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ISBONA

of North America

 

Welcome to ISBONA!

The purpose of the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America is to provide information about Icelandic sheep to the general public and to facilitate the exchange of information between members and breeders. ISBONA also promotes the special attributes and products of these unique sheep. We have several categories of membership, and one of them is bound to be right for your interests: breeding, fiber, pets...you don't even need to own sheep!

 

 

 

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Membership in ISBONA

Consider joining ISBONA. There are several levels of membership and each has its own benefits.

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Breeders Directory

You can search for Icelandic sheep breeders in our Breeders Directory. Search by location, types of products and more via keywords.

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Resources

A compilation of information and printable forms: tools provided to ISBONA members to help them to educate the public about Icelandic sheep.

ISBONA News 

 Attention All Members: The Fall 2017 Newsletter is online. Login with your member account ID and password to see it.

Thanks to all who attended the AGM Webinar. Please see the Members Only section to view the recording and all information on the Bylaws Vote. If you are an eligible voting member, watch for your mailed ballot and please return it by Nov 20, 2017.

Purchase a unique Icelandic Sheep poster from our Library's limited supply. See our offer under About Icelandic Sheep.

 

About Icelandic Sheep

 
The Icelandic sheep is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds of sheep. 

grayewe

Throughout its 1100 years of history, the Icelandic breed has been truly triple-purpose, treasured for its meat, fiber and milk. 
 
The Icelandic breed is in the North European short-tailed group of sheep, which exhibits a fluke-shaped, naturally short tail. To ensure the continuing purity of the breed, tail docking an Icelandic will disqualify it from being registered in North America. Icelandics are a mid-sized breed with ewes averaging 130-160 pounds, and rams averaging 180-220 pounds. Conformation is generally short legged and stocky. The face and legs are free of wool. The fleece is dual-coated and comes in white as well as a range of browns, grays and blacks. There are both horned and polled strains. Left unshorn for the winter, the breed is very cold hardy.
 
A gene has been found in the Icelandic breed that causes multiple births of triplets, quads, quints and even sextuplets, if the ewe carries two copies of the gene. One copy of the gene causes a milder increase in fertility, resulting primarily in a higher rate of triplets. The Thoka gene, as it is called, is named after the first ewe known to carry the gene. It is similar to the Booroola gene in the Merino sheep. 
 
Ewes are seasonal breeders, most coming into heat in late October. They will continue cycling until spring if not bred. Rams are sexually active year round, and the ram lambs can start breeding at 5-6 months. 
 
Lambs mature early and ewe lambs commonly lamb at 11-12 months of age. Icelandic ewes are bred as lambs, and many remain productive until age 10 or longer. 
 

skylondaeomir

Prolificacy is quite good, on average 175-220%. Triplets are not uncommon and many Icelandic ewes are very capable of nursing triplets without assistance.
 
The lambs are small, twins averaging 6-8 pounds and very lively after an average gestation of 142-144 days, several days shorter than the species average. Lambs are vigorous at birth, a trait that has been shown to carry through in crossbreeding programs. The first lamb born will commonly be up and nursing before the twin arrives. Experienced mothers can have a lamb nursing even before it has gotten to its feet. Lambs are generally strong enough to suck out the wax plug, and are seldom lost to pneumonia.
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Due to their large rumens, and the selective pressures of their history in Iceland, the breed is feed efficient. The animals are cold hardy and have a strong, reactive immune system. The sheep have evolved over 1,100 years under difficult farming conditions in Iceland, with a resultant sturdy and efficient constitution.A defining quality of the Icelandic breed is the ability to survive on pasture and browse. Historically, Iceland is not a grain producing country due to the climate, and the breed has survived through its thousand year history on pasture and hay. The ewes are supplemented with fish meal when pregnant and most ewe lambs here in North America are supplemented with some protein especially when pregnant. On good grass, meat lambs can be slaughtered directly off the pasture at 5-6 months of age. The most eye-catching aspect of the breed is the variation of colors and patterns. Genetically, Icelandics have one of two base colors, either black or moorit (brown). They exhibit 5 pattern combinations: white, gray, badgerface, mouflon and solid. Individual sheep may also display various shades of these colors/patterns, ranging from white, cream, light gray, tan, caramel, milk chocolate, silver, dark chocolate, dark gray, to jet black. A spotting gene adds even more combinations with many recognized and named patterns of white markings.
 
 

 Meat Production

backforty

Though famous throughout the world for wool production, the Icelandic breed is predominately grown for meat in Iceland.  Since the cool and wet climate precludes the production of most grains in Iceland, the breed has been selected to bring the meat lambs to slaughter weight off of the summer and fall pastures.Icelandics are very adaptable, and can be handled in a variety of management plans.  Here in North America they thrive on grass-based farms where they are rarely fed grain, to dry-lot situations where they are fed daily, and all the management systems in between.

Market lambs will start to reach their ideal slaughter weights of 70-100 pounds at four to five months.  With continued access to quality graze, the lambs can be slaughtered directly off the grass all through the fall months.  This has positioned the Icelandic breed to fit well in the move towards grass-based farming, enabling “natural” and organic farmers to utilize the Icelandic breed.  As meat consumers increasingly recognize the health benefits of grass fed meats, and as economic pressures drive our farmers toward grass-based businesses, the genetics of the Icelandic breed become increasingly valuable to our sheep industry. 

The Icelandic breed is considered a mountain breed, and historically mountain breeds have been milder in flavor, and leaner than the lowland breeds.  The meat is indeed very tender with a mild flavor, and is generally described as gourmet meat.  With the leaner, European style carcass, and the mild flavor, Icelandic lamb can appeal to the palate of even those consumers who avow they "just don't like lamb."  With the combination of the economic and market advantages of grass fed farming, and with the appeal of the delicious flavor, the Icelandic breed is a natural for direct-to-consumer marketing.

 

 

holcombeboysFiber

The Icelandic sheep produces a premium fleece. The fleece is dual coated, with a fine, soft undercoat called thel and a longer, coarser outer coat called tog. The tog fiber with a spinning count of 56-60 and a micron count of 27-30, grows to a length of 6-8" in six months. It is lustrous, strong, water- and wear-resistant, and sheds off the rain and weather. Thel is the soft downy undercoat, with a spinning count of 64-70 and a micron count of 19-22, growing to a length of 2-4". The thel provides the loft for the outer coat and insulation for the sheep. Tog grows from the primary hair follicles and the thel from the secondary follicles. Tog is a true wool, and is not a kemp or guard hair. The combination of the two fibers on the sheep gives superb protection from the cold and wet. Icelandic fleeces are open and low in lanolin. The weight loss when washed is significantly less than many other breeds.

The average adult yearly fleece total weighs 4-7 lbs. Producers often shear their Icelandics twice a year. This is due, in part, to the fact that Icelandics have a natural wool break in late winter for the rams generally, and in spring for the pregnant or lactating ewes. Shearing at or around the time of the natural break is recommended to remove the "old" coat before the "new" coat grows in. The sheep are sheared again in the fall to harvest the fleeces before the animals go on hay for the winter. These fall-shorn fleeces are very soft and clean and can bring a premium price per pound.The two coats can be separated by hand for special projects, or they may be processed together. The traditional lopi is a lightly spun blend of tog and thel. Thel is very soft and downy, with an irregular crimp and can be used for baby garments, and for the fine shawls in the style of the Wedding Shawl. The tog is similar to mohair; wavy or corkscrewed rather than crimped and is wonderful in worsted spinning.The versatility of the wool, the ease of spinning and the wide variation of tones and colors are a true delight to handspinners, and put Icelandic wool into the exotic or premium category. It is also known as one of the best fleeces for felting, which is fast gaining popularity in the craft community.

 

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Milk

Icelandic ewes easily support twins and many raise triplets without assistance. In North America, they are used for personal milk production by many shepherds for yogurt and soap. Some farms are making gourmet artisan cheeses. There are a few operations milking more than 25 sheep, but long-term production records are not yet available. Crossing Icelandic sheep with commercial dairy breeds is also being investigated. For personal use, it is possible to allow lambs to continue to nurse while milking once per day, without sacrificing lamb growth.skylondalambs

lavenderdaisyPelts

The pelt of the Icelandic sheep is beautiful, lustrous, soft and luxurious, in a delightful range of colors and patterns. The relatively low number of follicles per square millimeter, a count of 12 rather than the 53-87 of the Merino sheep, for example, makes the pelt soft and flexible. These pelts command a high price in that niche market.

 

Registration

In North America, Icelandic sheep are only registered through the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation, known as the CLRC. Registrations can be done via surface mail, or electronically, and requires tattooing the sheep in a manner accepted by the CLRC. The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America (ISBONA) organization formed in 1996 for the education of the public and for the education and fellowship of the Icelandic Sheep breeders. As defined by the by-laws of ISBONA, the breed association recognizes the registry of Icelandic sheep only through the CLRC.

 

Leadersheep

"Some people may argue that sheep are not intelligent and clever. However, it is well known that sheep have their own intelligence although not comparable with that of people. We should not underestimate the wisdom of domestic animals anyway.The only breed of sheep in Iceland is the native North European Short Tailed sheep brought there by the settlers, the Vikings, 1100-1200 years ago. Without them Icelanders would not have survived throughout centuries of hardship on an isolated island just south of the Arctic Circle. Even grazing in winter had to be utilized to the utmost and somehow a unique, small population of sheep developed which displayed outstanding abilities to help the farmers and shepherds to manage the flock on pasture, namely leadersheep. Although farming practices have changed and thus the role of these highly intelligent sheep with special alertness and leadership characteristics in their genes, there is still a population of 1000-1200 sheep within the national population of just under 500,000.

lavenderleader

Most of the leadersheep are coloured and horned, even four-horned in a few cases. They have a slender body conformation, long legs and bones generally, yet of lighter weight than other sheep in the flock because they have been selected for intelligence, not for meat traits. Leadersheep are graceful and prominent in the flock, with alertness in the eyes, normally going first out of the sheep-house, looking around in all directions, watching if there are any dangers in sight and then walking in front of the flock when driven to or from pasture. They may even guard the flock against predators. There are many stories on record about their ability to sense or forecast changes in the weather even, refusing to leave the sheep-house before a major snowstorm. One wonders how better use could be made of such genes in the future.

We certainly want to preserve the Icelandic leadersheep. Interested individuals founded the Leader-Sheep Society of Iceland in April 2000. Amongst the priorities is to improve the individual recording of these sheep throughout the country and plan their breeding more effectively. We know that the best leadersheep are found in flocks in NE Iceland but farmers in all parts of the country are interested in their conservation. Support is also coming from individuals who are not keeping sheep. Icelandic sheep, not least leadersheep, have clearly a special role in our culture."

sunrisesheepari

Written by Dr. Olafur R. Dyrmundsson, The Farmers Association of Iceland

Members are welcome to reproduce this material on their own websites with a credit/link to ISBONA and this site.

 

About the ISBONA Newsletter

{If you are an ISBONA member, please make sure you are logged into the Members Only section to read your newsletters}.

The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America is very proud of its newsletter which is published online twice a year and made available to current ISBONA members. Members also have access to past issues and may purchase a hard copy of the most current newsletter during a special sales period as each issue is published. 

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The newsletter editor welcomes member contributions. Articles of interest to Icelandic sheep enthusiasts include articles about Iceland, sheep husbandry, lambing, grazing and feeding, personal farm profiles, working with the fleece and wool, fencing and housing, guard animals, etc. Articles from non-ISBONA members that would be of interest to our breeder members may also be submitted for consideration. 

Advertising in the ISBONA newsletter is a bargain relative to other sheep publications and reaches over 200 sheep breeders! Black & White Ads: Prices range from $35 for a full page to $10 for a business card size ad. Color Ads: A full page color ad is only $200 and a half page color ad is $100. For more information on advertising with ISBONA and discount rates, contact the Newsletter Advertising Representative.

 

 

Here are some samples to download:

 

 


Archived Newsletter Articles

All articles were originally published in the ISBONA Newsletter. If you can help by providing an electronic copy of Summer 2004
newsletter, please contact the webmaster. Thanks!

Dairy

Our Farmstead Experience at Skylonda Fall 2004
Experiments on Sheep Milking in Iceland Summer 2005

Fiber

What Can Be Done with Those Big Coarse Fleeces? Spring 2006
One Way to Make a Felt Purse Summer 2006
Make a Pair of Swedish Mittens Winter 2007

Husbandry

Don't Neglect Those Feet and Hooves Fall 2004
Culling Sheep vs. Selection Fall 2004
Lambing Out Ewe Lambs Without Losing Your Mind Spring 2005
Preparing a Farm Emergency Folder Summer 2005
Grafting or Fostering New Lambs Spring 2006
Fascinating Colour & Pattern Genetics of Icelandic Sheep Spring 2007
An Article About Sheep and Herbs Summer 2007
Summer Breeding Journal Summer 2007
Controlling Mud on the Farm Winter 2007

Miscellaneous

When Are They Too Old? Summer 2005
Family Relationships in Icelandic Sheep Spring 2006
Four Hornedness: A Rare Peculiarity Still Found in Icelandic Sheep Fall 2005
Sheep and Face Identity Winter 2006
Ten Things a Buyer Should Ask and a Seller Should Be Ready To Answer Winter 2006
Tribute To A Shepherd or Lessons I've Learned From a Friend Spring 2007
Cooking With Lamb Summer 2008
Smarter Than A Fifth Grader Summer 2008

Older Articles

 
Twelve Years of Icelandic Sheep Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Winter 1997
Icelandic Folktales Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Summer 1997
The Icelandic Sheep "Club" of North America Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Fall 1997
Horn Genetics Update Rich Kimball Spring 1998
Spin That Belly Wool Helen McFarland Summer 1998
Breeders Meeting   Fall 1998
The Legends Have Arrived Susan Mongold Winter 1999
Tattooing and Ear Tagging Your Sheep From conversations on the elist Spring 1999
Don't Let Rot Get a Foot in Your Door! Lisa Roskopf Summer 1999
Goodbye to Old Mori Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Fall 1999
Leadersheep Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Winter 2000
Separating and Using the Tog Beth Abbott Spring 2000
Historical and Modern Examples of Multi-horned Icelandic Sheep Shawn Carlson Summer 2000
Notes from Judith Mackenzie's Class on Fleece Selection and Grading Susan Mongold Fall 2000
Icelandic Sheep as a Dairy Animal Susan Mongold Fall 2000
Multi-Horned Icelandic Sheep Dr. Olafur Dyrmundsson
The Farmers Association of Iceland
Winter 2001
Notes from Judith Mackenzie's Class on Spinning Icelandic Fibers Susan Mongold Winter 2001
Bluetongue Virus in Sheep Susan Chappell Spring 2001
Horn Inheritance in Icelandic Sheep: An Interview with Emma Eythorsdottir Liz Harker Fall 2001
Icelandic Spinning Wheel "Rokkur" Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum Fall 2001
Rhinebeck Presentation on Southram Station and Icelandic Sheep Farming Gudmundar Johannasson Winter 2002
Farmstead Cheesemaking Part 1: Why Use Natural Ewe’s Milk? Plus Feta 101 Liz Harker Spring 2002
Farmstead Cheesemaking Part Two: Why is everything so technical? Plus Surface Ripened Cheese 101 Liz Harker Summer 2002
Intensive Grazing: Experiences and tips from our resident experts Excerpts from the e-list Fall 2002
The Icelandic Goat Breed Halla Eyglo Sveinsdottir and Olafur R. Dyrmundsson Winter 2003
A Glimpse of Southram's History Gudmundur Johannesson
Southagri - The Agricultural Association of South Iceland
Spring 2003
Milking My Icelandic Sheep Charlene Barkus-Lofton Summer 2003
Pasture Lambing in Extreme Weather - An Early April Journal Jimmie Londagin Fall 2003
Preparing Your Sheepskin for Tanning Lee Bates Winter 2004
Icelandic Sheep at Borg Farm, Iceland Brynhildur Inga Einarsdottir Spring 2004