We've been thinking about shifting our flock base over to Icelandics for some time now - the Icelandic sheep we have had just seem to be better suited to our shepherding style: they are seasonal breeders, so our inability to keep rams on one side of the fence and ewes on the other isn't a problem; they are very hardy and deal well with cold weather (Iceland ... yeah, lots like Alberta!); they are small, so easier to handle (small is a disadvantage if you're marketing to the auction houses, but we sell direct to customers, so it's not a problem for us); they have gorgeous, colourful, high quality fleece (which should explain itself!).
We had two purebred Icelandics in our starter flock, but culled one a year ago for infertility and discovered this spring that our much loved Natalie (amazing mama and all-around awesome sheep) is suffering from one of the common chronic sheep ailments (OPP for other shepherds out there). It's invariably fatal, but it doesn't condemn the carcass ... it's a chronic lung infection that just makes the sheep sicker and sicker over time. So ... Natalie will be added to this year's butcher list and we will honour her life by making sure her suffering is alleviated and by enjoying the lamb sausage and toasting her memory!
However ... all that left us with no more purebred Icelandics. Some nice cross bred sheep, yes, but what we really needed was some good breeding stock.
Then, an online friend of mine let me know that she was selling her entire flock: they have no pasture where they are located, and bringing in hay all the time was just not working out. Prime breeding stock, lovely sheep, from someone I know, needing a home.
Well, that was an easy decision. :)
Okay, not quite, but it was so clearly the right thing for us to do that we did our thought experiments, checked and double checked the budget, and said "okay, we'll go for it". All but two of our existing flock will be headed off to freezer camp (the Immunity Challenge winners are Jack, the Southdown ram and Cherub, the Columbia/Hamp bottle baby ewe), and our new flock has arrived:
Everyone survived the trailer run from BC quite well, and they are out nibbling on pasture grass very happily with no troubles at all. It's already been grazed down quite a bit, so it's not too lush and we should be able to avoid any digestive troubles with switching from a hay diet to a pasture diet, but we'll be watching closely to be sure.
It's sad to be saying goodbye to some of our existing ewes, we have some real personalities here and letting them go is a tough decision. However, we have found a new butcher who does small runs of sausage, which is an excellent use for older animals, and we have to do what will work best for the farm as a whole. Icelandics fit the bill for us, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the other breeds first hand as the only way to really learn what works well in your particular circumstances is to experiment.
So, we give our thanks and love to the sheep who have served us well during our apprenticeship, and welcome the new flock as we say farewell to the old.