little of sheep farming on the Faroe Islands
Af Gudmund K. H. Niclasen
Introduction by Sheep-Isle:
In this article Gudmund tells about his life as a shepherd. Gudmund himself has taken all the pictures.
One word, “fjeldgang”,
comes again and again. In Gudmund´s world every season has its
fjeldgang. ”, ( that is to gather the sheep together in a fold app. 4-5
times a year).
The Faroese sheep is described on Gudmunds web
page . Here the specialist comes forward.
Visit this unique web page where the Faroese sheep comes forward in an
almost endless colour scale and pattern, and almost all with an ancient
From ancient time the Faroese sheep have been out in
the mountains all year around, having to find their own food. It can wary
a lot from year to year, all depending on a cold or hot summer. It also
matters a lot at what time the grass begins to grow. Sometimes it can be
bold in late June, and as the lambing mostly happens in April/May, it can
be of most importance for both quantity and size of the lambs. The winter
also has a big influence on how the condition of the sheep is when the
spring comes. It is not common to feed the sheep, but in these days the
large owners are beginning to modernise their sheep farming.
It is decided how many mother sheep belong to a “hauge”. This quantity has shown to be the best to get the best from the flock. Still it is common that hauger experiment with more or less. But when the winter, as told before, can be very different from year to year, it can only be luck to put too many sheep out. Usually they say that it is the winter that decides how many mother sheep, you can have in a “hauge”. The haugerne are also different in the way that they have good and less good winter hauger. A good winter hauge has a bigger, not too steep a piece, at the bottom of the mountain, where the sheep can be in the wintertime, as there is snow further up in the mountains.
To look after the sheep, there has to be at least one
shepherd chosen, according to the “Haugeloven” from 1937. (Law of the
plots) There has been a law on sheep farming on the Faroe Islands since
the famous (Seydabrćvid*) The Sheep Letter 24/6 – 1298.
The shepherds year starts after the rams
have gone home, they are not out the whole year round, but are
taken inside end of Jan. beginning of Feb. To ensure that the lambing
doesn’t happen to early in the year, they let the male-lambs and the
rams out in the “hauge” on Dec. 12th. The lambing then
starts the second week in May. The reason that Dec. 12th. was
chosen is to avoid sleet, which always happens in the beginning of May.
As told the winters can be very different form each
other. Sometimes the temperature can be 8 to 10 degrees Celsius through
Dec. Without snow or minus degrees. But of course it can also be totally
opposite. January, February and March are calculated to be the coldest of
the winter months. The good winters the sheep walk high up in the
mountains, if there is not any snow up there. But the more snow there is,
the further down the sheep come. The shepherd’s job in the winter time
is mostly to see that all the sheep are down from the mountain and are ok.
It sometimes happens that sheep can be snowed in, and then you have to go
out to look for them. It also happens that the sheep freeze to the ground,
if it has been wet when they laid down, and then it has frozen through the
Owners who have ”kenning” usually keep their sheep
at home in the wintertime, either inside or in a fold. These owners
usually feed their sheep through the whole winter and let the sheep lamb
before they are let loose in the “haugen” after May 14th.
In our “hauge” which I and another farmer keep, the
ownership is “fćlleseje”. There are
12 owners who have shares from app. 1 mark and
down to 16 skind. The “hauge” is app. 6 km from the village, it is
.500 ha. and is on a 574m high mountain. The “hauge” is in the middle
of the island and therefore has no connection to the beach. The flock only
counts 162 sheep, because of a very small winter “hauge”. Another
“hauge” of the same size here on the island has 235 sheep. The
“hauge” is run in the old way, where the sheep are out all year round
and are only feed if it has been snow for some time.
The first lamb can come on May 6th and we
hope it is over sleeting. As told before, the last sleet usually comes first in May. It even has a name, that referrers to
the lambing -
“lambasprćnur”. About May we say that it is cold but dry and that
should be good for the lambing. Even though it would be better if there
were a little heat in the air, then the grass could start to grow and the
sheep would produce more milk. The sheep do not have any problems around
lambing, and we only go in the “hauge” to see how far the lambing
has come. It also happens that the lamb fall down into ditches and
cannot come back up. I have been a shepherd since 1978, but I have never
had to help with the lambing. The foaling usually is over in the end of
May or into June sometimes. We have also experienced that sheep have had
lamb in the end of June.
On the Faroe Islands most of the sheep get one lamb,
but the smaller the group is the more sheep get 2 lambs. The reason that
there only is 1 lamb pr. sheep is without a doubt that we feed them as
little as possible. The reason that we do not feed them so much, is partly
to strengthen the herd so that it better gets through the winter. It
usually shows that if you have to take a sheep home for the winter, it has
a hard time getting through the next winter outside. Another reason that
the sheep are not fed so much is so that they do not lay in the lower part
of the lower hauge by the houses, but have
to go way up the mountain to get food. Finally a “hauge” with so many
owners has difficulty finding shepherds who can take so much care of the
sheep, because they all have a full time job, and here for the care has to
be as easy as possible. In a “hauge” with several owners everything is
butchered for the owners themselves, but owners with hundreds of sheep
usually sell the meat.
The second gathering is from the first to the third
week in July, where the sheep are cut and the lamb are ear tagged.
The cutting is mostly with wool scissors. Even though many have
started to cut with electrical scissors, but as a lot of the “hauges”
are far away from civilisation, it is not possible to get electricity.
Here on this island, many of the “hauges” do not even have a road
connection. It has been hard and sometimes impossible to sell the wool.
To know/recognise our lamb and sheep from the
neighbours and other “hauger” there is an agreement with the ear tags,
so that one always can see which “hauge” a sheep comes from. It often
happens that one of the neighbour sheep has come into the fold. As all the
lam in the fold at this point are without ear tag the neighbours lamb will
also be tagged with our ear tag, if you are not absolutely sure which lamb
is the neighbours. A piece of wool in a contrast colour will therefore be
hung around the neck on the mother sheep. The neighbour will be informed,
so that he together with us, can keep an eye on what the lamb looks like,
so that he can get the right lamb in time. Between this and the second
gathering the shepherd has to find those sheep which of some reason din
not get into the fold, so that he can recognise the lamb belonging to
these sheep, as they are not ear tagged, and make sure that they get into
the fold the next time.
Then all the lambs are vaccinated against “blódsótt” and “brádsótt” as given medicine for worm in intestines and lungs. The mother sheep and rams are also given this medicine. If there are sheep that do not have lamb, a mark is hung around their neck and they are butchered in October.
Now comes a time where the sheep which have lamb are
high up in the mountain. The Faroese sheep have the quality to be in
groups. It means that every group stays together through the whole year.
In our “hauge” there are 4 groups. In the summertime they spread a lot,
but are always in the same area in the “hauge”. In the winter they
gather more and come further down the mountain. In every group there can
also be smaller groups. The shepherds job at this point and the whole year
for that matter, is to keep the sheep inside the “hauges” boundaries.
It usually in not so hard, when we by chasing them back every time we see
them in the neighbours ”hauge”, have got a good feeling of where they
belong. It usually is enough to show oneself, and then they go back,
especially if you have a dog by your side.
The first or second
week in October there is gathering again, here all the mail-lambs and many
ewe-lambs, except of those who have to replace the old mother sheep, which
are butchered due to their age, are taken home for butchering. The best
mail-lambs without defects are chosen for
breeding. The owners have a duty to keep these mail-lambs home and feed
them well, until they will go out to mate. All sheep, that are butchered,
are weighed alive and first divided between the 5 mark and then, if there
are several owners in a mark, divided between the owners compared to their
share. There is not any butcher for sheep, so every owner butchers his own
sheep. At this gathering nothing else is done, than the marking of the
ewe-lambs, who are let loose again. Because between these gatherings the
shepherd goes in the mountain and checks if these ewe-lambs, who were let
loose again belong to the groups where the old female sheep, that are
butchered, belong. There are always let more ewe-lambs loose than there is
need for. The left over are butchered at the next gathering.
One to 2 weeks after the first butchering, we go after
the old female sheep and the left over ewe-lambs. These sheep are also
weighed alive and divided after ownership. Those ewe-lambs who are to
replace the old sheep are vaccinated against “garnasótt” (
Paratuberkulosis) and “brádsótt/blódsótt”. All sheep and lamb get
medicine against worms and leaches. Ear tags in plastic with the year is
put on one ear, When all sheep who shall be butchered are taken, the flock
should be the decided number 162. But as told before, you can regulate the
number a little up and down. In our “hauge” we have tried to have up
to 175 mother sheep, but have found out, that 158 to 160 gives the best
results for us.
* The Seydabrćvid, (The Sheep letter) which is
a unique historical document, will appear later this spring (2006) on