Like Shetland & Soay sheep, Icelandic sheep belong to the Northern Short-tailed group of sheep.
Icelandic sheep produce a lot of milk, they have been kept over the years for their meat, milk and fleece. They have a double coated fleece. The long silky outer layer is called the ‘Tog’, these fibers can be up to 20cm long. The tog makes the fleece weather and water resistant. The inner, very fine, soft shorter layer is called the ‘Thel’, these fibers can be up to 8 cm long. The thel makes the fleece incredibly light and warm. Icelandic fleece is highly prized. The 2 layers can be separated and spun individually or the fleece can be carded together to create what is known as ‘Lopi’. As I have personally discovered, Icelandic fleece felts incredibly well! It can also be spun into beautiful yarns.
Icelandic ewes give birth very easily, they have fantastic mothering instincts and produce a lot of milk for their lambs. They often have twins and sometimes triplets. There is also a gene called the thonka gene, Icelandic sheep possessing this gene may have 4, 5, 6 or up to 8 lambs! In some parts of the world Icelandic sheep are kept for milk production.
They have the same variety of colour genetics present in the breed as Shetland sheep. So although there may appear an infinite amount of colours and markings, and if you look on the Shetland sheep society at colours you might think there are! But really the genetics are very simple. We have a much better explanation of genetics on our Colours & Markings page. But to put it simply, there are only 2 base colours, black or brown. Each of these can show or be hidden visibly by one of only 6 patterns, Badgerface, Mouflon, Grey, White, Solid or Grey Mouflon. And on top of the base & possible pattern you can get white spotting, this is what gives Jacob sheep their spotty appearance! Spotting can be minimal, just a dab on the head or nose or it can be widespread across the body, it can even cover the whole body totally concealing the base colour and any patterns, making the sheep look completely white!