Number of Sheep in Iceland Hits 40-Year Low

Icelandic sheep

There are fewer sheep in Iceland now than there have been for 40 years, Bændablaðið reports.

At the end of 2019, there were a total of 415,949 sheep in the country and 1,471 goats. By contrast, at the end of 1980, there were 50.3% more sheep in Iceland, or 827,927. At the end of 1985, there were 709,257. By 2000, that number had dropped to 465,777 but there was a small increase by 2010 when there were 479,841 sheep and then another small jump in 2014 when there were 486,598. After that, the total stock continued to steadily drop until this year’s 40-year low.

Stocks have decreased all over Iceland and there are some regions where sheep farming has disappeared entirely. Northwest Iceland, including the West Fjords, currently maintains the most robust sheep numbers and farming in the country, with 102,175 sheep. Three regions are relatively even for the next highest number of sheep: Northeast Iceland (68,789), East Iceland (65,753), and South Iceland (64,931). The Southwest of Iceland has considerably fewer sheep: 2,216.

Meanwhile, South Iceland has the highest prevalence of cattle farmers and cattle with 31,712 animals as of 2019. The next highest number of cattle are found in Northeast Iceland (18,025), followed by Northwest Iceland (14,138), and West Iceland (12,042). East Iceland and Southwest Iceland have the lowest number of cattle: 4,653 and 1,302 respectively.

The data was taken from fall agricultural statistics; no explanation was provided for why the number of sheep in Iceland has dropped so precipitously.

Dreki and Mávur Win Big at Ram Awards

Dreki sheep

Dreki from Hrifla farm (above) and Mávur from Mávahlíð farm are the winners of the annual sheep breeding awards. The choice rams were awarded the coveted prizes for “best breeding ram” and “best lamb father” respectively. While many of Mávur’s offspring have been lucky enough to inherit his snow-white woollen coat, Dreki boasts over 855 female and 340 male offspring around the country.

The prizes, awarded by Iceland’s sheep breeding centres, were presented to the rams’ owners at a sheep farming conference held in Reykjavík on March 1. Breeding centres around Iceland provide farmers with choice rams for hire to mate with their ewes. If their ewes are not fond of travel, farmers can also choose breeding rams from a registry and have their sperm delivered.

Mávur from Mávahlíð.

“Mávur’s parents mothers trace their origins to the powerful herd that has been in Mávahlíð for decades,” the jury’s comment reads. “Mávur has been in use for two winters at the centres and both years has been among the rams farmers most want to use. Mávur’s offspring is extremely uniform and combine good build, moderate fat, and good looks extremely well. Very many of them have inherited the pure white and rich wool of their father.”

Dreki, whose name means Dragon in Icelandic, is not the first of his line to be awarded for his contribution to breeding: his father Grábotni and maternal grandfather Borði are both prize-winners. “[Dreki] was immediately well-received by farmers across the country and has always been among the most-used breeding centre rams for the four winters he has served,” the jury’s comment states. “Dreki’s offspring are always well-developed, with a long torso and thick back muscles, good thighs and moderate fat.” The jury adds: “Derki’s daughters are more than moderately fertile but their strength lies particularly in great milk.” Two of Dreki’s sons are also sought-after in breeding centres around the country.

Hopefully Dreki and Mávur are enjoying their status to the fullest, as rams can only receive each honour once.