What can you tell me about Icelandic cows? Skip to content
icelandic cow
Mjólk Barðaströnd Mjólkurbílsstjóri Landbúnaður Sveit Vestfirðir

What can you tell me about Icelandic cows?


Icelandic cattle are a breed of cattle that have been in Iceland since the time of settlement. They are short-haired with highly variable colors and color patterns. Icelandic cattle have mostly remained pure since settlement, but they are most closely related to the Sidet Trønder and Nordland cattle in Trøndelag, Norway. Importing cattle to Iceland is prohibited, and the import of embryos, eggs, and semen is subject to restrictions. There have, however, been recent debates around importing Swedish cattle, as they produce more milk. Opponents say that the Icelandic cattle, though it may produce less milk than its Scandinavian relatives, is nonetheless a part of the national heritage.

Icelandic cattle are a small-sized dairy breed. Most are now polled (about 95%), but there are still some horned ones, though horned cattle were more common in the past. The average cow produces about 6000 kg of milk per year, but the best dairy cows produce about 11000 kg per year. They are kept indoors for eight months a year and are mostly fed hay with added feed mixtures. They graze outside in fields during the summer, and to increase production, green fodder (rapeseed, kale, oats, and barley) is often cultivated as well. There are about 71,000 Icelandic cattle in the country (as of 2019), of which 25,000 are dairy cows. It has been found that the protein composition of Icelandic dairy cow milk is somewhat different from that of Central European cattle breeds. This affects processing properties, such as cheese making, and flavor.

Iceland is of course famous for its sheep, but visitors to Iceland who want to see Icelandic cattle have several options. The South Coast is a large agricultural area and you will like see many cattle simply driving through the area. Beint frá býli (Directly from the farm) also has a curated list of farm-to-table cattle ranches in Iceland, where you are able to purchase beef. For those looking for a sweeter, and more innocent, dairy treat, the farm at Erpsstaðir also has an ice cream creamery, which can be booked for tours and visits.

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