One of the topics of instruction on our recent trip to Iceland, (see "Iceland
Trip") was the evaluation of ewes and rams to determine excellence.  This
instruction is essential in knowing just where your own flock stands, quality wise,
and helps to pinpoint specific areas in your individual animals needing
improvement.  A side issue, but just as important...knowing just what "excellent"
is-helps you determine whether or not the animal you put a deposit on is really
worth carrying through  with the purchase.   Being familiar with what excellent
looks like (and feels like) you will be able to determine if the prospective animal
you want to buy will be an asset and an improvement over what you have at
present, or will be just another mouth to feed and a drain on your resources.
 The "Icelandic Breed Standard" we may have seen in the ISBONA newsletter
and the Canadian registry newsletter gives what are the acceptable attributes in
the Icelandic sheep, but how do you translate that into evaluating just
how good
the animal is that is standing in front of you?  You can't. There is a huge
difference between that which is merely acceptible, that which is excellent, and
that which is
superb. It seems to me that most of us in America are content to
have these sheep, or sell them and make money, but are not making it a
priority to develop the finest specimens genetically possible.  (That
is the goal of
Icelandics North by the way!)   The breeding goals in Iceland are to develop the
musculature of their breed, while selecting animals that are
genetically lean, (not
lean because they have been fed less food!)    
   In the American domestic lamb market the flavor of the meat ranges from
decent to outright objectionable, you have to cut through lots of fat to get to the
meat, and it's usually the
imported lamb that tastes good!   I'm sure at the grocery
store you have looked the cuts of beef steak over,  picked the one with less fat on
it and when your child who was shopping with you asked "why did you pick
one?"  You probably said "because there is less fat on it...I'll get more for my
money!"  We as Icelandic sheep breeders have a superb, light-flavored and tender
sheep, and we have a highly organized and very scientifically oriented support
crew in Iceland ready and eager to help us improve our animals and encourage us
to promote them, but first we need to be made aware of just what "excellent" is,
and how to evaluate our own animals.  With this article (authored in 2003) I hope
to provide those who are interested with a way to compare their own animals with
what we saw and learned in Iceland.  Maybe these pictures can serve until more of
you have actually travelled to Iceland and learned how to select for the attributes
most needed to improve your own flock. In addition to my article "How Do Your
Animals Compare?" a DVD was produced in 2009 at the Reinbeck Fair in New
York of a hands-on session intended to help the American Icelandic breeder
discern the quality of their own animals or one they may be "checking out." It
can be ordered from the home page of ISBONA
If we are to succeed with this breed, we need to do more than propagandize it's
considerable merits,  we need to think and act more like a team.  A team, or a
group of any kind needs to have it's own standard which it uses for it's members
to be able to evaluate and critique one another to promote improvement.   The
Icelandic scoring system should be that standard.  If we can all get "on the same
page" with regard to our standard of quality and our goals, we will go far in
establishing the Icelandic in the premium breed status that it rightfully should
Right after shearing this spring, while they are still clean, take pictures of your
own animals trying to duplicate the positions and distances of these pictures, and
compare to see how they measure up. You will probably be surprised...we all tend
to think more highly of our own animals than may be warranted!!
An average unimproved ewe
A well muscled, moderately
broad & low Hestur ewe