Friday, April 10, 2009

A visit to the fields of Iceland

Okay, okay, so it wasn't Iceland, but fields of Icelandic sheep! It was cold and windy, however.

Last weekend we made a pilgrimage two hours east to visit Hearts Ease Farm and spent the afternoon learning about Icelandic Sheep.

I started researching this breed of sheep a couple of months ago when the discussion arose once more of what type of livestock we thought we might succeed in raising on our three acres. Cows require too much space, and goats are notorious for climbing their way out of any fencing they encounter - not to mention neither of us are certain we like goat milk(or meat, for that matter). So, the conversation turning to sheep - we know we like sheep cheese(see below) and wool is always handy.

So why were we drawn to the Icelandic sheep? Well, they're a multi-purpose breed, of course! You certainly didn't expect anything less from us, right?

They are by nature a meat breed - lambs born in the spring are ready for butchering in the fall. They are also thrifty eaters, gaining weight easily on good pasture, as they are a hardy breed developed on the scant pastures of Iceland. It is said that even people who don't care for lamb like Icelandic lamb, as the meat has a unique flavor and texture. Wendy and Frances, the shepherds of Hearts Ease Farm, were kind enough to send us home with a leg of lamb, and we'll be cooking it up this weekend - hopefully we like it!!

They are also a breed than can be milked. While they won't produce anywhere near the volume of milk given by the dairy sheep or goat breeds, they would still allow us to produce our own milk on the property. Cheeses made from sheep are varied; pecorina, ricotta, manchego, Roquefort, and more.

And, last but not least, they're a fiber sheep. While I could go on and on about the dual layered coat, the fineness of the wool, and the many many natural colors, I'll save that for later ;) Suffice it to say, this third aspect is one that we will make full use of as well. Icelandic wool is very highly prized, and we're hoping that once we make our stock selections, we'll be able to take full advantage of the many uses.

So...back to our visit. The sheep had already been sheared the weekend before, so we saw these ladies in their underwear. Still, they were beautiful animals, with well shaped udders, and most of them VERY pregnant! They were inquisitive, a few were downright friendly, and all of them were quite comfortable with us standing around staring at them.

Oh, and we were able to see some babies too!

And so, without rambling further, here are some shots from our visit.

These two were quite playful, bounding around all over!

This little one was born the evening before(if I remember correctly, and was quite adorable). He(I think he was a ram) was one of three lambs born to this ewe, though she lost the other two.

These two were very very cute, and quite sleepy. They stayed all tucked up together most of the time we were there.

Stay tuned - later this weekend(or at the latest next week) - for a rabbitry update!

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