotes. And nothing between the lambs and the coyotes but determined ewes and an awfully fragile electric fence. She started screaming "COYOTES COYOTES" and her partner got off a couple of rounds before they melted into the woods. To this day, they think the lamb Marmalade was very brave for calling for help. But it was the ewes presenting a solid front which held the animals off long enough for help to arrive. Well, that and a 6000 volt charge on an electric fence!

    The ewes I bought from another farm are "adequately friendly." Which is to say they'll come if a treat is offered. MY lambs are friendly, all but one. Friendly to the point of running to you just because you're there. Marmalade is a mush. She loves to be hugged and petted. The ram lamb Weasley is equally friendly.

    BUT. Icelandic sheep get aggressive if you grain them. Which is darn convenient, since grain costs money. And ANY RAM regardless, should be handled with some caution during the breeding season. We had to get rid of our first ram because we spoiled him, hand fed him grain. During the breeding season he was young, inexperienced, and just jammed full of testosterone. Anything was immensely frustrating to him, and he'd charge it. "Anything" turned out to be me! At first I avoided him, but when he started charging me in mid-air leaps, my husband started feeding the sheep. He respected my husband (who never gave him treats... do we see a lesson in here somewhere?) but we decided to send him back to his home farm rather than keep an animal I couldn't trust. That said, the home farm runs all their rams, lambs, ewes, together and has never had a problem like this. Spoiling a ram lamb seems like fun when he comes running and is cute as a baby... but when he gets big, you'll realize this was a baaaaad idea.

    Now, someone on this list runs their sheep in a "wild sheep" program, which, purely for my own selfish convenience, I am seriously considering. But I handle my lambs (squish, hug, squeeze, pet) sufficiently so they are friendly. If I had 40 ewes and 70 lambs on the ground, this wouldn't be possible. And there is some question as to the advisability of making a pet out of something you intend to eat. But I want friendly sheep, so I play with my sheep. I grain them just enough so they associate the sound of grain with a treat (how do you think I got them out of the blueberries?!?), but I NEVER grain the boys. No treats. If they butt a girl out of the way and get into the grain pan, fine. But I do not allow them to associate me with something they might be able to knock out of my hand and "get."

    Fleece. The fleece will felt if it is handled too much. This is the lack of lanolin and the fine fiber. Truthfully, 12 sheep is WAY more wool than I can use anyway, and marketing the fiber is more effort and time than I have right now. Winter fleeces are used as a very effective mulch. Summer adult fleeces I might sell to another farm for them to use. Lamb fleeces are mine... all MINE.

    Separating the tog from the thel is tedious, but not difficult. In Iceland it is a child's job because it involves nit picking to get it into its finest form. Most farms just have them spun out together. If you want something softer, pitch a lamb fleece or two in with the adult... or pitch another fiber, like mohair, in there to change the texture and dying structure.

    If you're coming to the Vermont Sheep and Wool festival again this year, stop in the barn and chat with Frelsi Farm or IBS Acres. (www.mainesheepfarm.com and www.vermontsheepfarm.com respectively). http://www.mainesheepfarm.com has a PILE of articles on keeping sheep, specifically Icelandic, but applicable to other breeds. The article on buying sheep on a budget is particularly helpful if you've looked at the price of a pure bred Icelandic and sort of freaked.

    Or contact us and visit our place. We'll let you squish a lamb ;)

    T
     

  3. Shahbazin

    Shahbazin Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    395
    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    I have Shetlands, but Icelandics & Shetlands are periodically compared on the breed lists, & some of my friends have one or the other.
    Icelandics are bigger than Shetlands - they eat more, can be harder to handle if not halterbroke, but do provide a bigger carcass for meat.
    From anecdotal reports, average Icelandic fleece may tend to be coarser than Shetland - primarily due to the pronounced double coat of Icelandics (some Shetlands are double coated, but many are not) - but there is a lot of individual variation, so make sure you check out the actual fleece of the animal you plan to buy. I would imagine you could use Viking combs to separate the fleece?
    Rams - depends on the animal, I think. I won't keep a mean ram, but have kept a few fence bashers - I currently have a wonderful older ram, & one of his sons, that are fairly shy of me, but otherwise easy to handle & can be pastured w/lightweight garden fence.
    Flightiness - I think it's like w/rams, depends more on the individual then the breed. Some Shetland breeders who have tried both have reported Icelandics as more skittish, & the larger size resulting in difficulty handling them - but some of my Shetland ewes are lunatics, & some are velcro sheep - & one can be the parent or offspring of the other! Even my goofiest ewes will take treats from my hand (primarily due to the fact they spent time at a friend's place, being bred by her ram, & her 4 kids spent time poking treats at the girls until they settled.) The tame ones paw at me until I scratch their necks, chew on my clothes, & try to climb into the wheelbarrow.
    I love the fleece, & the size, so I'll stick with my Shetlands :)
    This is one of my rams, as a lamb - his fleece is just as delightful as it looks!
    [​IMG]
     
  4. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    15,981
    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2004
    Location:
    Michigan's thumb
    I treat our ram, but not everytime I go out to the pasture. Of course, all winter he associates me as the grain vending machine. He became too aggressive with me earlier in the year and started butting me. He did not throw his weight behind his butting, more like tosses his head, but still not acceptable, and I changed tactics with him. Cupping a hand under his chin and bringing his head up keeps him from butting me when he gets feisty. As I walk across the pasture to move them or give them salt, or whatever he will walk beside me and I will rub his face. He is the dominant sheep, so he naturally approaches first. I keep an eye on him. If he was mean he would be meat. We did butcher another ram who was too aggressive. He was not spoiled or treated harshly, he was just very aggressive and domineering. Very tastey.

    Do not push on their forehead or horns as they will think you want to fight with them. If they lean on you, push them away. Don't let them dig in your pockets for treats, they must stand some inches or arm's length from you before treats are served. Just like you'd do with a horse or dog.

    If you have friends with modern breed sheep, they will have you overfeeding your primitive sheep. Some breeds should not be grained unless you have a problem with your hay. Primitive breeds generally forage poor land very well, and this is an indication that grain is too rich for them.

    I'm sure you'll love your sheep :) You can watch the lambs all day
     
  5. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Messages:
    3,736
    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Location:
    VT
    Who knew you could do pictures?

    Icleandic babies are warm and comfortable after a day of running fencing in cold spring sunshine.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. Queen Bee

    Queen Bee Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    6,700
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2004
    Location:
    NC
    That's is the great pictures... I have one question about the Icelandic sheep. I live in central NC and would love to have a couple of these sheep. Is the temps too hot here??? We have few/no sheep people here and was wondering why??Thanks Debbie
     
  7. Shygal

    Shygal Unreality star Supporter

    Messages:
    9,894
    Joined:
    May 26, 2003
    Location:
    New York
    Thought of another question..

    Is it true that you dont need to shear an Icelandic? That the wool will shed instead of having to be sheared?
     
  8. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Messages:
    3,736
    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Location:
    VT
    I used to have a great picture of fleece simply hanging off an Icelandic Ram but if you saw it it would give you the wrong impression. You really do need to "sheer" your sheep. The reason I say "sheer" is that if you're not interested in a nice fleece (for example, my winter fleeces are full of hay chaff and I'm not cleaning them) you can pretty much cut them off any old which way. Which is exactly what I did this spring. When our ewes lamb they're confined to a lambing jug (small pen) so we can observe mom and baby and make sure all is well. As long as they're in that small space, and concentrating on the lambs... perfect. I cut the fleece off by hand with a set of shears. It takes about an hour or so for me to do a sheep, and when I'm done the udder is exposed (so the kid can find it!) and the winter fleece is off.

    Come fall, and all those lovely lamb fleeces, however, that's a different story. I want that fluff! And I usually want the adult fleeces as well. I can cut them off by hand, over a week or so (to save my back) or I can hire someone.

    But I don't have to cut the summer fleeces off (please remember, people in the south: northern VT: -35 last winter F! for several weeks). Last winter I got lazy and busy and left them on. The lambs were toasty warm and ate less hay during the winter. Since we bred the lambs last year the fact that they weren't burning calories to keep warm, but were putting them into growing lambs instead, was a bonus.

    The fleece will do what is called "breaking" and they will rub much of it off, but it matts and gets unattractive... and cutting it off is really no big deal if you've got them confined in a small space and occupied with a flake of hay.

    T
     
  9. Shahbazin

    Shahbazin Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    395
    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    Can you roo Icelendics? ie pluck the fleece when it loosens? I shear my Shetland ewes before lambing, but may not get around to the rams until later, so I often just roo them. BTW, cute pic of Icelandic lamb!
     
  10. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Messages:
    3,736
    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Location:
    VT
    :D My baby girl: Marmalady. She started out as Marmalade because she had a hard birth and came out orange. Two girls came over to watch (early 20's) and here I am, foot braced and pulling this HUGE lamb out of her very small ewe lamb mother and all I can hear in the background is "oh, I am NEVER having a baby... oh no... nonononono.. I am never.." birth control on the farm :haha: Anyhow, she is a white spotted Icelandic, carrying solid, known to carry the color black, and I don't know what her second color gene is. I told her mother's home farm I bred the most beautiful white Icelandic on the planet. The home farm begs to disagree ;-)

    You probably could roo them, but Icelandics tend to matt to their matts, so I just cut it off. I have a couple of "controlled experiements" I'd like to try next season to challenge some conventional assumptions of "best farm practices." One is to do a modified "wild sheep" program and let the girls wean their own lambs when they're good and ready. If they're not in condition before breeding season, I'll add a couple of ewes from another farm. It will be a year earlier than our original plan (which calls for broadening the gene pool) but that's not a real problem. My expectation is that they will be in condition to breed by November 1 simply because our pastures start to fail mid September, and they'll wean those kids in self-defense.

    Last season I experiemented with leaving summer fleeces on the lambs. Loss of beautiful baby fluff :waa: but -35 for 3 weeks last winter and I never worried about those lambs. This year I'm taking the lamb fleeces in September, and taking the ewe fleeces, leaving an ewe as a control. I want to see if it makes a difference in lambing. The ewe who didn't have a fleece last winter threw two tiny twins and didn't nurse them well.. so they are frankly stunted. Admittedly, she was also moved from her home farm to mine in January, and that may have had an impact. But she was a yearling, so she should have been more robust than my bred ewe lambs.

    If next spring my little experiment shows that leaving the lamb fleeces on does make a substantial difference if you plan on breeding ewe lambs.. and makes a difference with adults, I will seriously consider sheering only my ram lambs and junking the spring fleeces until my flock is up to such a size that using the wool is cost effective. I am such a terrible hand spinner (much to my mother's dismay! ) :no: that to get anything of useable volume out of a fleece I need to have it commercially processed. ;)

    By the way... what are you using for sheers? Hand or electric?
     
  11. Shahbazin

    Shahbazin Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    395
    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    I use electric (got them from Premier - www.premier1supplies.com), but do clean up around the edges with some black handled utility Fiskars. I need to pick up some hand shears too, as I may switch over (have you read Kevin Ford's book, "Shearing Day"?) - I think it's easier to avoid 2nd cuts. Shetlands are very wiggly, even tipped up on their rump, so since I'm generally shearing very close to lambing & I'm not real fast, I put them on a stand to shear - that way I don't have to bend over so far to get to the sheep, either!