Dream of a Scrapie-Free Iceland May Be a Reality Within 10 Years

Karólína Elísabetardóttir, sheep, scrapie research

It may be possible to eradicate scrapie in Iceland in the next ten years, RÚV reports. This hopeful news comes via a study led by sheep farmer Karólína Elísabetardóttir and a team of scrapie experts from four countries, who have isolated a genotype in the Icelandic sheep population that should protect the animals from the disease.

Scrapie, an incurable, degenerative disease that effects the nervous system of sheep and goats, has plagued the Icelandic sheep population for some time, not least in Skagafjörður, Northwest Iceland, where farmers were forced to slaughter over 2,000 animals last year when a scrapie outbreak was detected at several farms.

See Also: Scrapie Detected in Skagafjörður

Samples were taken from 2,500 sheep in Iceland and Greenland. “First, we found one sheep and then we started systematically looking in its relatives and then we found other sheep, such that now we have a trail and based on that, the outlook is really good.” This is the first such study to be conducted in Iceland in 20 years.

Karólína’s team is comprised of two doctors from a German institute that studies prion diseases experts from England and Italy, and locally, two experts from the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre and a scrapie specialist from Keldur, the Institute for Experimental Pathology.

Now that the protective genotype has been identified, Karólína says the next step will be to find a ram who shares this and then organize breeding from there. “I’d even say that it might be possible, if farmers are diligent in their efforts, that this could work within ten years.” A scrapie-free Iceland, concluded Karólína, is “the dream.”

Icelandic Sheep Fetch Handsome Prices at First-Ever Online Auction

sheep

Icelandic sheep were auctioned in the UK’s first-ever online auction, Bændablaðið reports. The auction was handled by the Scottish “livestock marketing company” Harrison & Hetherington.

Twenty-six animals were auctioned in the two-day auction in early September. The highest-earning sheep was the only ewe on offer, Alfifa, who, according to the auction catalog, “had a single ram in 2020 and twin ewe lambs in 2021.” Alfifa fetched ISK 56,000 [£317; $438; €371].

Screenshot from Harrison & Hetherington Sheep Auction Catalog

Also for sale was Bijarni, a Shearling Ram who “[w]as commended by Tim Tyne [author of The Sheep Book for Smallholders, known as ‘the bible for sheepkeepers’] in last years [sic] show despite not being entered in ram class.” Bijarni was commended as being “Gentle natured [with] well spaced horns” and noted to “stand on his feet well.” A gimmer, or female sheep that has been weaned but not sheared, named Not Splodge was also sold, as were whether lambs, and a number of ram and ewe lambs.

The average price for ewes was ISK 53,875 [£305; $422; €357]. Rams fetched a lower average price, or ISK39,000 [£134; $185; €156]. The whethers fared a little better, with an average price of ISK 33,000 [£185; $256; €216].

Screenshot from Harrison & Hetherington Sheep Auction Catalog

Interest in Icelandic sheep has ‘completely spiralled’

The first Icelandic sheep were imported to the UK in 1979. The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of the British Isles (ISBOBI) was founded nine years later, in 1988. Per Cumberland’s News&Star, in recent years, British breeders have cross-bred Icelandic sheep with “…Blackface and Shetlands with much success; others have had particularly good results crossing with the larger continentals.”

“Icelandic rams have come into their own,” the article continues, “producing cross breeds which are considered by members of the breed society to be lighter on the ground than some heavy breeds and producing better quality meat than some smaller breeds.”

Screenshot from Harrison & Hetherington Sheep Auction Catalog

There are currently around 300 Pedigree Icelandic Sheep in the UK, and the Scottish Farmer reports that they are increasingly in demand, hence auctioneers’ decision to sell them via the more accessible, online platform. “In the past our Icelandic Sheep sales have been held as part of our wider rare breeds sales, and in holding an online sale, the aim is to open the breed up to a broader UK wide audience,” remarked Harrison & Hetherington auctioneer Grant Anderson.

“In recent years there has been so much interest in Icelandic Sheep, it has completely spiralled,” added Ruth Stanton, assistant secretary of ISBOBI. “The aim of this auction is to help provide us with a measure as to what is happening as well as a benchmark for the breed.”